Empowerly provides expert advice to high school students applying to college. Our counselors play a huge role in working one-on-one with our students to help them through the application process. You may be wondering, “what’s so important about getting college admissions counseling?” or “how can a college counselor help me?”
We talked to Sheelah Bearfoot, one of our fantastic counselors, to get the scoop.
Sheelah Bearfoot graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a degree in Genetics and Plant Biology, and has worked in Berkeley’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions for four years. She is currently finishing up a master’s at Johns Hopkins University in Environmental Health Science after working in for two years in community clinics as a diabetic educator and referral coordinator. In addition, she has ten years of experience in nationally-ranked speech and debate, both as a competitor and a coach. As a counselor, she works primarily with high school seniors interested in medicine, the healthcare industry, and the humanities.
Now let's dig in! There are three main components to a first meeting:
1. Getting to know the student;
2. Clearing up misconceptions;
3. Assessing progress and making a plan to go forward.
- Getting to Know the Student
The first step during an introductory session is to get to know the student. What are their expectations and what are the parent’s expectations? What is the student interested in studying and what are their goals? What sort of school would they like to pursue? It is very important to understand what the student wants to get out of these counseling sessions right away.
- Clearing up Misconceptions
The admissions process can be confusing, and parents and students tend to have a lot of questions about how it works. During the first session, it’s important to clear up the misconceptions and to keep the door open for additional questions in the future. This is a continual theme throughout the admissions process that the counselor will continue to address as questions come up.
- Assessing Progress and Making a Plan to Move Forward
Does the student already have a college list? Do they know what they want to study? Have they already started their applications? If so, how put-together are these materials? The counselor needs to establish where the student currently stands and from there they can come up with a game plan on what to do next. During a first meeting, Sheelah likes to lay out a schedule of due dates for essay drafts and goals for the student. This way, the student knows what they should be doing outside of meetings and what to expect over the next few months.
These three points form the core components of the first session and layout the groundwork for how the counselor and student will move forward in future sessions.
What happens during the subsequent meetings?
The structure of the following sessions depends on the student. Since Sheelah works mostly with seniors, a lot is focused on filling out college applications, specifically the essay portion. The way she structures these meetings depends on the type of learner the student is. For oral learners, the meetings are spent talking about corrections and how to integrate them. Other students respond best to written comments, so most of the essay corrections happen outside of the meetings, which are more devoted to brainstorming.
Ideally for Sheelah, the student would have a draft of their essay ready 24 hours before the meeting so she can make all the necessary comments, and then they can meet and talk during the session. Oftentimes, students don’t have their next draft ready until the meeting, so she will focus on macro-level comments during the meeting and then help with fine-tuning after the meeting. Sometimes there are very technical essays that require research about the school or program the student is applying to. The counselor can go through the school website and help the student with this research during their meetings.
Why is it important for a student to get counseling?
The most important reasons to get counseling are to clear up misconceptions and to reduce stress for both students and parents.
- Clearing up Misconceptions
There are a lot of mistakes that students might make without guidance. For example, not selecting a major that suits them, not applying to a school because they don’t think they’re qualified, and not knowing what schools might be best for their major. Some schools that aren’t as well known are really good in particular areas. A counselor can provide this information.
Some students think that they should only talk about themselves from a technical perspective, instead of their cool hobbies. These are things that colleges want to see and can highlight skills that the college would want their students to have. The job of the counselor is to make sure that the student doesn’t miss out on any opportunities or skills that could lead to a brighter future.
- Reducing Stress
It’s good to have someone in the student’s corner that they can always talk to. A counselor is a person that a student can vent their frustrations with, and can comfortably talk about personal subjects that they might want to include in their essays but don’t want to share with other people. A counselor holds the student accountable for deadlines and getting the work done to apply to colleges in a timely manner. They can be a cheerleader through the whole process and give the students some much-needed confidence.
On top of stress relief for students, counseling can provide some much-needed stress relief for parents. “Parents are worried they’re not doing everything they can for their kids and this provides reassurance,” Sheelah explains. With college counseling, students talk to an expert, who knows what they need to get into the college of their dreams.
Sheelah also highlighted that more people are getting private college counseling than ever before because high school counselors are completely overwhelmed with the number of students they have to deal with.
Who do you suggest counseling for?
Everyone. Sheelah has worked with a range of students: some high achieving, some middle of the pack, and some a bit behind. All of them need counseling in one way or another. Let’s break that down:
- High Achieving Students
Really bright students need counseling because the schools they’re applying to are very competitive. There are a lot of high achieving students, so there tends to be a very small margin that decides one student over another. Counseling can give the student an edge over other students. Sheelah has also found that being a bright student doesn’t mean they’re a great essay writer. The style of the admissions essay is different from anything students write in high school. It’s succinct and the subject matter is you, not a book or your research, which is often very difficult for students to adjust to. This is why guidance can be so beneficial. Students need to express themselves well in the essay to really drive home why they deserve to be admitted.
- Middle of the Pack and Below
For students who are average or below, it’s still valuable to get college counseling. They need to learn what sorts of options are open to them and to not give up on their career goals because of their grades. On the flip side, these students can overestimate where they could potentially get in, so it’s the counselor’s job to present an appropriate set of schools for them. It’s important to remember that a lot of students who might not have the best grades or GPA can prove their values through extracurricular activities, and they need to find a good way to sell that to colleges. A counselor can help the student find the best way to express this idea.
As a final point, unlike your friends, helping you is your counselor’s livelihood. Your counselor will be able to remain calm and provide their years of expertise, going above and beyond what you can find on Google or through random word-of-mouth. You shouldn’t leave your future up to chance. This is why, Sheelah thinks, everyone should seek out college counseling.
So there you have it. If you’re wondering what to expect from a counseling session with Empowerly, we hope this cleared it up for you. But, if you still have questions, or want to learn more about how to get started with an Empowerly counselor—schedule a consult with one of our enrollment team to take the first step on your journey to success!