Guiding students’ futures

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From right to left: Erik McLeod, Kelly Bennett, Beth Taubman, Sharon Bikoundou, Tammy Kowitt, Kara Morreale, Orley Malloy (Photo submitted by Sharon Bikoundou)

While the college process is very intensive for students, counselors have to put in just as much work when helping students navigate every step of the way. Each of Heritage’s seven college counselors manages between 50 and 60 students. Although students have a degree of understanding that college counselors have a hefty task to fulfill when helping seniors apply to colleges, it’s difficult to gain a full perspective from the outside.

College advisor Mr. Erik McLeod provides students with some insight into the world of college counseling. Mr. McLeod used to be on the board of admissions for different colleges but eventually decided to “switch to the other side of the desk” and guide high schoolers through the college process.

“I think it’s important for students to know how much time and effort we invest on behalf of our students,” he said. “We really want you guys to succeed. We work diligently here, at home and on the weekends to make sure that you guys find your college fit and end up where you need.”

Each counselor writes a personalized letter about each of their 60 students while looking at the student in the context of their transcript, standardized tests, activity list, teachers’ letters and any interactions with the student.

“All my letters are written from home where I have no distractions. I get out my coffee and my laptop and just work through them,” Mr. McLeod said. “I look through a student’s complete file and generally any context I can reflect on that can make a student stand out.”

Meanwhile, at other larger schools, “a lot of counselors will simply check the ‘I don’t have time to submit a letter of recommendation’ box on the form,” Mr. McLeod said. “Our students are always going to receive a detailed, substantive letter of recommendation. We [the college advisors] all collectively take pride in the quality and substance of our letters.”

In order to properly advise students, college counselors need to stay on top of admissions trends. To do so, the counselors travel to several different conferences every year, making connections with thousands of other counselors to discuss trends, concerns and issues. They also visit colleges every year and communicate with those who are in charge of reviewing student applications. “We have good, transparent relationships with college directors,” Mr. McLeod said. “We’re fortunate in that Mr. Laurie supports us and gives us the resources necessary to keep up with those admissions trends.”

While writing recommendation letters and advising students may be a part of their job, students should still be grateful for our counselors as it is a much different scenario at other schools. “The biggest advantage is that we have the time to advise, whereas students who go to a large public school may have one college advisor assigned to 700 students,” Mr. McLeod said. “We have all the time in the world to help [our students], and time equates to success.”

Heritage invests in its college counselors to give its students the best chance for success in the realm of college admissions. However, in addition to investment in conferences and college tours to better equip its college advisors, the most important aspect of college advising is the college advisors themselves. It is not just their jobs; they truly wish to see their students prosper. “We advocate for our students and want the best for them, so we work hard for that,” Mr. McLeod said.

Kristen is a senior at American Heritage School in Plantation, Fla. She is the co-Editor-in-Chief of The Patriot Post, President of Student Government and co-founder of the non-profit Friends for Fosters. Kristen loves keeping up with politics, watching Netflix, reading and sleeping in. She considers herself a nerd due to her massive video game and comic collection.

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