This article first appeared in Journeys Fall 2017.
Every year brings new successes and challenges in college counseling, and last year was no exception. We have great stories to tell about our graduates. SAS sent an NCAA Division I tennis player to the US, a writer to Abu Dhabi, and a biomedical researcher to the UK. We had students choose US public universities because they wanted nothing more than to be back home, other seniors who ranged far over the globe, and one young man who will be serving his country at the US Military Academy at West Point. These kinds of choices are always emotional at some level, and our office saw tears, frustration, joy, and laughter. Each counselor felt privileged to work with that group of seniors.
As an open admission school, SAS has a broad range of students, from those who come to the college process ready with long lists of highly selective schools to those who have only vague notions about what they might want to study or where they might want to go. Some of our students are extremely ambitious; others see college as a nebulous concept and express few aspirations beyond graduation. We also work with students who are planning to take gap years or who will spend their first two years after graduation in Singapore’s mandatory National Service. The role of a college counselor is to guide all SAS students, with their many different needs and interests, through a process that helps them to find schools at which they will be successful.
The SAS college counselors view a student’s engagement in the college admissions cycle as an educational experience. Students need to learn to ask questions, to research, to analyze their research material and then synthesize it, and to reflect on their inputs. They practice speaking, writing, and organizational skills. Most students will craft essays and take tests. So while the college application process is not a formal class at SAS, it provides a learning experience for each student. And it is the college counselor’s job to help guide and support each SAS student through this journey.
A New Office Model
The counseling office in 2016-17 functioned under a comprehensive model, meaning that all of the grade 10 through grade 12 counselors worked in the areas of both college counseling and personal, social, and academic counseling. This model often proved challenging—the competing interests of the college application process and students’ social and emotional needs were regularly at odds with each other.
SAS decided, therefore, to implement a differentiated model with two separate offices, one for college counseling and one for social emotional counseling, with support and specialization for each. All high school students now have a personal academic counselor (PAC) who works with them on issues related to emotional, social, and academic concerns. In the spring of sophomore year, all students are also assigned college counselors. The new college counseling team consists of Tina Forbush (director), Trevor Sturgeon (program manager), Andrea Hendrickson, Emily Hopwood, Kristen Kurowski, Sean McAuley, and Malissa Takacs. Having a college team that focuses solely on the college process means that we can increase the personal attention that we provide to each family; our more focused caseloads and specialized areas of concentration allow us to engage students and parents in the college counseling process more comprehensively.
We are confident that this enhancement of the high school college counseling department will result in better services for students and families. Already a number of changes are planned, including an improved programming model, a new communications plan, and our first-ever US college visit Interim Semester trip for sophomores and juniors. The college counselors will also add several internal improvements to the office this year, including increased review of counselor and teacher recommendation letters and more time to meet with college admissions representatives both here at SAS and at colleges around the world.
The college counselors continue to regard the college counseling process through the lens of an educational model. Ultimately, the college research and application experience should be about process as well as outcomes. The best outcome for each student will be both pedagogical and practical. And the college counselors will offer a positive process so that all students and families will conclude their SAS experience feeling supported and having “best fit” outcomes.
- Graduation and College Admissions