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RPS Voices: The Rutgers Prep Blog

Mentors and Champions: College Counselors Innovate to Find the Right Fit for Students
Mentors and Champions: College Counselors Innovate to Find the Right Fit for Students

It is no secret that the pandemic of COVID-19 has uprooted “traditional” practices in schools in the classroom and in athletics, but one vital program in schools has been impacted at an even greater level due to its dependence on external institutions. The people in this field demonstrate flexibility, creativity, and resilience at extraordinary levels, and not only during the pandemic. They are experts in adjusting to new practices and initiatives; they are forward and nimble thinkers, constantly developing and improving their practices to meet the demands of a competitive college placement market.

THEY are College Counselors, and they are committed to guiding students and families to find a path for the future that is not only financially and academically successful, but also toward one that will bring fulfillment and happiness. Prior to the invasion of COVID-19, Rutgers Preparatory School’s college counselors implemented a program with the idea that it would provide an intimate and individualized experience for students and families, utilize the most cutting-edge and effective practices, and be ever-evolving to meet the needs of the times. Over a decade ago, Rutgers Prep instituted a Pre-college Counseling program that connects counselors with 9th and 10th graders and their families. This enables counselors to form deep relationships with students from the onset and provide guidance in the selection of courses, summer programs, institutes, and internships that will put them on a path to discover their passions and truly find the appropriate path for the future. The Pre-college Counseling program also creates a unique opportunity for advisors and college counselors to work cooperatively; each student essentially has two advocates in their corner working diligently to get to know who they are and what inspires them to guide them toward fulfillment. 

Additional programs, such as Junior and Senior Seminar, go beyond instructing students on how to tackle the college application process. Our college counselors implemented a curriculum that combines components of the college search and application process with social-emotional learning. Throughout these seminars, students engage in introspective activities such as mindfulness practices and mapping out goal-setting. The program is grounded in self-reflective processes that focus on instilling resilience and self-compassion. Students learn to accept failure as a positive and crucial part of the path toward success and conquer it with an ambitious, optimistic, and flexible mindset. This all happens before students engage in the college selections process. Veteran counselor Sherry Riggi states, “In College Counseling we believe in students having a clear understanding of their strengths and interests before they begin to make a list of colleges. This happens through a series of assignments in Junior Seminar as well as conversations with the student's college counselor. There is so much outside ‘noise’ and so many opinions regarding college selection, the students need to contend with, so the idea of ‘fit and match’ allows students to take control of the process, look within and identify the types of community that will allow them to grow as individuals. I think one of my student's said it best when he wrote me a note at the end of the year; ‘The design of this college process helped me discover who I am and who I hope to be.’” This may sound extraneous to some, however, in a competitive college market, it provides Rutgers Prep students with an invaluable edge over the competition. Our students enter college with an incredible sense of self, with the ability to set goals, take risks, and bounce back from any setbacks. Last year 92% of Rutgers Prep seniors applied Early Action and Early Decision to schools. Compared to the national average of 10-12%, this indicates a level of confidence and self-awareness in our students that is unparalleled.

The series of challenges brought by the pandemic did not deter Rutgers Prep college counselors. They continue to build connections and break barriers by establishing face-to-face opportunities for students and families as often as possible, even if it is through a virtual platform. Evening programs that were historically run for families such as Transition Nights and Financial Aid Guidance, were not canceled, but rather transformed into a webinar format. The process of compiling credentials from students was moved to digital submission to accommodate those that attend school virtually. In addition, counselors added to the program’s curriculum, integrating lessons on email etiquette and how to effectively represent oneself through email correspondence. The department created accessible templates to assist students when requesting information from Admissions Counselors or recommendations from teachers. Counselors connected with colleges that have a long-standing relationship with Rutgers Prep, and established exclusive virtual tours for our students. Recent alumni were contacted to set up individual zoom meetings with juniors and seniors to provide students with a firsthand account of what it is like to attend college during a pandemic. There is now a designated space on Rutgers Prep’s campus for in-person and remote students to meet with college representatives simultaneously through Zoom. And, although many colleges have become “test-optional,” Rutgers Prep wanted its students to have the opportunity to choose, and therefore, college counselors contacted the SAT and ACT to request that Rutgers Prep becomes a test center that is exclusive for our students. The SAT was taken on campus in late September and the ACT in early October.

The college counselors at Rutgers Prep credit the culture that is embedded in the school by enabling them to provide students and families with the most effective practices and strategies despite the challenges of the time. Experienced college counselor Shelley Krause states, "At Rutgers Prep, the culture of persistent encouragement leads to some exciting outcomes amongst our students. I have seen students grow from feeling uncertain about their skills in a subject to successfully completing an AP-level course in that same subject. I have known so many students who have found ways to enrich our community through sharing their passions with others. I am reminded every day of the ways in which we support our students' development, not just in terms of becoming college students, but in the long quest of becoming lifelong learners. By the time I’m working with students, they have already benefited from the opportunities that Rutgers Prep has offered them, and I love having the chance to support them in the next leg of their journey." At Rutgers Preparatory School every experience is grounded in the mission: to “inspire students to discover and pursue their passions, embrace intellectual curiosity and creativity, and lead with confidence.” Faculty, staff, and coaches are committed to maintaining an environment that is safe and secure, where students can feel comfortable taking risks and truly discover who they are. Our college counselors’ efforts and unique approaches, paired with an inclusive culture, are truly the foundations for success. Our students continue to be our students long after they leave our campus for higher education and the career world. Rutgers Preparatory School takes immense pride in the fulfillment and successes that our alumni report back to us. 

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