College Counselor Ms. Hanley Seeks To Create a “Streamlined” College Application Process at La Salle


Lukas Werner

In her senior year of high school, college counselor Ms. Maddie Hanley was the pickleball champion, earning a 10-foot-tall trophy full of real pickles from her school. “Now it’s become the rage, like everyone’s playing pickleball,” Ms. Hanley said. She originally learned pickleball when she was 10 years old because her grandparents had a court in their backyard.

Brooklyn Chillemi, Editor in Chief

For recently hired college counselor Ms. Maddie Hanley, finding La Salle was a similar process to how she encourages students to find colleges. “For me, it was a great fit for my personality,” Ms. Hanley said. “It just felt right.”

A large part of this fit was the fact that by becoming a college counselor at La Salle, Ms. Hanley joined a team of other counselors to collaborate with. Ms. Hanley is one of multiple recent counseling hires at La Salle, and she has appreciated the opportunities they’ve had to work together.

“I’m clearly very extroverted and social,” she said. “For me, I have to work on a team.”

In her college counseling work, she encourages students to seek out that same feeling in the schools they are considering, and let that help them decide where to apply to. “I try to give students as many suggestions as possible, also saying, ‘it’s up to you. If you don’t like this suggestion, you can cross it off the list — it doesn’t hurt my feelings.’”

She especially focuses on making the process “student-driven,” starting with their passions and narrowing down the schools by their environment, size, and other factors. “It comes down to you because you have to be happy,” Ms. Hanley said. “This is going to be your home away from home.”

However, Ms. Hanley recognizes that this process is not easy and that it takes a lot of time and research. Her journey in finding La Salle was similar, as she has moved over five times during her lifetime.

In 1993, Ms. Hanley attended the University of Washington, and “reflecting back, I wish I had been more self-reflective and taken the time to explore more college options for myself,” she said. “So when counseling students I do think of my own experience and try to emphasize the importance of finding a place where you see yourself having personal growth and challenge.”

Still, Ms. Hanley said she is very grateful for her time studying abroad in Ireland during her junior year. “If you can do study abroad, it’s the best experience in college, because you just learn so much and it’s so different from any other experience,” she said. She stayed there longer than originally planned, working in a variety of jobs, and she dreams of returning in the future, either to live there or just to visit.

Once she graduated, she worked in Prague in the Czech Republic for around a year, teaching English. She then moved to Spain and taught English there as well. Frequently traveling was “the best experience,” Ms. Hanley said.

After her time in Europe, Ms. Hanley did public relations for a company called Backroads in San Francisco, which leads biking, hiking, and other cross-country traveling for their clients.

Then, Ms. Hanley decided to attend Boston College to get her master’s degree in secondary education, so she could move on to teach high school History and English in Vancouver, Washington.

After teaching, she took a break for about eight years to move to Seattle, Washington, and have her three children — Gavin, who is currently in seventh grade, Quinn, who is in fourth grade, and Kenzie, who is in second grade. All three kids play basketball and attend All Saints, and Ms. Hanley is one of the basketball coaches there for the fourth-grade girls team. Ms. Hanley’s family also has a dog named Murphy, and her husband works as an emergency room doctor in Vancouver.

After stepping away from her job as a teacher to be a full-time mother, Ms. Hanley heard about college counseling through her brother, who works as a college counselor. She decided to sign up for a two-year college counseling certificate program through the University of California, Los Angeles, and interned at St. Mary’s Academy during this time.

While Ms. Hanley could have chosen to become a private college counselor with this certification, “[with] my personality, I was like, ‘I have to be in a school,’” Ms. Hanley said. “I know I would make way more money as a private college counselor, but to me, that’s so lonely.”

So, when Ms. Hanley heard through a friend that La Salle was looking for a college counselor, she applied right away. “I was so excited because I really like to work,” Ms. Hanley said. “I love working on a team and collaborating.”

Now that she is here, “I’m very passionate about college counseling,” Ms. Hanley said. She recognizes that college applications are “stressful,” so she is “trying to make it less stressful and put it in manageable steps.”

“If you need support in the college admissions process, I am your person,” Ms. Hanley said. This includes supplemental essays, working through the Common Application, building a balanced college list, and more.

Typically, Ms. Hanley’s school days are mostly full of individual meetings with students. “We’re trying to figure out the best way to serve everybody,” she said. “The hard thing is [that] everyone’s at different points in the whole process.”

To keep track of where students are in their applications, she uses a dashboard that is organized by class, so she can mainly focus on the seniors. “It has been so fun getting to know the seniors,” Ms. Hanley said. Her top priority is to make sure students have a “balanced list” of schools, typically with no more than 10 schools.

These schools should include two to three “wild cards,” which are “a total shot in the dark,” four “target schools,” which are a “good personal fit” for the student, and one or two “safety schools,” where “if everything goes south, I have these two schools,” Ms. Hanley said.

When Ms. Hanley isn’t meeting with students, she is submitting scholarship materials to colleges, or organizing workshops where students can learn about the college admissions process.

To keep track of the variety of schools, Ms. Hanley often visits colleges and meets with college admissions representatives to schedule visits to La Salle. “I try to get as much information as possible so that I can bring it back to La Salle,” Ms. Hanley said, so she generally knows what majors and campus atmosphere each school has to match it with the students who are interested in applying.

“My big dream for La Salle is to have a really comprehensive college-planning program,” Ms. Hanley said. “I want to streamline the whole system.”

One way that Ms. Hanley plans on improving La Salle’s college application system is by holding seminars this spring for seniors to learn about adjusting to college life, both emotionally and logistically. “I don’t know one kid that’s gone away that hasn’t felt homesick,” Ms. Hanley said. “Everyone feels a little isolated, and that’s okay,” but she hopes that these seminars better prepare students for this feeling.

“Stick with that first year, and just know that you aren’t alone in that,” she said. The seminars will also teach students about navigating other parts of life, such as laundry and credit cards.

Ms. Hanley also plans on having a few seminars for the juniors, including a night introducing the college application process, as well as a night dedicated to learning about financial aid. She also wants to use La Salle’s flex time sessions to work with juniors and clear up any confusion around the process before they get started.

“My main goal is just to create awareness and communication around the college process and to know that I’m here to support students and parents and families,” she said. “I want students to know that, ‘Hey, I know this is a big thing, and I am 100 percent here for you.’”

To see more of Ms. Hanley’s college applications advice, read here.