Steps Toward Success: The College Counseling Department Updates Its Practices


John Pham

“It has been a blessing to work on a team with Ms. Brigham. A team of two college counselors gives us the opportunity for more outreach to students as well as building additional college application flex times into the fall and spring for juniors and seniors,” Ms. Hanley said.

Mackenzie Torres, Assistant Editor

For many upperclassmen, the college application process is intimidating, excessively time-consuming, and can seem never-ending. Fortunately for La Salle students, the college counseling department is actively working to ease the process. 

The college-centered portion of the current counseling department is relatively new, with Ms. Madeline Hanley joining the La Salle staff only last year and Ms. Jennifer Brigham being hired this year.

“My general role is to assist mainly juniors and seniors with the college application process,” Ms. Hanley said. “So, what that entails is building a balanced college list, and by balanced it means choosing schools that are financially, personally, and academically the right fit for a student.”

“Fit” describes whether the traits of a student and college work together; if the fit isn’t right, then the student can cross that college off their list. The counselors encourage reaching out to them, other students who are in college, and parents, because most of the heavy lifting is doing the research to build a good college list.

The college counseling department at La Salle is dedicated to making the application process as streamlined as possible. Scoir is used to send students information about colleges and visits and to allow students to explore schools on their own. 

As a newer platform, Ms. Hanley and Ms. Brigham are making many improvements to how they use the site, as well as sending in suggestions to the company itself. For example, as a new way to make the site more helpful, letter of recommendation forms will now be filled out entirely on Scoir. 

The college counseling department also created a presentation about brainstorming and starting the personal statement essay, which is on Scoir as well. “The presentation includes Ms. Brigham and I with audio explaining how to brainstorm and which resources are most effective for writing this essential component to the college application,” Ms. Hanley said. The guide will allow students to access relevant information about the college application process during their summer break.

“Because so many schools are test-optional, the essay — the personal statement — has taken on a higher importance and greater meaning in the college admissions process,” Ms. Hanley said. She added that “what [colleges] want to see in [personal statements] is your personality come through, but also that you have determination, that you have integrity, that you have grit.”

Even before COVID-19, there were schools beginning to go test-optional, and that number quickly increased afterward, according to Ms. Brigham. When Boston College visited last fall, for example, they said that they were doing a study on going test-optional by researching the effect on students who did and didn’t submit test scores. 

“I think there are some [colleges] that are thinking they’re going to go back because I think their feeling is that it’s so hard to differentiate between qualified students,” Ms. Brigham said. 

It makes it difficult for colleges to choose new students when there is a less comprehensive amount of information on them. However, Ms. Brigham does think that this is a way to open doors for more students to colleges, since there is less of a boundary, and the counselors have also seen an increase in college applications in general. 

This year, the deadline for the FAFSA (Free Application for Financial Student Aid) is changing, which could mean how seniors plan for college is, too. It is expected to be released sometime in December, which is a change from the normal Oct. 1 release date. Normally, seniors could apply with early action and submit their FAFSA with their application, but now that’s changed.

According to Ms. Brigham, the FAFSA is being revised to allow more lower-income students access to grants, and the government is also looking to change some policies surrounding divorced families. Originally, it wasn’t required that students need to list the parent they spend the most time with as their reporting parent, which could give the student more money, but the new changes could prevent this.

Overall, not a lot of information about the new FAFSA has been shared with counselors and educators, but “we anticipate some announcements and more information to come out in July,” Ms. Brigham said.

The counselors are now helping seniors by going into their English classes at the beginning of the year to help develop personal statements before final deadlines start to get close, as well. 

“We are also hoping to provide a little bit more guidance for [seniors] for letters of recommendation that they need to ask La Salle teachers for,” Ms. Brigham said. “We want to help that process go a little bit more smoothly so that teachers don’t feel rushed to have to write letters of recommendation.”

For now, as the school year comes to a close, most juniors can just focus on a few simple tasks that Ms. Hanley and Ms. Brigham hope will make their senior year much easier. For starters, the counselors suggest that students should create a Common Application account, since this is essential for college to get the correct transcript and information about La Salle. And secondly, students can start drafting out a robust activities list as well as ideas for their personal statement.

While many things are changing in the college application process, the college counseling department is working to adjust to these developments.