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La Salle’s Personalized And Practical Approach To College Counseling Pays Off For Students

Here’s some good news if you’re a La Salle College High School student or parent: You know those escalating tuition and room and board fees, escalating admission requirements, and that escalating pressure on high school students you keep hearing about?

The school’s College Counseling Department’s multi-tiered, highly personalized approach provides practical avenues and solutions that minimize those staggering concerns as it guides each student along his path to acceptance. The goal is not to push every student into a highly selective university – though a substantial number get accepted to them. It’s to provide the information, counseling, and skills – even down to what to say and wear during an interview – needed to pick a college that ensures success.

``The goal is to find that academic, personal, and financial fit,’’ says Gerard M. Brett, the faculty chair of La Salle’s five-member College Counseling Department. ``To have them go to a place where they are flourishing and challenged, but not in over their head. The goal is to have a well-balanced list with a few likely, target, and reach schools.”  

The College Counseling Office burnishes its knowledge in the field by attending annual state and national conferences and by visiting colleges throughout the nation throughout the year.  For instance, former La Salle Principal Michael A. O’Toole, ’68, who will join Katie Palopoli, Maura Diehl, and Jim Sawyer in the College Counseling Department in January focusing on essay writing among other aspects of the college search and admissions process, traveled to the University of Texas to see what it could offer LSCHS graduates.

La Salle’s College Counseling Department makes sure the students’ lists are balanced and realistic and that the students position themselves for success. Cumulatively, La Salle students achieve statistics that are, in their own right, impressive. Consider this: last year, Class of 2021 seniors were accepted to 240 colleges and universities in five countries, 40 states and the District of Columbia. They ultimately enrolled in 99 separate universities in 25 states and two countries, 54 of which were private and 20 were Catholic.

The schools might be as big as Penn State or as small as Franklin and Marshall. Some have global reputations like Yale and Cornell, and the Naval and Air Force academies. Students travel as far as Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland or stay as close as Drexel. Over 20% of the Class of 2021 enrolled at a college 500 miles or more from La Salle’s campus. Even more important than the acceptances, perhaps, is that 83 percent of that class reported documented scholarships and grants valued in excess of $41 million.

``We strive for that academic and reputational balance, but we strive for a financial fit too,” says Brett, who spent the early part of his career on the other end of this process, working in the admissions office of Villanova University. “It’s great that you get into a highly selective university but as a family can you afford that? And can we figure out together ways to make that affordability happen?’’

La Salle introduces college and career fundamentals and the analysis of standardized testing information during Group Advisory Classes during freshmen and sophomore year and then begins focusing in earnest on the college admission process during junior year. Once every eight-day cycle, students attend a separate class where the college search and application process is explained. The classes continue first semester senior year, when students fill out applications, polish essays, and are prepped on aspects of the interview process, from potential questions that might be asked of them, to making and keeping eye contact, even shaking hands.

College Counselors then have one-on-one meetings with each student to discuss what they might be looking for at the next level, both from an academic and social standpoint. How big of a school are students looking for? Are they leaning towards the humanities, sciences, business, engineering, or technology? How far from home are they willing to move for an academic opportunity?

Students are introduced to Scoir, an interactive cloud-based college search tool that uses La Salle-specific historical data to refine the college list as well as College Kickstart, which helps students and families balance the college list and maximize admission odds. In addition, the office offers an in-depth college essay bootcamp throughout the summer in conjunction with College Essay Guy.

The process ramps up at the start of senior year when 175 colleges typically visit La Salle during the first two months of school. Of those, about 65 ordinarily send representatives to La Salle’s annual College Interview Day, held for over 35 years on the first Tuesday of October. ``By October of senior year, students should have a general idea of the schools they are interested in,’’ says Brett. ``We ask the colleges to be realistic and honest with them… Even if it’s `It may not happen here, but here are some other colleges to consider’ or maybe they say, `You’re solid and will likely be accepted.’  Others may even hear, `You’re going to qualify for $20,000 of merit scholarship money.’’

Approximately 87 percent of La Salle seniors apply to at least one school by Nov. 1, the most common deadline for Early Action or Early Decision. Another group of colleges target Nov. 15 as their early date, and still more set Dec.1 as a deadline.

By Christmas, 95 percent of La Salle seniors have submitted applications to preferred schools according to Brett. Last year, 75 percent of the senior class was accepted to one of the colleges on Barron’s Most Competitive and US News & World Report Top 50 National, Liberal Arts, or Public Colleges/Universities list.

For La Salle students and their parents, that too is staggering.

But in a good way.

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