As seen in the Feb. 21, print edition.
Dami Kim, culture editor
Like most first-year students at Beverly, new college counselor intern Erica Larsen was “completely lost” when she first stepped onto campus. Having graduated from a small high school, Larsen did not know what to expect on her first day of work.
“[When I first walked into the school,] I expected, ‘Oh if I just walk around I will find that building,’ but no. [The school] was kind of a big maze,” she recalled. “But, I knew I was going to like being here. I’m too old to do what I don’t like.”
In order to complete the UCLA College Counseling Certificate Program, Larsen contacted head counselor Diane Hale to do fieldwork in counseling on campus. Due to the high demand of work for guidance counselors during the seniors’ college application season, the school needed a separate counselor to help support the underclassmen. In a “lucky coincidence,” Larsen was able to start her 10 week practicum with the juniors.
“It’s very interesting to see the way a large school functions, and I’m really impressed with all the work the counseling department has to do,” Larsen said. “I recently moved to the area from Manhattan Beach, so I had to do some research to see which high schools were available. I wanted to work at a public school because I knew that a lot of the private schools have their own college counselors who don’t always necessarily need or want more help.”
Larsen has been primarily helping the juniors use college match tools on the Naviance website and other available resources at the College Center. Her main goal is to help the prospective students decide on an appropriate range of schools to apply to next year.
“I think it’s more interesting to see and figure out first, what type of school you would be interested in attending,” Larsen explained. “A lot of students here want to stay close to home, but I like to try to challenge their assumptions a little bit and help them explore and map out a list of target schools, reach schools and safety schools.”
However, Larsen was not surprised when she discovered a contrasting range of students from those with high expectations for selective colleges to others who “had no idea what to do.”
“A lot of the students come talk to me already knowing what they want, and ask what they need to do in order to get into certain schools.” Larsen noted. “Since it is a public school, you do get a range of students from a Harvard kid to an SMC kid. Either way, I like to assure them that they have a lot of options.”
Prior to her counseling certificate program, Larsen worked privately with students on SAT, ACT and PSAT test preparations. Though she has never imagined becoming a college counselor, her experience in tutoring primarily high school students developed into a “fledgling college counseling practice.”
“I was noticing how many students had so many questions about the college admission process. They were totally misinformed and completely freaked out, so I ended up answering a lot of questions that they had,” Larsen said. “I love that juncture in life where you are trying to figure out your life and go in any number of directions. There’s nothing scarier than feeling the pressure of having to go to a certain place, and I want to make it less stressful for the students.”
Although her own college admission process was relatively “less stressful,” and was able to be admitted to her highest reach school, Yale University, Larsen advised students to take advantage of the college experience with a “relaxed attitude.”
“It’s not all about where you go to college, but also what you do while you are there,” she said. “It’s not always true that college is the best four years of your life, but it really can be. Every mistake creates beautiful new outcrops of possibility. Slow down and enjoy college.”
Larsen urged the underclassmen to “start early” in terms of taking AP classes, earning solid grades and committing to their interests and passions. Visiting colleges, especially during spring break, can help distinguish which college appeals more, she said.
“Start early but don’t start stressing. The blanket statements that you need to have a certain GPA or be in a certain club to get into a certain college is almost never true,” Larsen said. “The college admissions are very aware of students who are trying to have a checklist, as opposed to thoughtful, independent students who are pursuing their own dreams and aspirations. I think those statements are students’ effort to try to make sense of this somewhat arbitrary system of college admission, but admission officers are also human; they make human choices.”
After completing her 10 weeks in the beginning of March, Larsen plans to further hone her skills and expand her independent education consulting practice, focusing more on younger students.
“I think I have a good opportunity to grow over time, starting so early in this career,” Larsen said. “I have grown attached to this high school so i want to try to keep in contact with my students. It’s been a privilege.”