Counselors of the Month: Marybeth Kravets and Imy Wax, Authors

Our Counselors of the Month for August are widely respected professionals in the world of college counseling and educational consulting -- though not high school college counselors per se.  Marybeth Kravets is Chief Education Officer for Chicago Scholars, a not-for-profit serving high-need college-bound students; previously she was the college counselor for Illinois' Deerfield High School for 31 years. Imy Wax is a licensed psychotherapist and educational consultant currently in private family practice.

We are especially thrilled to have them as our Counselors of the Month because Kravets and Wax are the coauthors of The K&W Guide to College Programs & Services for Students with Learning Disabilities or AD/HD. Their guide is a comprehensive resource for selecting the right college for students with learning disabilities-- not always a simple task for students with special circumstances. The book includes information such as admissions requirements and graduation policies for learning disability programs; services available to learning-disabled students at each college such as tutors, note-takers, oral exams, and extended test time; names, phone numbers, and email addresses of programs administrators at each school; and strategies and advice from learning disabilities specialists.

The pair met when Wax, a clinician with an orientation in neuroscience and brain research, volunteered at the College Resource Center at Deerfield High School where Kravets was the counselor. Wax's daughter had multiple learning differences. "From the time my daughter was four, I started looking for colleges," Wax says. "I was told because she had severe learning disabilities she would never go to college and have a hard time getting through high school. I decided at that point my daughter was going to college."  (She did. Graduating from New England College in New Hampshire, she is now a film archivist and digital designer.)

Wax and Kravets went on a search for resources for LD students and soon realized there were none.  So they wrote one. When publishers weren't interested, they self-published and quickly sold out the 3,000 copies they had printed. After an appearance on the Today Show (Bryant Gumbel has a child with a learning difference), offers from publishers quickly followed.  The Princeton Review/Random House will offer the 11th edition of their guide in September.

A graduate of University of Michigan, Kravets holds a Masters in Guidance and Counseling from Wayne State University. Married, she is a parent of four and has eight grandchildren. In addition to her work at Chicago Scholars, she has a private consulting practice. For a while, though, she thought she might not get work as a counselor.  She traded commodities on a Chicago exchange for six years because she couldn't find a job in counseling.  She is most proud of having received the Gayle C. Wilson Award for outstanding service to the profession of counseling from the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

Wax is a graduate of the Illinois School of Professional Psychology and holds a M.S. from City University of New York. In addition to her private practice, she conducts workshops for parents of children with LDs and is a frequent radio and television guest.  Married, she has two children -- one with a severe LD and the other with mild ADHD. Wax, too, has a learning disability. She brings those experiences to her work. "I always dream the dream. I'm a believer and very positive about everything," says Wax. "I do have moments of pain. When you have a child with special needs, you can never let go 100%. I've been very successful and lucky because I have great kids. But a parent becomes traumatized for life when they have a special needs child. But I don’t allow it to run my life and I live and work for solutions."

We're honored to feature the advice of Marybeth Kravets and Imy Wax this month.

How did you become a college counselor?

Kravets:               I was working as a generalist counselor at Deerfield High School, a public school in suburban Chicago, and the college counselor extraordinaire retired and I was asked if I wanted "to try to fill her shoes?" I found my own shoes! I became professionally involved with Illinois Association for College Admission Counseling and the National Association for College Admission Counseling (serving as president for both over the years), traveled to over 3000 colleges, and 33 years later I am still involved with the profession.

Wax:     My background is quite different from those of traditional high school college counselors. After graduating with my Masters, I worked with students who shared a history of academic challenges. My background and training were more about the clinical needs of the student rather than college options. Two issues guided me to look more closely at college counseling.  First, my daughter who was starting high school had learning differences; and second, Marybeth Kravets and I sat down to co-author a book on college options for students with special needs.  Guiding students through the college process became a greater part of my work as both a psychotherapist and educational consultant. That was 22 years ago.

What is your motto?  

Kravets:               If you dream it, you can achieve it! (Borrowed from Chicago Scholars)

Wax:     The more you know about yourself, the more doors will open.

What is the one thing a high school counselor should never do?

Kravets:               Never ever say, “You have no chance of achieving that goal!"

Wax:     A high school counselor should never minimize the dreams of a student.  Many times I see students who, when they first walk in my door, start telling me where they know they want to apply. They have either heard about the college from peers or from someone at home. Yet there are times those choices are very unrealistic. I see my job as engaging the student over time in conversation, and guiding them through the college process so that they will come to a more clear understanding of what is best for them. My goal is for them to take ownership of their future as “clearly" as possible.

What is the most important thing a high school counselor can do?

Kravets:               Be a good listener!

Wax:     High school counselors have a very large number of students to see. The best thing they can offer is a supportive “ear” so that the student feels that the counselor understands who they are.

What are the favorite books on your college-counseling shelf?

Kravets and Wax:

The K&W Guide to Programs and Services for College Students with LD/ADHD by Kravets and Wax 11th Edition (Available Fall 2012) 

Four Year College Admissions Data: Index of Majors and Sports published by Wintergreen Orchard House

Fiske Guide to Colleges by Edward Fiske

The College Finder by Steve Antonoff

The Insider's Guide to Colleges by the Yale Daily News Staff

What is the biggest mistake you see a student make in applying to college?

Kravets:               Not being realistic and not having their priorities in order.

Wax:     Students become so nervous that one of two things could happen during the application process: they don’t carefully review what they have written and/or they have parents who are helping them so much that the essay and other information sounds more like the adult than the student. Colleges are very sensitive to both of these issues.

What is your single best piece of advice for applicants?

Kravets:               The student needs to own the process.

Wax:     If a student is not going to work with a private consultant, they should find a friend or two with whom they can develop a dialogue that not only helps each of them to move forward in the completion of the application, but also allows them to act as a “sounding-board” for each other as they develop the essays.

What are some of the do's and don’ts for parents in the application process?

Kravets:              

Do not be in the driver's seat.

Do be accepting.

Do be supportive.

Do not go into the interview unless invited.

Do understand the disability.

Wax:     Students have a difficult time writing the essay. Sometimes that's due to a learning disability. Parents should  help their student find out which compensatory technology works for them and have them use it instead of relying on the parents (to do it) – unless the parent is planning on attending college with them, (a don’t of course).

What is your best advice for families about financial aid?

Kravets:               If aid is needed, apply. Understand debt repayment. Compare offers. Contact the financial aid office with questions. Know if the college requires additional financial aid forms And file the FAFSA on time!

As authors of the K&W Guide to College Programs and Services for Students with LD or ADHD what is your best advice for students with learning differences for the college application process?

Kravets:               Disclose and be prepared to be the teacher for those who do not understand. And self-advocate.

Wax:     There are forms in the 11th edition of our book that students can use to think about which colleges and why. It’s especially important for these students to visit campuses of different size, spend time sitting in a class at each college, hang out in the student cafeteria, look around and perhaps have a conversation with other students. If students take the time for a visit, they feel more motivated. Once they have begun, they should schedule on their calendar days and time to work on the applications so they will have goals set in place. It’s difficult to remember to complete something if it’s not part of the weekly schedule.

How is the process of applying for college different for a student with a learning difference?

Kravets:               Students need to be sure that their individual needs can be met and they need to know what accommodations are needed to be successful. Students who are not challenged with learning issues can typically find the academic support they need through campus resources offered to all students. However, students with learning differences need to know if access to just the basic services mandated by federal law will be enough or if they need a more structured program in order to be successful in college.

Wax:     Students with learning challenges must understand how their brains are wired and how they have compensated in order to be successful. If they take for granted the support they were given in high school and don’t understand why that support was given to them, they will not be able to use that necessary knowledge in determining what they need in a college support program. How can they pick a college that’s “right” for them without understanding these aspects?

What is your best advice for parents of students with learning differences who are concerned about their student’s college application process in some way?

Kravets:              

•             Become educated consumers about the process and the colleges.

•             Understand your student’s learning challenge and keep the priorities in order.

•             Be frank and honest about what parameters you have put around the search so you are all “speaking the same language."

•             Make sure your student has a balanced list of colleges that does not include only colleges where admission chances are very “iffy."

•             Be proud of your student's successes and let them know that often.

•             Find an agreeable way to communicate throughout the process so that it does not become a source of stress in the family.

Wax:    

•             Do not allow your anxiety to influence the student’s college process.

•             Hire someone, whether a tutor or an educational consultant, to be the mentor for the student.

What questions should students and parents ask to determine the support services at the colleges on their lists?

Kravets:              

There are many questions:

•             Is there a separate application process?

•             Is there a structured program?

•             Is there a fee for services?

•             Are there course substitutions in math or foreign language graduation requirements?

•             Is there a resource center staffed by professionals?

•             How are professors notified of student eligibility for accommodations?

Should a student with a learning difference always self-disclose when applying?

Kravets:               There is no one answer but students should be proud of their accomplishments and disclosing shows they have accepted life's challenges and developed the compensatory strategies needed for success. Colleges in general are always interested in how students deal with challenges or setbacks.

Wax:     Disclosing a learning disability is important, especially when a student will need services. Having said that, there may be different reasons that determine the best time to self-disclose. For example, sometimes it’s important to “talk about” why there is a big difference between a GPA and an ACT or SAT score and sometimes there are courses indicated on the transcript that colleges will know are more remedial and there should be an explanation. Also, many times, if a student knows that there is a good support program at the college, the student will need to show documentation in order to get support once they have been admitted. These are just some examples.

Do you have any advice for a student about addressing a learning difference in the essay?

Kravets:               Highlight where they were, where they are and where they see themselves after college. Tell the story.

Wax:     The more confident a student is about “who I am” in their essay, the better… especially if they can frame the essay around some experience that has made a difference and explain why. The emphasis should be on what they can accomplish, not why they can’t.

When visiting campuses, what additional facilities off the official tour should students with learning differences seek out?

Kravets:              

•             Disability Resource Center

•             Tutoring center

•             Advising center

•             Locations where students might take “reduced distraction exams/tests"

•             Counseling center

•             Study areas

Wax:     The more support a student has when they start freshman year the better. If there are no, or very few, counseling services offered on-campus, then students should determine how close the nearest support might be. This can influence whether or not a student should look at colleges which are close to a city.

Ms. Kravets, you are also working extensively with underresourced students, how is the process different for such students?

Kravets:               Potential gaps in financial aid can be devastating and families should gather all available information about financial aid and any scholarship money for students who are economically challenged. Also, check out resources for financial support on campus. And compare all options before selecting a final choice college so that you know and understand the true cost of attending.

What is your best advice for students who come from homes without a college-going culture or from homes where they would be the first to attend college?

Kravets:              

•             Ask parents to be open-minded.

•             Invite parents to attend workshops with you.

•             Identify a relative or neighbor who will be willing to check in with your parents when you are away at college.

•             Hope that there are professionals who can help your parents navigate this journey.

Wax:     There are programs on college campuses explicitly designed for students who are first-generation.  It will take a little research, but this is a very important resource for transitioning to attending college.

With so much in the news about diversity and affirmative action, was there a time in college or your career when you had an “aha” diversity moment – a time when being in a diverse environment yourself taught you something valuable?

Kravets:               Teaching 5th grade in the early 1960's, I realized that students were not learning in the same way. When I differentiated my instruction based on individual needs -- "aha!" -- this population achieved.

 

 

 

 

 

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