Colleges that Change Lives

Carolynn Laurenza, Uncommon Charter School

Carolynn Laurenza grew up in a farm town in the middle of western Massachusetts' Pioneer Valley, also known as the "Five Colleges" corridor because it's home to Amherst, Mount Holyoke, Hampshire and Smith Colleges, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. This might have presaged her choice of profession in life.

Today, Laurenza is the College Placement Coordinator for Uncommon Charter High School in Brooklyn, New York. A graduate of Swarthmore College, she earned a Masters in Education from University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Laurenza spent three years as a guidance counselor at a regional public high school in the "Five Colleges" area before joining Uncommon Charter in the summer of 2011.

"It's a different reality," says Laurenza, who was named a "Counselor that Changes Lives" earlier this year. "As a public high school guidance counselor, you're juggling many types of social/emotional issues, the administrative needs of the school, trying to help kids in all grades and doing college counseling. At Uncommon, I get to focus on college counseling."  

Congratulations to Alice Kleeman, a Counselor That Changes Lives

Congratulations to College Admission contributor and resident guest blogger Alice Kleeman on being named a Counselor That Changes Lives. According to Colleges That Change Lives, the "Counselors That Change Lives" award recognizes those whose dedication to the college counseling profession reflects the mission of CTCL. Their tireless work does not go unrecognized and this program is our way of acknowledging all that they do to help students and families on a daily basis." 

Maria Furtado, executive director of Colleges That Changes Lives, announced the awards for Kleeman and her fellow counselors this morning. The counselors honored are:


Misty Whelan, Conestoga High School

Misty Whelan has lived the college admission process from both sides of the desk, so to speak. True, she worked early in her career at Bryn Mawr College. But that's not what we're talking about. Now a counselor at Conestoga High School in Berwyn, Pennsyvania, Whelan has also navigated the college application process as a parent. Her 16-year-old daughter, Sarah, is taking her first steps in the process and her 19-year-old son is now attending Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The view from the parental side of the process has been invaluable for Whelan.

"It has really, really helped me immensely as a professional in terms of sympathizing and empathizing with families as they go through this process," says Whelan. "And the other thing it validated for me was letting my son do the work and not to do it for him. He did the bulk of the work. I learned a lot about how to center him and not have him panic or get too stressed out. Luckily, he knew what he wanted and did not have too many schools on his list.  I also learned a lot about financial aid and the scholarship process. That was the biggest eye opener for me -- how colleges fund students."

Dr. Robert Alexander of Millsaps College Answers Five Questions

Millsaps College, a private liberal arts school, located in Jackson, Mississippi, was founded in 1890 when Civil War veteran and businessman Major Reuben Millsaps made a personal gift of $50,000 -- matched by contributions from Mississippi Methodists -- toward the establishment of "a Christian college within the borders of our state."

Set on 100 acres in the heart of Mississippi's capital, today Millsaps is home to 910 undergraduate students, who come from 26 states and 23 countries. Named as both a College That Changes Lives and a Fiske Guide "best buy" school, the college has a faculty-student ratio of 1 to 9 and an average class size of 14.

Will Cardamone, Manlius Pebble Hill School

William Cardamone grew up in New York State, the youngest of ten children. His father was a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals and his parents pinned their hopes for a lawyer from the family on their youngest son, the only one of the ten who seemed interested in the law. Cardamone obliged -- in his own time -- graduating from Hamilton College and spending three years in the West as a wilderness guide before attending Vermont Law School.

But then he took another detour, teaching social studies for four years to 11th and 12th graders at Woodstock High School in Vermont's capital. He returned to the law for a few years, practicing employment and education law at a firm in Utica, New York. Until he visited a former advisor at his alma mater of Hamilton and spent the next eight years in their admission office, rising to Associate Dean of Admission.

While his wife, also a "recovering attorney," says Cardamone, rose in the ranks of her family's business which she would eventually lead, he found his true calling, As he worked with independent high schools in the region, recruiting for Hamilton, he said, "That's the job I want." In 2006, he joined Manlius Pebble Hill School in DeWitt, New York, as Dean of Students, eventually becoming Director of College Counseling in 2010.

What is the best advice for juniors on researching colleges?

In our latest feature, we're asking high school college counselors, independent counselors, deans of admission and other experts, such as financial aid officers and psychologists, to respond to our questions about all things college admission. Then we're bringing you their advice on the subject of the moment -- from essays and scholarships to interviews and extracurriculars -- including words of wisdom, mistakes to avoid, resources such as websites and books and advice on how to handle it all on a day-to-day basis. 

So… "The Question of the Month" for November is:

What is your best advice for juniors on researching colleges?

Alice Kleeman
College Advisor
Menlo-Atherton High School
Atherton, California

My best advice for juniors beginning their college research is not to come to a screeching halt the minute they see the college's posted Cost of Attendance (COA), or “sticker price.” Students might be merrily clicking through a college website, intrigued by engaging course offerings, fun clubs and organizations, and tempting housing options. Suddenly, at the sight of the sticker price, juniors throw up their hands: "Guess I didn't really want to go to that college after all."

Juniors: Subjective Guidebooks and Websites for your College Search

One of the most important steps in the college application process is researching the colleges. Last week, we brought you our list of objective guidebooks and websites -- the comprehensive catalogs that provide at-a-glance overviews for colleges and universities with facts and figures on variables such as location, cost, test scores, academics, athletics and financial aid. These are great starting points for your research.

This week, we have the subjective guidebooks and websites. These subjective resources can also provide basic facts about colleges and universities, such as acceptance rates and enrollment. But they also "review" the schools -- offering fact and opinion about the physical campus, student body, academics and other aspects of campus life. Their anecdotal nature makes them very entertaining, but pay attention to how they gather their information and from whom.

All of these guidebooks are usually available in bookstores, libraries and the office of your high school college counselor. Websites are available to everyone free of charge.



Daniel Gin, Niles West High School

Dan Gin had been a generalist high school counselor for four years when he boarded the Illinois Association for College Admission Counseling (IACAC) Bus O' Fun Tour. Road tripping for a week through ten college campuses in Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, Gin realized he had found his calling. "I could be the one who helps students find the right college," he said. And for the past eight years, Gin has, as the College and Career Counselor at Niles West High School in Skokie, Illinois.

Set in a suburb eight miles north of Chicago, Niles West is a culturally diverse public high school serving more than 2,600 students. Among those students, there are 96 different spoken languages, with the most common being Urdu, Spanish and Assyrian. Thirty per cent of the students are English language learners. Another 30% are on free and reduced lunch. And since Skokie is in the first ring of suburbs on the borders of Chicago, one in four students are transfers. So as the only college counselor on staff -- though he's assisted by 11 generalist counselors -- Gin faces some special challenges.

Palo Alto High School's Sandra Cernobori is our Counselor of the Month


College Advisor Sandra Cernobori was sitting at her desk in the College and Career Center of Palo Alto High School in Palo Alto, California, when a parent came in to talk to one of her colleagues. She was not a parent at the school, but had some questions about college admission. A few minutes into the conversation, the visitor said to Cernobori’s fellow advisor, “Let me go get my son, I want him to hear this.” Whereupon she brought into the office her 18-month-old child. Yes, you read that correctly, her 18-month-old child.

Welcome to the world of college advising in the heart of Silicon Valley where the college learning curve -- and the pressure -- starts early for some.  Founded in 1894, Palo Alto High School, known as Paly, is nationally known for its academically rigorous environment. Its campus, which serves more than 1900 students, sits across the street from Stanford University. “Our students are often from families that are highly educated or highly value education, so expectations are high,” says Cernobori. “But we also have families where the parents have not attended four-year colleges.”

Laura Stewart, Ensworth School

Laura Stewart, our March Counselor of the Month, had both a unique opportunity and challenge when she joined the college counseling program at Ensworth School, an independent college preparatory high school in Nashville, Tennessee. For 46 years -- since 1958 -- the school had served only elementary and middle school students. Then, in August, 2004, Ensworth added grades 9 through 12, opening the new 127-acre Devon Farm campus one month after Stewart joined the school as Assistant Director of College Counseling.

Over the next five years, Stewart rose to become Director of College Counseling -- in 2009, one year after Ensworth School graduated its first senior class. As a result, she has had the opportunity to participate in building a counseling program where there were no preconceived ideas. As Director, she has been able to establish policies and procedures that reflect a philosophy with her own creative stamp and then watch the program grow. "It's hard for me to imagine being anywhere else because I've been so fortunate to get to do what I want," says Stewart.