While day-to-day learning may currently look different than it normally does for RLS students, the path following graduation for most of them remains familiar: to matriculate to a college or university that is well-suited to their needs and goals.

Thankfully, Stevenson is equipped with a superb college counseling program to guide students and families—one that offers richly informative resources regarding the admissions process, and that is staffed by a skilled and experienced team, eager to help each student navigate their way through a process that can often seem daunting.

Despite students’ current absence from campus, the School’s college counseling program hasn’t missed a beat, thanks to the outstanding leaders at its helm: Martha Allen, Director of College Counseling, and Jonathan (Jon) Burke, Associate Director of College Counseling.

Martha came to Stevenson from Swarthmore College, where she was the Director of International Recruitment and Associate Dean of Admissions. Prior to Swarthmore, she was the Director of College Counseling at Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr, PA. She has over thirty years of experience guiding students through the college application process. At Stevenson, she serves as a member of the academic department heads group, and she meets with these colleagues weekly to brief them regarding admissions and to keep a finger on the pulse of the School’s teaching and learning methods.

Jon joined Stevenson in July 2019 from York School in Monterey, where he served as the director of college counseling. Prior to York, he worked at Sacred Heart Schools in Atherton, CA for 12 years, where he was an associate director of college counseling. Jon has extensive experience working with top-level student-athletes in the collegiate athletics recruitment process.

Both Martha and Jon have a deep understanding of how to help students find the right path to match their academic level, particular interests, and emerging career goals, and both have mastered making a stressful, somewhat tense process feel as manageable and stress-free as possible.

In addition to having two dedicated directors who spearhead the college guidance process from the start of the Upper Division to the time acceptance letters are received, Stevenson is unique in that it offers students a team of four additional teacher/counselors (classroom teachers trained in college counseling), who juniors may opt to work with on their college application process instead of a counselor designated for them by the School. Each of the four members on the counseling team has undergone specialized professional training so they can effectively advise college-bound students, and all are closely supervised by Martha and Jon, who meet with the team weekly for regular check-ins.

Another relatively new addition to the college counseling team is Katie Bell.  Katie came to Stevenson from Yale University, where she was the Director of the Yale Visiting International Student Program and Deputy Director of the Yale Center for International and Professional Experience. At RLS, Katie does one-on-one counseling, in addition to organizing college tours and coordinating College Board testing. She also currently reads applications for the Yale College Undergraduate Admissions Office, giving her valuable insight into the process from the college perspective.

Allowing students to choose their own college counselor based on an established relationship with pre-existing trust gives Stevenson a particular competitive advantage over schools: it makes for stronger relationships between students and counselors—where counselors have a genuine understanding of students’ strengths, goals, and needs—and, ultimately, results in a more successful and enjoyable college application process for students and their families.

One other way that Stevenson’s college counseling program shines is through the programming provided, including numerous events to teach Upper Division students and parents about the college application and testing process. The program also offers opportunities to speak with and hear from admissions representatives from schools across the country. (These workshops take place in addition to individual meetings with junior and senior students and their families).

Martha explains that some of the biggest events hosted by the counseling center each year include: “a workshop for parents of juniors, a workshop for potential recruited athletes, practice SAT and ACT exams (and, when we reopen campus, actual SAT and ACT exams for juniors), a summer application boot camp for rising seniors in the summer right before school starts, fall workshops for seniors about the details of the application process that they need to know for the fall, and specific workshops on financial aid, the UC applications, and the Cal State application.” The Counseling Center also facilitates regular college tours to schools across the US, and these trips allow students to visit multiple campuses, in-person, alongside their peers. (Although in-person tours are currently suspended due to the COVID pandemic, they will be resumed as soon as it is safe to do so).

Owing to Stevenson’s switch to remote learning this year, the counseling center has offered all of their customary programming using Zoom. So far, in the ‘20-’21 school year, the counseling center hosted two online events for PIrate families. The first was a college webinar over Parent Weekend in October. The event was open to all interested families, and it included Directors or Deans of Admissions from Harvey Mudd College, New York University, and Yale University.  Martha explains, “I was the facilitator and asked questions focusing on selective admission during this unique year, channeling the questions that the college counselors are getting from families in these unique times.” There was also an information session for Grade 11 students and their families in November, featuring the VP for Enrollment at the University of Chicago, which, Martha explains, “was a bit more focused on the things that Juniors need to be thinking about now.”

Specifically tailored counseling events continue for Grade 11 students throughout the spring term and into their senior year. Each is focused on a topic relevant for all students. Students also begin their individual work honing their unique college application process (with the help of their preferred counselor) during the spring of their Junior year.

While the experience of finishing high school and departing for their next adventure may look different for Pirates right now, the college counseling center and team has done an excellent job at ensuring that students and families are as prepared and informed as ever. They remain a critical part of what helps the School achieve its central mission: “to prepare students for success in school and life beyond school, to foster their passion for learning and achievement, and to help them shape a joyful life.”