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Seniors dealing with college applications

What resources does Ballard have available for seniors, and how have students found different resources useful?

Originally published on November 9th, by Anders McAllister

Counseling Secretary Carol Bristol at work in the Ballard counseling office. (Anders McAllister)

College application season is in full swing with many seniors pushing through tests, writing essays, getting recommendations and all the other tasks involved. With this strenuous process, what resources do seniors use to help with their college applications? 

Of surveyed students, most are submitting somewhere between four and 10 applications, but even then there are seniors submitting just a few applications and others are applying to upwards of 15 schools. These applications require a variety of information, transcripts, recommendation, essays, and financial aid information.

How students have managed this process varies greatly. Some find it easier than expected, while others find the process takes far more time than they expected, or is difficult to balance with school. 

According to survey responses, “it’s horrible,” “very easy,” “incredibly stressful,” and “arduous and tedious,” are just a sampling of how different students feel. With varying workload, there are several resources available to students including private counseling. 

Only around a quarter of surveyed students have a private college counselor not affiliated with Ballard. A large 88% of students surveyed say they may or definitely would find a counselor helpful. Most students who do have a private counselor find it helpful managing the process.

“They have specific knowledge in what colleges are good fits for you and what each college specifically looks for in an applicant,” one respondent said.

“It’s something. It helps with essay writing, [where] even if you think what you wrote is [bad], they can help you polish it,” said another.

But access to private counselors are limited by a family’s finances, and for some students, it’s just not possible to hire this extra help. Often, students and their families purchase a package costing several thousand dollars that covers the price of assistance for the entire application process, while others pay for services costing between $200-$300 per hour. Besides this, outside help might not be the right choice for everyone, but there are free options provided by the school.

The counselors office and assigned counselors do provide help, and around half of surveyed students say they’ve gone to their counselor. But for those who have, the experiences have been very mixed.

Most students have had neutral, or somewhat negative experiences. Most responses address how busy the counselors are and how they couldn’t get much personalized information that addressed their needs.

“They are so busy and it feels like I don’t get personalized information and help tailored to my education,” one survey respondent said.

“Confusing information and not enough time or personal engagement,” said another.

Another respondent added that “the counselors have way too many students to be able to actually help them with applications. They also take forever to respond to emails.” 

Some have found counselors helpful for some information, but on a rating scale of 10, student responses average out to give the school counselors a neutral five in terms of helpfulness. 

So with some students complaining of confusing information, lack of engagement and high workload burdening their assigned counselors, why did the school cut the dedicated college specialist position? Around 95% of surveyed students say they would’ve gone to the counselor had they still been available, so why remove a position that students want? 

Unfortunately, it came down to budget. Originally, the district funded a specialist position focusing on college and careers, but eventually the position was cut several years back.

Principal Keven Wynkoop broke down the reasons for the cut, and unfortunately it mostly came down to available budget and resources.

“We were able to prioritize it with our discretionary dollars at the [school] level, and fund the position at half-time for a number of years,” Wynkoop said. “Eventually, we just came to a difficult decision in the budget process, and decided that other positions were more important to us.”

Wynkoop explains that much of the bigger responsibilities like college visits and exploration have been taken on by the current counseling office, but some responsibilities may be left behind. 

“I’m sure there are some things that just haven’t happened and some of the individual attention we’d love to be able to provide probably just hasn’t happened,” he said.

Despite these difficult changes,  Wynkoop encourages students to utilize the resources the counseling office does provide. 

“[The counselors] are happy and love to schedule conferences and meetings with their students to talk about letters of recommendation, possible college exploration and college choices,” he said. 

Referring to the specialist position, Wynkoop explained at the end of the day, “there’s just one fewer resource within the school able to do that work.”

The college application process can be hard to manage, and it’s not always easy to know what resources you need. But for students who may feel lost in the process, need a letter of recommendation, college advice, or help with the process, the counseling center is certainly worth a visit. 

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Seniors dealing with college applications