Counseling Department, students work overtime for college deadlines


Matt Pichola

The Counseling Department is a flurry of activity around the November deadlines, but the hard work begins early and ends late.

T. White
T. White

It is 11:30 at night and you are up doing work for a deadline that needs to be met tomorrow.

You could have had this work done much earlier in the week, but instead you are up doing last minute work late at night.

Sounds like 21st century education collaboration gone wrong? Maybe.

But this is also how Counseling Assistant Mrs. Susan Sarafinas spent her Saturday night on October 31.

Sarafinas said that the college process on her end begins during junior year.

“Basically, I start with making sure that your junior year transcript to your senior year course schedule is in line — meaning that you obtained all the credits necessary for graduation,” she said.

The Counseling Department physically loads the transcript into each student’s Naviance account. Then, students work with the college counselors to determine the colleges to which they will apply.

“We will start building your Naviance file, so first off and most importantly is your transcript,” Sarafinas said. “Then we will make sure your counselor statement is prepared.”

Next, comes the secondary school report, the counselor report, and the teacher recommendations.

This year’s senior class is projected at about 800 college applications.

Managing this workload takes  long hours & dedication

That part, at least, is automated. “We have deadlines we give the faculty in order to obtain those documents,” Sarafinas said. “They will upload them automatically to Naviance, which is great.”

Sarafinas said that for a class of 116 students, the applications far exceed the applicants. “This year we are at about 800 applications,” she said.

According to the National Association for College Admissions Counseling’s 2014 State of College Admissions Report, college application numbers have been on the rise. For 10 of the past 15 years, more than 70% of colleges reported year-to-year application increases.

The week before any college application is due is basically crunch time on the second floor of Tolentine. November 1 and November 15 can be some of the busiest deadline dates, according to Sarafinas.

Sarafinas said those dates can mean many hours of submitting applications, “provided that technology is on my side, the programs are running smoothly and there’s no delays in processing as far as the actual network itself.”

Not only does Sarafinas spend entire school days constantly working on these application submissions, she also spends a good amount of her own her time doing so.

“Leading up to those Sunday deadlines, I was going my entire work days here, 7:30 to 4:00, 4:30, 5:00, and then some time in the evening depending on how much volume came in from the kids,” Sarafinas said.

‘Some time’ could be very late. “I did submit up until 11:30 on October 31,” Sarafinas said

As long as the student applying does his part before the deadline, Sarafinas said she believes that it’s only fair if she does her part as well.

Some months tend to be significantly busier than others in the College Counseling Department.

“So in November, that’s always the busiest month for college advising. October 15 deadlines don’t get the press that November 1 deadlines get,” Mr. Ian Harkness, Director of College Counseling, said.

Harkness, along with Sarafinas, also has a busy schedule during these times.

“Each morning I would wake up around 5:00 or 5:30 to read a few essays or write a few recommendations before school,” Harkness said.

Harkness’ early mornings during deadline time are accompanied by busy work days.

“During the day it tends to be constant meetings with students or teaching class or working on this college process in person,” he said.

And again, don’t be fooled, Harkness is also a man of late nights. “I might write two or three more letters in an evening,” he said.

In total, Harkness had to write 40 recommendations this year for students. The process of writing these recommendations can take months.

“I started writing the second week in September… most of them were done by November 1,” he said.

Harkness was new to the Malvern counseling department this year. Now that he has got the sense of how everything goes, he has made some different plans for next year.

“I think next year will be different because I’ll start writing some of those recommendations over the summer this year,” he said.

For the College Counseling Department, there is one recurring factor that helps keep everyone organized.

“We are lucky to have Naviance, a system that really works,” Harkness said.

Naviance keeps each person organized in a different way, but in general it is very helpful to the Counseling Department.

According to Naviance’s website, “The Naviance college and career readiness platform offers a variety of solutions that enable students and families to collaborate more effectively with counselors and teachers and allow school administrators to optimize student potential and learning outcomes.”

“I like Naviance because it shows me on the back end what you have done as an applicant. I can see when you have submitted your applications… but I can also see each of the pieces submitted from our office,” Harkness said.

The Counseling Department also supplements Naviance’s organizational tools with their own method: blue slips.

“Our own process, the blue slip process, also works quite well because it actually makes students kind of tune in to each of those schools and what are they asking for,” Harkness said.

The blue slip process is a process in which each student fills out a short form for the college(s) they are applying to, what kind of admission (rolling, early action, etc.), and who wrote their teacher recommendations.

This whole process of applying to college also has an effect on the student’s day and work load.

“The end of the first quarter was approaching at the same time of my application deadline and it’s hard to get all the work done on both ends in time,” senior Evan Tate said.

On top of the work that college counselors do, they also meet individually with students to help them through the process and make the choice easier.

“My counselor actually ended up recommending my top choice to me,” senior Joe Markferding said.

But along with counselors, students spend significant time up late at night completing work for their college applications.

“It was New Year’s Day and it was about 11 o’clock and I remembered I had to finish my Delaware application so I finished it in about an hour and submitted it,” senior Chris Abbott said.

The College Counseling Department has their own ways to stay organized and focused, but how do the students do it?

“Watching Netflix and listening to music helps me focus. My dad is also on top of me to make sure I get all of my work finished,” Tate said.

“I had to maintain a 3.0 GPA, so I set myself goals and told myself that I couldn’t do things like play XBox until I got my school work finished,” senior Chance DiFebbo said.

The college application is a group effort between the students and the counselors to make sure everything gets submitted on time. Although the work can be time-consuming and stressful, the College Counseling staff still love their jobs for different reasons.

“I love my job… If I’m pushing paper for you and clicking buttons and that’s the part that I am aiding you in doing so, I get to enjoy that smile on your face or that sweatshirt announcing where you’re going,” Sarafinas said.