Highlights from PDS Juniors College Counseling Night

Princeton Day School's ace College Counseling team hosted their much-anticipated virtual evening program for juniors on November 19. The takeaways were numerous and the team emphasized that this is just the beginning of a year's worth of counselor-based follow-up and unique counseling conversations for juniors and their families.

PDS College Counseling Team and Approach

The 2020-2021 PDS College Counseling team

Photo (from left): Sarah Graham, Cindy Michalak, Ryan Jannos and Darling Cerna '13

Cindy Michalak, Ryan Jannos, Darling Cerna and Sarah Graham have over 40 years of combined experience in the field. The college counselors all worked in highly selective admissions offices before moving to college counseling and maintain close relationships with college and university admissions professionals around the country. "We love to share what we learned on 'the other side of the desk' and are always eager to help each PDS student through the college admissions journey," said Director of College Counseling Sarah Graham.

While each junior's family begins their formal work with the CC team this fall, the team reminded everyone that a lot of the work is already done: each student has been developing their story as an individual and a learner for many years, preparing for college every day here at PDS. 

Counselors focus on asking students to reflect on important questions, sharing strategies and broadening their exposure to college programs, all of which helps the students connect the dots and candidly think through their experiences and attributes. All of this insight informs their understanding of what they value and the environments that could be a good fit for the next step in their education. While the end results are the sights upon which all eyes are set, it is the process through which students learn about themselves and discover good college matches that brings so much value to those outcomes.

Pandemic Creates Challenges and Opportunities

A presentation slide from College Counseling Junior NIght

Applying to college during the pandemic looks different from what students imagined the process to be only a year ago, before COVID-19 became a daily reality. The College Counseling team's goal is to help families focus on what they can control and what the pandemic has taught them about what’s important to them now and in their future.

The theme when exploring colleges this year and next is to remember that choices abound and, with the help of the College Counseling office, to find out as much as possible about potentially good matches. Juniors were directed to the College Counseling team's “Top 10 Visit Tips” in each student's password-protected college counseling account (PDS uses the Maia system) for more information on exploring colleges over the next year. The student account is a primary resource for students that supports all phases of the college exploration and application process, and includes a wealth of information and tools curated by the College Counseling team. 

Students were also reminded that if they cannot visit a campus before applying this cycle, all schools have made it clear that this circumstance will in no way negatively impact admission decisions. Above all, safety comes first for everyone.

Important Next Steps

The evening program for juniors also serves as an introduction to each student's officially assigned primary college counselor. This counselor will work with them directly, help them set goals and a plan for the process, and oversee their progress through the end of senior year. College Counseling Assistant Darling Cerna also plays a crucial support role for all students, including serving as a co-counselor to any student who will be the first in their family to attend a four-year college. Mandatory college seminar classes will begin with the start of second semester, and meet once per cycle. Each of the counselors take turns teaching the rotation of college seminar classes, covering topics that include effectively researching colleges, crafting a balanced college list, making the most of speaking with admission officers, telling your story through your application, and writing meaningful essays. The CC team also encourages all parents to meet with them before September of their student’s senior year. For this year's juniors, the evening program officially started the clock on this rich and productive process that lasts for the next 18-20 months.

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