By Faire Davidson and Marni Barta
With nine deans, two dean coordinators, a 66âpage college counseling handbook and weekly e-mailed college updates, it is safe to say Harvard-Westlake college-bound seniors get plenty of advice.
However, each year a handful of students seek outside help in the form of a college counselor and generally do so without informing their deans. Though these students may withhold this information to avoid offending their deans, the deans say that it is actually helpful to be fully aware of how and where students are receiving extra input.
Independent counselor Patricia Demoff has worked with many Harvard-Westlake students, helping them organize their applications and perfect essays. Though Demoff cannot force a family to inform the studentâs dean of her assistance, she actively encourages them to and said that the deans regularly find out at some point in the process anyways. Demoff co-founded College Circuit, which has three counselors that share a maximum of 35 students each year.
“I have a great relationship with people at Harvard-Westlake,” Demoff said.
For Willa* â09 and Darla* â09, it was their parents who suggested they use other resources to aid with the college process. Willaâs mother found her daughterâs counselors through a friend who used them and was admitted into an Ivy League school. Willa meets with two college counselors to ensure that she has every possible advantage in the college admissions process. The first counselor proofreads Willaâs essays. The other helps refine her college list and work on all areas of each application. She also meets with an art teacher outside of school to improve the quality of her portfolio before she sends it to colleges.
While it is a top priority of the deans to be available to their seniors and support them through the college admissions process, it is a learning experience that the students should organize themselves, according to upper school deans Canh Oxelson and Beth Slattery.
“There may be students who need constant hand-holding or ânaggingâ during the process and it just isnât possible for deans to stay on top of every kidâs deadlines. Truthfully, that wouldnât be appropriate anyway,” Oxelson and Slattery said, on behalf of the upper school deans.
“If kids really need someone to organize their entire process and neither of their parents is up for the task, an independent counselor could certainly be helpful,” Slattery and Oxelson said.
Both Darla and Lizzy* â09 say their counselors help them with their essays. Lizzyâs counselor reviews and edits her essays. She also tells her when they are ready to submit and sets up interviews and college tours.
“My parents figured my dean is so busy and has so many students that he wouldnât really have the time to read draft after draft of all my essays,” Darla said. She also said that she believes there isnât a lot of direction about essay writing by the deans and her confusion over that process added to her need for an independent counselor.
However, students seem to be unaware of the quality of a 32 to 1 student dean ratio.
“Itâs easily among the best ratios in the country, especially for a school our size,” Oxelson and Slattery said. The deans also expres sed their feeling that most services students would get from outside of school counselors are already provided by the deans and paying for another counselor is unnecessary.
Additionally, the deans constantly communicate with each other regarding their students. Each student is not only supported by his own dean, but by the entire staff. While Harvard-Westlake is known by other schools in the country as having an amazing dean to student ratio, many students get independent counselors because they feel each dean is assigned too many students.
“[My counselor] has really taught me how to highlight my strengths, and I feel more like I am one of his top priorities, rather than one of 30 kids assigned to him,” Willa said. Darla also expressed concern for the number of students assigned to each dean, saying she has trouble finding her dean in his office.
In September, Willa visited Dartmouth to meet with the directors of their art programs. These meetings were set up by one of her counselors because of a connection he had with a professor of the art program.
Willa was able to see the facilities and speak with the professor about the program and the schoolâs goals within the department.
The deans, however, caution students about using independent counselors.
“Many independent counselors,” they said, “no matter how highly recommended they come, have neither college admission experience nor the context of our school in mind when theyâre working with our students. Itâs unlikely that outside counselors have the relationships with colleges that Harvard-Westlake deans do.”
Jonathan Sauer â07, who currently attends University of California, Los Angeles, used an independent counselor because he was determined to get into a prestigious Ivy League school.
“I felt the outside tutor was worth it, if one could afford it, simply because it brings insight to the process and increases the options of colleges a student has to choose from,” he said.
* These names have been withheld upon request