Maya B., class of 2022, and her mother, Mindy, at Maya’s initial family college counseling meeting as a junior.

Moving the College Guidance Process Online 

Much has changed at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School this year to ensure our school community’s safety throughout COVID-19One reliable constant is BT’s renowned college guidance program, which has remained steadfast in its commitment to deliver a quality product that prepares its students for a successful future. 

BT’s highlytouted college guidance program lives up to its well-earned reputation with three expert college guidance counselors, Mrs. Halaine Steinberg, Mrs. Susanna Smith, and Mrs. Caryn Lerman, designated to work individually with each member of the junior and senior class. Their mission? To find the right college or university for each student.

We are very fortunate to have three talented and devoted college guidance counselors, and we are so proud of how much we do for our kids and the great success they achieve,” remarks BT Director of Education Dr. Zipora Schorr. Describing the process that begins very early on in each BT High School student’s career, BT Director of College Guidance Halaine Steinberg will tell you that the “focus is on finding not the college with the best ranking, but rather the college that offers the best opportunities for each individual student. Our team believes that fit isn’t everything; it is the only thing.” 

Mrs. Steinberg described the four-year college guidance process, which begins in ninth and tentgrades as students explore their academic and extra-curricular interests and culminates in eleventh and twelfth grades with implementation and applications. Throughout this past school year, little has changed in this process; students and their families continue to meet regularly with college guidance counselors, only through Zoom instead of in person. Mrs. Steinberg reports that “it still feels like we are all connected and, moreover, have a greater advantage with regards to our consultation as the online platform has provided us with an opportunity to be even more flexible with scheduling appointments with our applicants’ families.” Overall, she states, “We have done well with our college guidance processes as it’s been one of the easier things to transition during these unique times.”

BT senior Sarah S. ‘21 reports, “The college process has been seamless with my advisor’s flexibility to meet with me on Zoom. The shared screen allows us to work together as if we were in the same room.”

Sara S., class of 2021 with her mother, Cindy, discussing college acceptances and choices.

BT’s college guidance counselors continue to provide the same service online that they previously delivered in person: serving as a valuable and supportive resource for students and their parents; creating a college application list with the studentscoordinating college visits and interviews; guiding students through writing the all-important college essay; writing personalized letters of recommendation and calling every school to which each student applied to advocate on their behalf. Throughout the years, the college guidance and administrative faculty have developed excellent relationships with many colleges, which has allowed college counselors to advocate actively for their students directly with college admissions staff, often traveling to schools across the country to speak on behalf of their students. BT junior Maya B. ‘22, who recently began her college application journey with Mrs. Steinberg as her guide, says of her first college counseling meeting, I think it was just as productive as an in-person meeting. It really felt like we were talking face to face, and I feel like I got a lot out of it.”

Navigating College Admissions During COVID

While the college guidance process remains as consistent as possible for BT students thanks to their college guidance advisorsthe experience still feels different given the global limitations imposed by COVID-19. Students are unable to go to in-person information sessions and tours on college campuses and, instead, must take advantage of the virtual tours and sessions offered by colleges. In addition, where college admissions representatives would previously travel to high schools to meet applicants, presently they are meeting applicants through Zoom sessions. However, college guidance staff at BT remain unwavering in their attention and advocacy, especially as students now must make important life decisions through a virtual lens. 

In a world where everything looks so different, how do high school juniors and seniors make themselves stand out to prospective colleges and universities? Mrs. Steinberg is reassuring as she says, “Our students have found opportunities to be leaders and participate in extracurricular activities virtually. We have advised them on how to seek out virtual options to offer service to organizations that need them by pivoting from in-person service to virtual service. For example, students can provide virtual tutoring for younger peers as well as making cards to send to nursing home patients or making phone calls to the homebound. Extracurricular activities such as musical performances and school newspaper publications have gone online. Our students have shown great leadership in these endeavors, which has been rewarded in their college acceptances; for example, our seniors achieved a 79% acceptance rate at the University of Maryland this year. For context, UMD’s general acceptance rate for last year was 59%.

With 99% of BT seniors having applied to colleges early enough to have already heard back from some of their schools, 100% of those students have been accepted by at least one of the colleges where they have applied. BT’s Class of 2021 college acceptances reflects the school’s philosophy that the “best” school is the one that is the right fit for the individual student. Their students receive acceptances from 78 public and private universities and colleges to date that span a range of geographic locations in both the US and Europe, are “culturally enriching and Jewishly vibrant and which challenge their students to stretch intellectually, academically, socially and culturally,” as Mrs. Steinberg modestly puts it. With more than $4 million in merit-based scholarship money earned, BT seniors are already preparing for the next step in their education with a sense of confidence and relief. 

If you ask any high school junior what the greatest attribute of their college guidance experience is, the answer will be unanimous: individualized advocacy. They will tell you that as they each have waded through the stressful waves of the college application process, they each have found a boundless net of support and attention from their college guidance counselors as well as devoted advocacy that comes straight from the top of the school’s administration. Despite any impact of COVID-19 on this past yearBT’s college guidance program is stronger than ever. 

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