Authenticity and Self-Reflection: Dorothy Jones on College Counseling at Bay

Dorothy Jones at NACACEarlier this month, Director of College Counseling Dorothy Jones presented Bay’s approach to the college admission process at the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s annual conference. Read on to learn more about how the College Counseling team helps students find a college that truly resonates with them.


Thank you for being here for this session. My name is Dorothy Jones and I’m the Director of College Counseling at The Bay School of San Francisco. It is a true honor to tell you a little bit about The Bay School and the work we are doing with our students in College Counseling.

To give you some background: The Bay School is just beyond its infancy. We were founded 10 years ago, which means we are rounding the corner into our adolescence as a school. The creation of the curriculum, ethos and culture of the school was very forward-thinking; what has emerged is a high school with an innovative, inquiry-based, depth-over-breadth curriculum, where students have lots of opportunities to explore various academic interests while also learning how disciplines intersect. Bay is a high school that has built a culture where the students can and do bring their “whole selves” to school – here, a high value is placed on authenticity, kindness and a growth mindset.

A huge benefit of being brand new and having a clear mission and values was the opportunity to build a college counseling program that truly reflects the culture of the school and to think about education from a perspective of what skills people will need in the future. My predecessor was able to leverage this opportunity to create a college search and application process that is student-centered and focused on fit, and that attempts to minimize the stress of the process. I think every counselor in this room believes that the college search process should be focused on helping the student find the right fit. The bigger questions are: What are effective ways to facilitate that matchmaking? How do we leverage the college search process to create teachable moments for our students? How do we have students take responsibility for identifying and articulating what is a good match for themselves?

At The Bay School, we practice mindfulness and meditation. We ask students to sit in silence on a daily basis, to take notice of their breath and, when their mind wanders, to acknowledge the thought and bring their consciousness back to their breath…Over time, this teaches students the skill of turning inward. It teaches them to notice the smallest things about themselves, and about mindfulness and intentionality.

In the spirit of that mindfulness practice, our College Counseling Office asks the students to participate in a lot of self-reflection. Like many schools, we begin working with students during the spring of their 11th-grade year. The students are often surprised that we spend our first several meetings with them not talking about colleges at all. We spend our first few weeks having them write an autobiography, fill out surveys and questionnaires, complete the “Do What You Are” abbreviated Myers-Briggs test on Naviance and spend time in self-reflection. We spend time initially, and throughout the process, assisting them in getting to know themselves so that they can view colleges through their own personal lens. This lens utilizes their personal values and what they need to thrive in a learning environment, rather than the values of their family, their friends, US News & World Reports or College Confidential.

Using this personal lens, we ask them to create a list and from there we add to and assist in shaping it. When students drift away from their core values and intentions, we are able to remind them of what those intentions are as their application list changes shape. We understand that the process is fluid and that their values may shift along the way; the list is subject to change as they discover more about themselves. That is expected and fine. But, we check in with them from beginning to end about how their school choices align with who they are. If they add schools that seem off-value, we ask them to articulate what has changed; sometimes, the question serves as a gentle reminder that they have drifted off their course.

We also teach them how to look at data to assess their likelihood for admission based on numerical factors, and then ask them to categorize their schools as “reach,” “possible” and “likely.” From time to time, their assessment is inaccurate and we need to assist them in understanding what category a school falls into. However, we don’t dictate their “chances.” Instead, we teach them the tools to discern this for themselves. They are asked to take ownership of ensuring their list is balanced and that their list is absent of any “back up” or “safety” schools. You did hear me correctly! We do not want them to have back up or safety schools. We consistently preach to them that we want them to have “likely” schools (both likely-to-be-admitted and schools that they genuinely like). Words like “back up” and “safety” imply “less than” or “last resort,” so they are not allowed to be used in our process. This does not mean that students may not have preferences or favorites, but that they need to be able to imagine themselves thriving at every school on their apply list. In April of the 12th-grade year, we typically have students facing the difficult task of choosing between schools that they love because they have done the hard work up front by applying only to schools that truly resonate with them; no school is on the list by happenstance.

What I’m describing is perhaps a bit oversimplified. We help students move along a long continuum of self-awareness. Of course, it is much messier than what I have described. My disclaimer is that I work with students in a class that meets once a week for 80 minutes and team-teach the course with two other college counselors. We get the opportunity to know each student pretty well. We have the luxury of time with the students, which I know is not the case for many of my colleagues. However, even without having a class a week, it is still possible to have students engage in introspective work, to prioritize for themselves what they value most and to ask how their chosen schools match up with those values.

As the college process has gotten more competitive and frenzied, and as technology has become both more useful and pervasive in our lives and those of our students, it is useful to try a low-tech approach of turning inward, quieting the outside noise and taking time to reflect on self before moving forward.

– Dorothy Jones, Director of College Counseling

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