The Perfect Fit: Inside College Counseling

When Mr. Walter Pineda, the Associate Director of College Counseling, was asked to describe the role of a College Counselor at Miami Country Day School in 30 seconds, he responded, “You are a cheerleader, a guide, a mentor, a sounding board, a mediator. You are whatever is necessary at whatever moment in time for a parent, student, or anyone else participating in the [college admission] process.” Together with Mr. Pineda, the College Counseling team consists of Marnie Allen, Director of College Counseling, and Marisol Sardina, Associate Director of College Counseling, who combined have over 65 years of service and work experience at Miami Country Day.
The College Counseling Office (CCO) assumes many roles as they guide students and families during the college admission process. “[We work with families] to find the college in which their children will be happy and productive. We are looking for best matches – best fits,” adds Ms. Allen. The mission of the CCO is just that: “to facilitate the college admission process so that students are able to matriculate to a college that best matches their interests and skill sets.” Individualized and personalized guidance is the hallmark of the CCO.

As the college matriculation process becomes more competitive and unpredictable, the more this philosophy of being hands on and student/family oriented maximizes opportunities for admission. “We are fortunate with the various connections we have with students; we interact with them in different ways,” says Mr. Pineda. “We are also teachers, club sponsors and coaches, so we develop a well-rounded understanding of who they are.”

“Approximately 200 colleges visit Miami Country Day School in the fall. We try to get our students to go to a variety [of colleges],” states Ms. Allen. Students attend certain college visits more than others, but the CCO sits down to speak with every representative. Because the college counselors get to know students in and out of the office, they can make suggestions of colleges where students will succeed. “We also tell parents if there’s a school you want on your child’s list and your child might not be receptive, ask us to discuss it with them as well because sometimes a different approach will help put a school on the list,” says Ms. Allen.

Ms. Sardina advises students and parents to be open minded about where they apply. “The best {scenario} is when a student is willing to look beyond the big name schools. An example is Rowan University in New Jersey; it’s a great engineering school. I heard about how much [financial aid] they give to students, how successful their students are…we actually have a student going to Rowan this year.” This family made a visit to the Rowan campus based upon Ms. Sardina’s recommendation. Finding the best fit for students not only involves a rapport with families and students but also understanding and researching individual priorities and agendas of college admission departments.

“We have solid relationships with [many] people on the other side. They are pretty honest with us. The competition is fierce. It’s not because the student could have gotten better grades, higher scores, or been in more activities,” Ms. Sardina shares. “At the end of the day, it is what the institution needs and what they want, what they’re looking for and it varies year to year,” says Ms. Allen. In 2018, some trends on the forefront include socio-economic diversity and admission of international students based upon the current political climate. In fact, in a recent 60 Minutes report, the President of Princeton University, Chris Eisgruber, noted, “We want our students to go out in the world and have an impact in a multicultural and diverse society and to produce those kinds of students, we need to have a diverse student body on this campus.”
As year-to-year trends come and go, the bottom line for getting accepted into a great school is good grades. “That’s the gatekeeper,” says Ms. Sardina. “If there is one factor that would be it. The transcript is the key,” Ms. Allen confirms. A student’s transcript is consistently important in the college admission process. The CCO begins their work with an orientation and review of mid-semester grades in 9th grade. The program and personal interactions between the office, students, and their families becomes more personalized in sophomore and junior years.

“I’m thankful that Ms. Allen told me it is going to be hard to get into college,” says 2018 graduate and Independent Schools of South Florida Star Student, Maria Bordovskikh. “For me, the most important thing [I learned] from Ms. Allen is, how am I going to stand out? For me, it was my photography and [the global organization] Best Buddies. I didn’t do Best Buddies or photography just to submit it for a college application. In order to submit something and succeed, you have to love it.” The advice that Bordovskikh shares rings true for all students. How will you differentiate yourself? How will you find activities outside of the classroom that you are passionate about and will be coveted by a college?

Bordovskikh’s story and dreams of going to New York University started in 9th grade in Mrs. Dorn’s class with her “My Shield” project. “It gives us a perspective on what we want to do in the future and what we want to accomplish. I remember I listed my long term goals and short term goals. My long term goal was to move to New York and attend one of the colleges there, specifically NYU. My short term goal was to become a part of Best Buddies. I now have a buddy and she is my best friend. Also, I raised over $50,000 by organizing different charity events.” Bordovskikh will attend the Tish School of the Arts at New York University in the fall.

Each college counselor also writes letters of recommendation. They each shared how they try to find the perfect word to describe a student, a quote from a book the student has read, or a lyric from a song the student likes. The personal relationship Ms. Allen, Ms. Sardina, and Mr. Pineda have with each student gives parents the peace of mind that their college choice will be the right one.

Thank you to Ms. Allen, Ms Sardina, Mr. Pineda, and Ms. Bordovskikh for taking time to speak about College Counseling at Miami Country Day. For more information on the office, please visit
Miami Country Day School is a college preparatory learning community committed to educating the whole child. Through the core values of honor, respect, wisdom and compassion, we prepare students to be lifelong learners. We inspire our children to develop their intellectual, physical, aesthetic, social, emotional and spiritual potentials by valuing every student every day.
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