ISSUE #19 | THE PIE REVIEW | 43
Given the rising cost of education in historically popular
study destinations, parents increasingly play a hands-on
role in the application process, and managing their expec-tations
is another aspect of a college counsellor’s job that
needs to be carefully handled.
“Certain international school families have a belief that
the big name schools must be better than everything else,”
says Kelly Wetzell.
“So part of the job is building a culture where we cele-brate
success for everyone, and success can look like a lot
of different things.”
Of course, using the services of a college counsellor is
not just about getting students into the top schools either,
Pakistan-based high-school counsellor Fizza Suhail tells
At Lahore American School where Suhail works with
students from as early as ninth grade – many already with
one eye on the US, UK or Canada for their future studies
– she believes the most important thing is to help students
reflect on their own strengths and weaknesses to help
them find “the right college fit”.
“On paper the kid can look right for the school, but it’s
the counsellor’s job to see if that school is right for the
kid,” says Suhail, who uses her first-hand experience of
graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania to help
explain the expectations involved when studying at such
“Yes, they might have the grades and the transcript to
get into an Ivy League school, but as a counsellor, if you
know the kid is not a natural go-getter, a competitor, or if
they don’t enjoy being constantly challenged, you know
they are going to be miserable two years into their course.”
But when a family is paying thousands of dollars for pri-vate
college counselling, the expectation that the student
will get accepted into an elite school is raised too, adds
ICC’s Heller Adler.
“With international families who are living far away,
often they only know about the big name schools, but they
might not understand how their child would fit into one of
those,” she explains.
Part of the job is
building a culture where
we celebrate success for
everyone, which can look
like different things PHOTO: UNSPLASH
For many students and families who are knowledgeable about
international HE, finding the ”right fit” is often the challenge.
“A lot of people think that there’s one formula for getting
into college and I think that adds to the stress.”
“There is an important conversation to be had with
parents and students around ‘fit’ versus being result-driven,”
agrees Erika A. Toren, director of College Counseling and
Student Services at TASIS, The American School in the UK.
“Beyond the glitz of national rankings, finding ‘the best’
university requires honest self-reflection, as ‘the best’
means something different for each student.”
But for those counsellors who are expected to not only
help students on their academic journey but also nurture
their mental and emotional wellbeing, discovering the best
fit in post-secondary education becomes wrought with yet
another layer of complexity.
For counsellors working in certain parts of the world,
discussing mental health concerns can be a sensitive, even
taboo topic due to the cultural stigma associated with it.
For Wilson Lee, college and guidance counsellor at
Yongsan International School of Seoul in South Korea,
the culture’s deeply ingrained beliefs mean mental health
issues often get overlooked in favour of concentrating on a
student’s academic success.
Lee tells The PIE that although the college counselling
component of the role is his main focus, he believes the
overall wellbeing of the student is just as important.
“East Asian culture is a ‘shame based’ culture, so the
whole idea of having social or emotional issues is something
that gets suppressed tremendously,” he says.
“A lot of the time, questions around a student’s social and
emotional needs come up when they are impacting their
results or their grades drop.
“But often the parents say, ‘we’ll figure it out later, right
now let’s just get my child into college’,”.