Sandra Cernobori and Alice Erber’s jobs as college advisors consist of helping juniors and seniors through the college application process. They, along with Paly’s Advisor Christina Owen, host an orientation every year for all juniors at the start of second semester by having them come into the college center during a history class and presenting an overview of the college center and the college process, including other higher-education options besides attending a four-year college.
As advisors they also work with teachers, counselors in the guidance office and teacher advisors to present information to the parents at class parent nights. Their goal is to meet with each student at least once each year as upperclassmen.
“Our goal is to meet with each student at least once a year, but the reality is that after we meet with them junior year, we allow them to sign up for appointments if they want—there is no limit to how many times you can come in,” Cernobori said. “There are students that come a lot, some that come once, and some that don’t come at all that I need to chase down.”
Prior to the first meeting, students are often told to complete a post-high school planning survey so that Cernobori and Erber have an idea of what the students are thinking about in terms of career choices.
“The reason we have students take the post-high school planning survey is so we can have students reflect on what their preferences are,” Cernobori said. “We also keep a tab on their transcripts to make sure they’re on track, as well as look at your PSAT and SAT scores if you have taken them by the time they meet with me.
According to Cernobori, the first meeting with a college advisor is usually about getting to know the student. The meeting typically consists of students talking about what they do outside of class, classes they plan on taking before senior year, summer plans and where they stand in the college searching process. Based on that information, Cernobori and Erber give students some organizational tools such as a data tracking chart for the colleges and inform them about letters of recommendation and college visits.
“We basically take a snapshot of your academics then read through your post-high school planning survey to get an idea of what you’re thinking, and based on what you’ve told us, we do some brainstorming, such as what colleges you may want to look into and what resources that may be useful to you,” Cernobori said.
Every subsequent meeting builds on the first; for meetings with seniors, Cernobori and Erber usually work on finalizing a list of colleges and make sure that the students have enough of a range in potential colleges. They also arrange talks with college representatives if a student has not visited the campus, interviews if applicable and help with applications. Reading through essays and giving students feedback is a primary part of their job, as well as guiding them through financial aid and scholarships.
According to Cernobori, there is a cycle as to how busy meetings are: from Nov. 30 when the University of California (UC) applications are due until winter break, the number of meetings decreases because most students have applied to one or more of the UCs and take a slight breather before starting on their other applications. After they are admitted, however, more students schedule meetings with an advisor to talk about the decisions regarding college that they will be making in the future.
“We have appointments year round,” Erber said. “We start with juniors second semester and they come in as seniors. We always have appointments for students, though some times are really busy and other times are slower. It really depends on the time of year.”
The other part the college advisors’ job entails sending emails to students and parents and planning events—from the School Forums Workshop to college visits. There are also lesson plans for advisory that Cernobori and Erber help write and collaborate to revise plans to make them better.
“I love my colleagues—they’re amazing human beings,” Cernobori said. “They work hard, have good hearts and all want what’s best for the kids—we all have a similar working philosophy and we’re all good friends outside of work. It makes a huge difference—when you have to spend a lot of time with people, it helps if they’re people you like and work well with.”
Cernobori was a high school English teacher at San Mateo High School for eight years before coming to Paly. Though she misses being an English teacher sometimes, she really enjoys working with students at Paly.
“I miss teaching and having conversations about literature sometimes, but this is different because it’s more one-on-one and I like it,” Cernobori said. “But the problem is that I don’t get to see students as often as when I was a teacher—so there are pros and cons: I don’t have to bring home stacks and stacks of English essays but I miss the classroom where I see kids everyday, but I still like working with [students] but I’m just not able to know [them] the same way—it’s a trade off.”
One of Cernobori’s favorite aspects of being a college advisor is being able to visit and learn about colleges all over the nation.
“One of the things I like the most is when I get to visit colleges. Not only do I get to learn more about the colleges and their programs, but I also am able to meet the college representatives there that visit Paly as well as network with other counselors on tour,” Cernobori said.
In addition to this, Cernobori and Erber chair the Paly Community Scholarship Program committee, which has a pool of scholarships.
Cernobori and Erber are responsible for coordinating all the meetings, getting the information to students and planning Senior Awards Night.
About every month, Erber sets up a table full of college “swag” on the quad with a pennant that says “Go Ask Alice.” Students can take whatever college attire they want, and upperclassmen can donate college swag they do not want. Erber uses this as a way to teach underclassmen more about the college application process.
“It’s a way for students, especially freshmen and sophomores, to come and ask me questions,” Erber said. “I like to talk to them so they will be more familiar with the college center and feel more comfortable to come in when they are juniors and seniors. I also remind them that in order to go to college, take those a through g UC approved courses and yes, freshman year grades do count.”
Erber has worked as a college advisor in the CCC for six years. Prior to becoming a college advisor and having children, Erber graduated from the New York University Tisch School of Arts in Film and Television. However, when she had children she started staying home and volunteering in the schools through PTA, PTSA and Junior League.
As a parent she volunteered at Paly and worked as a substitute for a year.
While Erber was working part time in the guidance office, her co-workers encouraged her to take the College Admissions Program class at the UC Berkeley Extension.
When she graduated, she was hired as a college advisor in the CCC starting out part time, but has been full-time for the past two years.
According to Erber, one of the hardest parts of her job is telling students how selective and difficult some colleges are to get admitted to and how much money colleges cost.
“I love talking to the students and helping them through the college process,” Erber said. “I love to get to know them, learn about their hopes and dreams and about what they want to do with their lives. I like to remind them they can do anything they want to do and that tomorrow is the first day of the rest of their lives. I try to assure them that they will be fine and that they will achieve their goals if they want to.”