Getting There From Here: Ms. Carnevalla Maps Out the Path to College

Ms. Meaghan Carnevalla, Guidance Counselor | Grades 11-12

Kennedy Catholic has tripled its number of guidance counselors beginning with the 2017-18 school year. Freshmen and sophomores each get their own mentor, and shepherding the flock during the crucial college-focused junior and senior years is new hire Meaghan Carnevalla. She comes to Kennedy from the White Plains school system, after getting her Masters at Long Island University and doing her undergraduate work at SUNY Albany.

September finds Ms. Carnevalla knee deep in her college rep rolodex. She has scheduled Kennedy’s first college fair for October 19, and estimates there are about 60 schools pledged to attend – which she notes will mean it will overflow out of its normal gymnasium confines and into the hallways. During the fairs, sophomore through senior students get to meet one-on-one with college admission counselors and get a feel or what their college is like. A second fair is being scheduled for the spring.

Ms. Meaghan Carnevalla, Guidance Counselor | Grades 11-12

Ms. Meaghan Carnevalla, Guidance Counselor | Grades 11-12

Carnevalla is also scheduling many college visits (for colleges who want to meet Kennedy students but can’t make the fairs), some instant decision days, application days, and common app clinics.

Wait, what…?

“That’s where kids can come in and work on their applications,” Carnevalla explained. “Basically, kids come to the library for an hour after school and work on their common apps. If they have questions, I sit down with them and show them how to do it. Most kids will actually finish a big chunk of the common app, if not the whole thing, during the clinic.”

Another of Carnevalla’s initiatives is what she is calling an “admissions panel.”

“We are putting together a couple of counselors from each school: financial aid people, admissions people, and we will have a question and answer session. This will give students and parents a point of view that is different from mine. On the panel will be the people who actually review college applications.”

The panels are designed for juniors, and are scheduled to begin in January 2018. In addition to the new stuff, continuing “instant decision days,” a long-standing Kennedy Catholic tradition, is at the top of Carnevalla’s priority list.

“I am in the process of scheduling those now,” she told us. “What happens is, the school will come in and sit down with the student. We’ll provide them with the student’s transcript and test scores, and anything else they want. The colleges will decide – that day, while they are sitting with the student – if he or she has been accepted or not. So you would know in November if you were accepted to a school. And most of the time they will also offer a scholarship. Last year, Siena gave out scholarships to a ton of students.”

Siena hasn’t regretted its decision, apparently. The school is already on this year’s instant decision day calender, along with St. John’s, Dominican, Mount St. Mary, and a few more. If that seems like an awful lot of money is flowing to students without an awful lot of research on the part of the college, Carnevalla has an explanation.

“What I have heard from the reps is that Kennedy has a very good reputation, that we have very high achieving students,” she told us. “If they don’t do instant decision, they might do interview days, where they will come in and speak with interested students and weigh that into their decision. Some schools will do an ‘application day,’ have a kid apply and waive all the application fees. They may then come back and do an instant decision day.”

Carnevalla notes that the college admissions landscape is in flux. She perceives that many are stressing the SAT and ACT less, and taking a more “holistic” approach to making their decisions.

“They’re like, ‘let’s look at the kid as a whole. What are they like in school, what are they like outside of school, what are they doing in their free time, what extracurriculars do they have, are they heavily involved in community service?’ The fact that Kennedy has kids doing as much community service as they do really stands out.”

The number of Kennedy students’ service hours is not just a statistic that impresses college representatives. Kennedy students’ dedication to their communities wowed Carnevalla herself when she first came on campus this past summer.

“Every single kid has to do community service to graduate. But *these* kids actually enjoy doing it! I had several students coming here telling me over the summer they go and volunteer here, or they go over there, ‘I want to be involved with Habitat for Humanity.’ They are constantly wanting to help out in their community, which is wonderful!”

The elephant in the room during any happy and hopeful conversation about college education is its growing cost. Carnevalla noted that, in the past, most schools’ tuition have been in the neighborhood of $50K per year. Now she sees them inching up to $60-70K. She is recommending students take a look at New York State’s new Excelsior Scholarship program. Instituted in April 2017, it provides tuition-free college at New York’s public colleges and universities to families making up to $125,000 a year.

“Any time a scholarship comes across my desk, I send it out via email and post it on Naviance,” Carnevalla said. “I tell kids they should start looking at scholarships as soon as possible because there are specific ones they will qualify for, based on their interests, their major, their community service — there is a ton of local scholarships!

Carnevalla reckons that the biggest obstacle facing many students on their path to college is one they may not recognize until it has passed them: social media.

“Kids don’t realize that something they put out there stays out there forever,” she said. “Colleges do check it. They want to know what you have been posting on Instagram, what you have been posting on Facebook and Twitter. And they will search for a kid, they want to see if he or she is doing something they shouldn’t be doing.”

Carnevalla sees her own biggest challenge as less insidious, but no less daunting:

“Just getting to know all 160 seniors, and making sure everyone stays on track.”