Newly appointed Director of College Counseling Alicia Perla left her career as a corporate and securities attorney at a private Chicago firm and moved to Sacramento for a fresh start: college counseling.
She was first introduced to the college application process when her niece reached out to her for advice during the 2017-18 academic year.
During the 2018-19 year, Perla got involved with the SCDS college admissions process by shadowing Director of College Counseling Jane Bauman and then by working as a Breakthrough college counselor for three application seasons.
With Breakthrough, a summer program held at Country Day for underserved students to receive a higher quality of education, she increased her experience by spending time with students one-on-one, primarily assisting them with applying for financial aid programs, reviewing financial aid letters and helping students understand how much money they’d have to pay.
She also held workshops and helped students with essays.
In the summer of 2019, she also joined a nonprofit organization called Scholar Match, based out of San Francisco. This is a private college counseling organization for highly motivated, low-income first-generation juniors applying for college. Scholar
Match had received grant money to do virtual college counseling across the country, so Perla had four students ranging from
Connecticut to Chicago to southern California.
“In many ways, I was learning on the job because I had never officially counseled anyone, and they provided many resources,” she said.
While Perla was working for Scholar Match and helping Breakthrough students, she was taking courses from the University of California, Berkeley, where she earned her certificate in College Admission and Career Planning. Perla also has a B.A. from Columbia University and a J.D. from the University of Michigan. Perla joined Country Day as a part-time college counselor last year and will be stepping into the role of the Director of College Counseling next year. For the first time in the school’s history, there will be only a full-time counselor.
Bauman said Perla is a “natural fit” for this role. Perla stepped into the role when previous Associate Director of College Counseling Chris Kuipers left.
“Sometimes, karma is incredible and sets everything up just right,” Bauman said.
Perla said that meeting students for the first time as a counselor without being their teacher will offer a different perspective.
“Having a fresh look at who they are is a benefit because it’s not bogged down with preconceived ideas of who the student is,” Perla said. “I’m seeing them from new eyes in the same way that maybe an admissions officer is reading an application.”
While Perla hasn’t had any direct experience as a college admissions officer, she doesn’t find that as beneficial as it may seem.
“Admissions officers who have done it as a career over a long period of time and have represented more schools at numerous levels bring a level of knowledge and experience that would be great to have. But knowing one school especially well doesn’t help a small school with diverse interests like ours,” she said.
In comparison to this past year, Perla plans to manage her time better, especially since she will be more than doubling her student load to 34 next year — meaning more letters of recommendation, letters to parents, college lists and essays to read.
She plans to have all of the introductory meetings with the juniors done before spring break, spend the summer putting together the information necessary for each application and finalize letters of recommendation when school starts.
Bauman commended Perla’s work ethic.
“She learns so fast — she’s learning about all of the colleges, and she’s totally devoted to the students and helping them,” she said.
College counseling is always changing and there’s something new to learn or stay up to date on, Bauman said.
“It’s only natural that she uses technology better than I do. She’s bringing some innovation to the job that I might not have had the time to investigate,” she said.
Perla is also the parent of high school freshman Cecilia DeBerry and junior Simone DeBerry. Simone will be starting college applications next year.
“I feel that understanding the process makes it so I can see just the wide variety of possibilities. As a result, this makes me more comfortable about letting her handle as much as she wants by herself without me,” she said.
DeBerry said having her mother as a college counselor, specifically at this school, is beneficial.
“At first, I didn’t think so, but I’ve gotten a realistic approach about the application process, and it’s allowed me to get a head start on considering colleges to apply to and what I want to get out of college,” DeBerry said.
Senior Jesus Aispuro has been working with Perla as he prepares to leave for college.
“Whenever I’ve had many questions about the application process or financial aid programs, I can always approach her. Even when it’s the night that the application is due, she’ll still be willing to read my essays and be available via email,” he said.
All in all, Perla finds the whole process rewarding.
“The month of March is going to become my favorite month because I find out something new every day. It’s fun to hear and see people so happy and excited,” she said. “I feel like I’ve done a decent job when students voluntarily come and find me to say where they’ve gotten in because we don’t require that you tell us. I feel like I made some sort of connection with this person when they feel motivated to come back and tell me what’s going on.”
— By Sanjana Anand
Originally published in the March 29 edition of the Octagon.