Q&A With DVFriends College Counselor Hallie Ciarlone

DVFriends Director of College Counseling Hallie Ciarlone answers frequently asked questions about the college search process in 2021, particularly for students with learning differences.
Hallie CiarloneHallie has been a college counseling professional since 2006. Before coming to DVFriends in 2011, she spent five years in Baltimore, Maryland creating the College Counseling Department at a small independent day school. She earned her NCC distinction and M.Ed. in School Counseling from Loyola University Maryland, where she published several studies on adolescent self-efficacy with Dr. Bradley Erford. Hallie is an active member in several professional associations including NACAC, ASCA, and ACCIS. She is currently a Summer Institute faculty mentor and a member of the Professional Development Committee with PACAC. Hallie is a frequent speaker and panelist at college counseling workshops and conferences across the nation.
The college admissions process does not need to be stressful. This is just one chapter in your life’s story. As a student, you have worked very hard year after year to develop into a confident learner. During the college counseling process, my goal is to help students and families celebrate their strengths and find joy in examining their potential next steps. Students who learn differently are often the most self-aware and strongest self-advocates during this process. Out of their past hurdles and struggles, comes heightened metacognition and optimism about possibilities. It’s my joy to work with such capable and thoughtful students. While the college admissions process has its uncertainty and nuances, my goal is to help each student and family recognize their best fit for whatever their next phase of life may bring.
Hallie Ciarlone, Director of College Counseling DVFriends
Absolutely! I frequently get asked “what’s the best college for students with…” That’s like saying “what’s the best college in Pennsylvania” or another very broad category. Labeling something the “best” is subjective and changes from student to student. While some students with LD may need high levels of academic supports, others may not need the same. When investigating college options, it’s important to look at each student individually. Learning differences vary from person to person and so do colleges. Successful students are often those who self-advocate, embrace challenges, and are flexible in how they approach the college experience. Having a learning difference is just one part of the student.
A crucial first step is to seriously and honestly look at what accommodations or supports you receive in high school. Sometimes these accommodations are obvious, like extra time on exams or audiobooks. But sometimes, these supports are built into your high school experience, like teachers providing notes or allowing you to always use a computer to type your notes. Once you examine the supports that help you succeed, you can begin an honest conversation with the college disability offices.
Colleges have different rules for granting accommodations compared to K-12 schools and there is a wide range of requirements depending on the institution. Colleges should have explicit guidelines on their websites. While it is sometimes difficult to navigate college websites, my tip is to search for the term “disability” on the college’s home screen. This will usually show you results for the office that will manage accommodations. Once there, there should be a section dedicated to “documentation guidelines.”
Typically, the college is going to use your official psycho-educational or neuro-psychological testing to verify your disability and history of accommodations. Your Learning Profile or IEP isn’t enough, but is helpful as you review your previously used accommodations and prepare to discuss this with the college disability office.
Transferring to DV won’t hurt your chances of attending college. We will integrate your previous high school transcript into our system so that we create a single transcript that will be sent to colleges when you apply. Keep in mind, your cumulative GPA reported to colleges will only be your DV grades, but colleges will see your final grades from your previous high school.
Absolutely! Colleges evaluate candidates within the context of their high school curriculum. If your high school doesn’t subscribe to the trademarked AP (Advanced Placement) or IB (International Baccalaureate) curriculums, then you won’t be expected to have taken those classes. There are many different grading methodologies and institutional models. College admissions professionals are accustomed to reading a diverse range of transcripts from the US and from abroad.
Colleges have really boosted their online presence as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. One outcome that many colleagues hope will stick is the meaningful virtual connections between colleges and students that will help bridge the access and distance barriers. Having interviews, tours, and open houses online can help all students learn more about colleges without worrying about the logistics and cost of travel.
DVFriends uses SCOIR to help our students with their virtual searches. We also utilize the YouScience career assessment tool as part of our SCOIR curriculum. This helps students explore a range of careers and majors that may suit them academically and socially.
The college search process during COVID-19 has also affected how students and families make decisions about their plans. While there is an element of trust and a leap of faith, students and parents can be informed consumers by engaging with the colleges via the multiple platforms available. Asking questions about how classes are taught and what supports are available to students may help ease the transition and inform the decision to enroll or take a step back. These supports can be academic in nature, but also supports that help ease the selection and transition emotional component. Transitioning to college is a big step for all students, and those students who have just lived through a year of virtual learning and dramatic upheaval due to COVID-19 have additional emotional considerations. By empowering students to think about their emotions in addition to their academic success, we can help them become more successful self-advocates. It’s also important to recognize and validate student and parent anxiety in this process. We can remind our young people that they are not bound to a single path. They can change their plans and change their paths with care and thoughtful consideration.
There are a lot of unknowns right now as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on the college admissions process. The safety and equity of standardized testing has risen to the forefront of many of these discussions. While it’s too early to predict what this will look like for the upcoming classes, it is safe to say that no student should risk their health to take an SAT or ACT. While the vast majority of colleges and universities in the United States implemented test-optional or test-blind policies for the classes of 2020 and 2021, I would anticipate many continuing this for at least the class of 2022 while they gather more data about admissions and retention trends.
Students who know that testing might be divergent from their academic profile are encouraged to look into test-optional schools. There are many schools that have been test-optional for decades. When searching for the right fit, this institutional priority might be something to investigate and weigh in relation to your own value of testing.
The updated list of test-optional policies can be found on the Fair Test website.
College is not a one size fits all endeavor. There are other options that may suit some learners and families. Some students prefer to start college at a local community college while others may pursue structured gap year programs, skilled trade training, or enter the workforce right after high school. Students and parents are encouraged to discuss their learning and financial situations during the search process.