Freshman counselors privy to academic info

Before freshmen arrive on campus, their counselors must guess as to what the they will be like, knowing just their name, hometown, facebook profile — and their roster of high school standardized test scores.

Though freshman counselors are known most for carrying drunk freshmen to DUH and providing a knowledgeable fount of blue booking advice, few freshmen know the extent to which their FroCos have been prepped on their pre-Yale academic experiences. Yale provides freshman counselors with students’ high school standardized test scores to help with academic advising. In addition, freshman counselors meet with the residential college deans on a weekly basis to discuss freshman concerns before filing an end-of-year report on each of their students. Though administrators and freshman counselors said such policies help ensure the well-being of students, some students said they wish Yale were more explicit about the extent to which their FroCos are told about their lives before Yale.

Morse freshman counselors Anuradha Phadke and Stephanie Hanson meet with freshmen, who may not know just how much FroCos know about them.
Matt Lucas
Morse freshman counselors Anuradha Phadke and Stephanie Hanson meet with freshmen, who may not know just how much FroCos know about them.

Dean of Freshman Affairs George Levesque said it is important that freshman counselors understand students’ varying academic backgrounds because they can often lead to varying levels of performance during freshman year.

“A student from a fancy prep school with 10 AP tests will likely be able to handle a different course load in freshman year than a student from a high school with fewer resources,” Levesque wrote in an e-mail. “These differences usually even out over time, but freshman year is a critical time of transition.”

Former freshman counselor Ben Staub ’06 said he remembers deans and members of the administration telling him that standardized test scores do not reveal anything more than how a student performed on a specific test, on a specific day.

Jeremy Harp ’10 said that freshman counselors looking at his standardized test scores are unlikely to get an accurate picture of his academic abilities. He said while he had studied a lot of psychology in advance of the AP exam, his high school had not prepared him for the format or particular curriculum of the exam.

“It should be the policy of freshman counselors to ask, because otherwise they will just assume from my grades that I didn’t know psychology when I did,” Harp said. “The scores don’t show how capable or determined you are … they don’t say anything about my work.”

Most freshman counselors said they generally used standardized test scores only during the first week of the year, when they advise students on which levels of classes to take. Freshman counselor Michelle Reid ’07 said if a student had a low AP science test score and was taking a heavy science course load, then freshman counselors would suggest that he or she talk to the professor or get a tutor.

Current freshman counselor Amy Broadbent ’07 likened knowing a student’s test score to reading about a person’s musical interests on a Facebook profile.

“Once you know them as a person, you don’t really care about the descriptive things listed in their profile,” she said. “Once a freshman becomes a real person — before there was just a name and a photograph — everything else you learned about them beforehand doesn’t really matter anymore.”

But some students expressed concerns about having their private data released to another student without their explicit permission, even if that student is their counselor. Anthony Lydgate ’10 said Yale should be required to ask for students’ permission, just as with most private information, before giving freshman counselors students’ standardized test scores.

But other students cautioned against such a measure, since asking students’ for permission to release their test scores would make the scores seem more important in the counseling process than they actually are.

“If Yale was to be more upfront about it, that would make it sound more ominous, more like Big Brother is watching you,” Laura Grigereit ’10 said. “And that is not what they are really like.”

Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg said the policy of releasing test scores to freshman counselors, which has been in place at the University for more than 23 years, does not violate any privacy laws.

Some students’ privacy concerns extend to their freshman counselors’ weekly meetings with their residential college deans. But Levesque said personal information is discussed only on a need-to-know basis in the meetings. Most topics discussed are matters of public concern, such as midterms and housing draws, he said.

As “the eyes and ears for the deans on Old Campus,” freshman counselors said that if they have a reason to believe a student’s safety or well-being is compromised, they could use the weekly meetings to enlist the help of other counselors and the dean.

“I don’t care about the details of people’s personal lives, but I do need to know if they are having some sort of struggle in academics,” Calhoun College Dean Stephen Lassonde said. “And it may be caused by some sort of personal struggle with a parent or sibling.”

Aside from discussing pressing concerns, freshman counselors said these meetings also helped the dean learn more about each student and his or her interests. Most freshman counselors said the meetings are always professional in tone and do not include routine updates on every student.

Some students said the fact that freshman counselors meet with the dean on a weekly basis may sound creepy initially, but that they recognize its benefits for students’ well-being.

“One’s knee jerk response is that it is intrusive, but I don’t know how intrusive it actually is,” Peter Chema ’07 said. “I think it is mostly a safety precaution, to keep kids from falling out — just because freshman counselors have the authority to talk to the dean doesn’t mean they are sticking their nose where it doesn’t belong.”

Levesque said the one-paragraph report that freshman counselors file at the end of the year about each student is also meant to help the dean get a sense of a student, particularly if the dean comes to the college after the student’s freshman year. Undergraduates can access their reports at any time through their college dean’s office.

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