When college counselor Maria Aguirre was in college, she realized she had been shortchanged by her own college counselor in high school. Aguirre now feels that the course of her life was significantly changed, because her counselor did not give her the necessary information to successfully navigate the college process. This experience led her to become a college counselor where she can provide other students with the information and opportunities she lacked. Maria Aguirre began her career at Lowell as a counselor in 2009. Now she serves as Lowell’s designated college counselor, helping students feel comfortable and at home at Lowell and guiding seniors through the college admissions process.
What led you to become a college counselor?
I became a school counselor because, as a student at my own high school, I didn’t always feel like my own school counselor saw me as a great student. I think that I was just a middle of the road student, so I didn’t feel support. I ended up going to community college, which was a great option. But I didn’t know that much about college, because I was a first-generation student. I didn’t have that education of what my options really were; I just assumed that community college was my only option.
Once I went to community college, I realized that I was a little shortchanged. I was like, “How come my school counselor didn’t tell me all these things?” Maybe I would’ve done things differently and been more motivated if I knew I had all these options with scholarships and that there was FAFSA and that there was support for first generation students. That’s why I became a school counselor. I wanted to give students that information without any judgement. I can’t assume what anybody’s potential is. Everyone starts out at different places, and should all have the same opportunities. Some students need more support than others! I need to be that support for them.
How do you assist students in the college application process?
I started the weekly post where I try to give reminders to the students. I started giving them workshops, letting them know about how to get their college list ready and how to write their personal statement. A lot [of it] is getting the information out there and helping students along the way with trial and error; for instance, figuring out who to ask for recommendations and what colleges require what. It can get really complicated and overwhelming. I support students when the process gets really stressful.
What are the most challenging and rewarding parts of being a college counselor?
Sometimes, especially during the times applications are due, feeling like you can’t reach all the students that need help. You can only reach the students who actually come in. You worry about students who aren’t coming in and are having to figure out the process on their own. Also having many hats, where you’re in the middle of trying to help freshman get acclimated to Lowell who are coming in here for support and making [the college center] a space where all students feel supported, not just seniors. I think that’s our job as people that work at schools: making sure everyone feels they have a place of their own at Lowell, where they belong. And, I think the reward is really feeling like you’ve helped students get the answer that they were looking for and being somebody that makes them feel like somebody really cares.
What has been your most memorable moment as a college counselor?
All the students here are very sweet, kind and thoughtful. It’s just the students. Watching all their hard work be worth everything, watching their sacrifices being worth everything, watching them get admitted to colleges and even getting scholarships. Often when I hear back from students in college, hearing that they still feel some sort of connection with some part of the community here is really rewarding, because I feel like Lowell has made a difference in their lives. To see that from the very beginning, those moments where you feel you were part of a student’s success in some way as an encouraging voice.
What is one thing you wish students knew about you?
It is okay to ask me for help without knowing all the answers. I think that, as an adult, you come off very intimidating off the bat. But, I am a caring person, and there is no dumb question or judgement in the college center. It’s really just a safe place where students should feel comfortable. The most important thing to me is that they feel that they have all the information they need to make the best decision for themselves in the college process.
Ms. Aguirre also wants to inform students about two upcoming events:
Resource fair: February 13th from 11-2 on the catwalk. Over 25 organizations are coming to Lowell to advertise summer activities and programs.
Second Annual College Kickoff Event: Saturday March 16th, for juniors and parents. Over 35 Lowell alumni come to talk about their professional and college experiences, and more than 25 colleges come to give talks. Last year, over 400 people attended.