Ward, 51, started her schooling profession at Bucknell College, her alma mater, the place she spent seven years working in admissions Then she was recruited to work as a school counselor on the Menlo College, a personal college in Atherton, California, with a $50,000 annual price ticket.

At Menlo, her days revolved round serving to college students curate their highschool careers and lists of schools. She additionally wrote detailed suggestions for every scholar and developed relationships with admissions officers at extremely selective faculties and universities.

“I’d assume, ‘Possibly I ought to name Dartmouth once more as a result of I haven’t referred to as them in two weeks,’ ” she stated.

Her caseload was usually round 35 college students.

That’s a giant distinction from her present position, by which she and a colleague attempt to serve all 320 seniors and counsel youthful college students. “At a public college,” stated Ward, “you may be fortunate to satisfy with some college students as soon as for half an hour or 45 minutes.”

However Ward is dedicated to creating positive her college students get steerage tailor-made to their particular person wants. On a Friday morning in January, Ward met with Terra Linda’s three college counselors to plan a dad and mom’ night time for juniors and manage a profession and technical truthful. Later that morning, she chatted with an adviser from the close by Faculty of Marin, the place some Terra Linda college students take lessons for school credit score, and he or she met with Katy Dunlap, the college principal.

Faculty counselor Brad Ward meets with college principal Katy Dunlap at Terra Linda Excessive College. Ward brings a wealth of data of the faculty admissions course of because of her expertise as a former admissions officer. “We’re completely fortunate that Brad utilized,” Dunlap stated. (Alison Yin for The Hechinger Report)

Dunlap stated she was struck throughout Ward’s interview by her in-depth information of particular faculties. Ward has visited greater than 300 faculty and college campuses in her 20-year profession in admissions and faculty counseling. “I’d by no means met anybody who has gone to as many faculties or universities,” Dunlap stated of Ward. That enables Ward “to actually individualize for teenagers what can be an excellent match for them,” the principal stated.

“I’m slightly obsessed,” Ward stated sheepishly.

This previous spring break, she road-tripped by means of the South and visited greater than a dozen faculties and universities in Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama. Her new objective is to go to all 115 neighborhood faculties in California.

The general public college system isn’t geared to attracting counselors who’ve that form of detailed expertise with faculties and faculty admissions. Counseling jobs at most public colleges require a grasp’s diploma and a state credential, however the coaching – and duties – give attention to psychological well being counseling, not faculty and profession steerage.

Recognizing the necessity, Terra Linda a number of years in the past joined a small variety of excessive colleges which have added full-time faculty and profession counseling jobs, usually with the assistance of outdoor {dollars}. Ward’s place is funded by HeadsUp, a nonprofit basis that dietary supplements the budgets of native colleges. Paradoxically, her job is a labeled place that doesn’t require a post-secondary credential, not even a bachelor’s diploma, although this varies by college and district.

That’s an issue, says Dunlap. “It’s very, very difficult to be counseling children about faculty while you haven’t even gone your self,” she stated. “We’re completely fortunate that Brad utilized.”

Faculty counselor Brad Ward advises a scholar on the admissions course of at Terra Linda Excessive College’s Faculty and Profession Middle. (Alison Yin for The Hechinger Report)

Following her assembly with Dunlap, Ward returned to the Faculty and Profession Middle to greet two Military recruiters who had been there to arrange a sales space within the quad at lunch. Regardless of the navy’s prohibition on transgender service members, Ward believes the navy is an efficient profession possibility for some college students. Her father was within the Military, and he or she welcomes its representatives to campus every month. “Army of us are among the bravest individuals I do know, and provides me inspiration for what I’m making an attempt to do,” Ward stated.

On one other afternoon, proper earlier than colleges shut, Ward met with the mom of a senior who was frightened about her son’s faculty prospects, adopted by a bubbly 11th grader, Angela, who needed assist narrowing a listing of 30 faculties. Ward suggested her to begin fascinated about instructor suggestions and to create an account for the Frequent App, the web software system utilized by greater than 800 faculties. She additionally warned Angela that writing essays can be essentially the most time-consuming half.

Angela buried her face in her palms. “I’m so paranoid I’m not going to get in anyplace,” she stated.

“Don’t fear, there’s a school for everyone,” Ward reassured her. “It’s a irritating course of, however you’re solely going to undergo it as soon as.”

Then one other junior, Stella, got here in together with her mom, who defined that neither she nor her husband had gone to school. “We’re simply beginning to consider it,” she stated. “I do know there’s simply a lot to know and so many locations she may go.” She requested once they would wish to finish the Free Software for Federal Pupil Support, referred to as the FAFSA, which opens on Oct. 1 for the subsequent educational yr.

A lot of Ward’s time is now spent serving to 17-year-olds kind by means of their dad and mom’ tax returns to fill out the FAFSA. That wasn’t one thing she had a lot expertise with in non-public college, the place many households pay for school out of pocket. It’s been a “vertical studying curve,” she stated of her transition. “I’ve realized extra within the final yr and a half than I did in all of the 18 and a half years earlier than that.”

The profession shift has come at nice private expense. When she was initially employed as a full-time counselor at Terra Linda, Ward was making round $40,000 for the tutorial yr, a 3rd of what she earned on the non-public college. However she stated it has been value it as a result of she’s utilizing her experience to assist children who’ve nowhere else to show for school and profession recommendation, not simply helping so many already privileged to build up extra privilege.

“I might help so many children straight,” she stated. “I am simply making an attempt to do an excellent factor that may assist lots of people.”

There’s one more reason Ward feels strongly about being seen to college students. She’s conscious of how, as a transgender educator, merely being current for college kids can alter lives. Analysis reveals that having a supportive grownup can considerably scale back incidences of suicide amongst LGBTQ+ younger individuals, and that LGBTQ+ college students who’re uncovered to optimistic representations of homosexual and transgender individuals and historical past report performing higher at school.

“If I’m standing within the hallway, children strolling by get to know me,” stated Ward. “They know that I’m there for them. Plus there’s the visibility of being outwardly transgender— ‘Oh, there’s Brad in a skirt, that’s totally different.’ It’s essential to me to be seen for the LGBTQ+ neighborhood.”

Brad Ward is a former admissions officer who made the uncommon swap from public to personal excessive colleges two years in the past. (Alison Yin for The Hechinger Report)

She additionally needs to encourage different LGBTQ+ people, who’ve traditionally been excluded from working within the public schooling system, to contemplate faculty counseling as a profession possibility.

Ward started to return out as transgender in 2015. In 2017, after 10 years on the Menlo College, she took a job at one other non-public college, the Alto Worldwide College, the place she has continued to seek the advice of half time. That summer season, she additionally started a two-year time period on the board of the nonprofit Western Affiliation for Faculty Admission Counseling.*

On the time, solely one of many group’s 30 board members or different leaders was employed at a public highschool. As well as, solely one-third of the affiliation’s faculty counseling membership was made up of public college counselors, when virtually 90 p.c of scholars in america attend public colleges.

That has began to vary, although. Final yr, the affiliation invited public college counselors to hitch without spending a dime, which has boosted their illustration.

Ward’s expertise as a board member with the affiliation prompted her to begin fascinated about making the swap to public colleges. In 2018, she eagerly took a school counseling job at Menlo-Atherton, a public highschool with 2,400 college students. It was a brief, one-year place with out advantages. The subsequent yr, she joined Terra Linda in San Rafael, which is coincidentally the place she grew up.

Brad Ward helped Terra Linda senior Abby Hakewill navigate the faculty course of. (Alison Yin for The Hechinger Report)

However the college is an hour-and-a-half drive from her rent-controlled residence in Menlo Park. Ward stated she couldn’t discover a landlord in San Rafael who would lease to her on her wage, so she made the troublesome determination to reduce to 2 days every week beginning in January. To make ends meet, she has continued half time at Alto Worldwide College and as an unbiased faculty counselor for personal shoppers.

At Menlo-Atherton, Ward labored with a scholar named Melody De La Quintana. The primary-generation faculty scholar is now a enterprise administration and political science main at College of Redlands, a school Ward recommended. “If Brad hadn’t given me the recommendation to go see the college in particular person, I don’t assume I might have ended up the place I’m now,” she stated.

De La Quintana stated Ward was her sole supply of details about larger schooling. “My dad and mom have by no means been to school,” she stated. “They don’t know the method.”

One other former scholar, Lauren Lutge, stated Ward was the one grownup at college who really believed in her. Lutge’s grades had dropped in her early highschool years because of psychological well being struggles, and he or she didn’t know what to do after commencement. “I didn’t have any route,” she stated.

Lutge was shocked when Ward appeared motivated to assist her by means of the faculty course of. “Brad was an individual on campus that I felt like genuinely cared about me,” stated Lutge, now an English main at Santa Barbara Metropolis Faculty.

Since Terra Linda closed, Ward has traded her three-hour commute for a digital counseling workplace arrange in her lounge, which she’s plastered with faculty posters from across the nation.

She misses her college students, and is frightened about these she hasn’t but been capable of contact. A few of her seniors are rethinking the place they wish to go to school, or deciding in the event that they wish to take a spot yr. Others are questioning if they should forgo faculty and as an alternative work to assist their households. She’s internet hosting a web-based workshop on neighborhood faculty functions later within the month and expects that extra of her college students may have a look at two-year colleges nearer to house.

As soon as shelter-in-place orders are lifted, Ward stated she and her colleagues will go door to door to trace down college students who’ve fallen by means of the cracks. They could additionally open the college for a number of days over the summer season for college kids searching for assist with their post-graduation plans.

Whereas some issues might be accomplished on-line, stated Ward, “it is not the identical as standing within the hallway and being seen.”

*This story has been up to date to take away an incomplete account of circumstances surrounding Brad Ward’s departure from the Menlo College.

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