National School Counseling Week 2024 is upon us. Sponsored by the American School Counselor Association, the annual observance is an opportunity to showcase the impact of school counselors.
These often unsung heroes are critical champions who help students achieve educational success and plan for thriving careers.
Honoring School Counseling Professionals
Held every February, National School Counseling Week recognizes the tireless efforts of the many school counseling professionals who provide opportunities and access to students from different backgrounds to make their college dreams a reality.
Professionals like UC San Diego Extended Studies alumna, Zuzanna Lever, a graduate of the College Counseling Program. Lever’s story is an example of how passion and education can create a ripple effect to positively impact lives.
Lever’s Inspiration for a College Counseling Career
Lever’s inspiration to complete the College Counseling Program relates directly to her own experience as a college applicant. The process was a daunting one for Lever and her family, who were recent immigrants to the United States.
"Having just arrived in the U.S. a few years prior and having just learned English,” said Lever, “I knew very little about college and how to apply.”
Her memories of that time have fueled the steps along her path since, activating a deep desire to help those who are first-generation, college-bound students.
As an AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) student in high school, Lever received support from her school to pursue higher education, and she applied to a variety of colleges and universities. Ultimately, she was accepted into UC San Diego, entering as a Psychology major, with a minor in Sociology.
Lever initially thought she would pursue a career in research, but soon found herself drawn to the sociology courses that cross-listed with education studies. These courses were her first introduction to public education and college counseling, offering fieldwork experiences at elementary and middle schools, as well as with the San Diego County of Education. The work with students opened her eyes to the possibility of helping young people from diverse backgrounds pursue college and university education.
After graduating from UC San Diego, Lever took a position at Americorps to help at-risk youth in high schools. “I knew I wanted to devote myself to being a support for students and especially those who found themselves in situations similar to mine—with a desire to go to college but with very little guidance on how to get there,” said Lever.
The Americorps job helped her determine the career direction she wanted to pursue. She discovered she was particularly intrigued by the details of the college application process and how she could help high school students chart the path for their futures.
Discovering the Certification Course
Armed with these new insights, it felt like fate the day Lever discovered the College Counseling Program in the UC San Diego Extended Studies catalog. The curriculum outline reinforced the direction she was seeking and promised to open doors beyond what she imagined. “Wow this is it! This is what I’m looking for,” she recalls saying. It was the feeling of everything falling into place.
The UC San Diego Extended Studies College Counseling Program offers a path for professionals to acquire the latest in college counseling techniques, while also delving into the personal dimensions of working with families during this most crucial transitional experience. Participants learn how to provide outstanding service to the college-bound.
For Lever, the program went beyond her expectations of what she thought she would learn. The curriculum honed her ability to help “students pull out experiences to translate into their college applications—like taking care of siblings or grandparents—and how that can be considered leadership experience,” she explained.
Earning the Specialized Certificate in College Counseling was a game changer for Lever. Having it featured on her resume “gave me a stamp of approval and opened a lot of doors for me in the arena,” she said. “It gave me the confidence to go back to school and prepared me to work with many different populations interested in going to college.”
Success and Career Transition
After obtaining the certificate, Lever pursued her master's degree in School Counseling and, concurrently, had the opportunity to conduct fieldwork at a local, high school’s college center. There, she was the primary resource for students applying for college, interacting with young learners from a range of backgrounds, including first-generation and those of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) status.
Applying her skills from the Specialized Certificate in College Counseling and her master’s degree studies, Lever enabled students to consider educational opportunities that had previously felt out of reach. Her greatest impact was helping them translate their school and life experiences into transferable qualifications that higher education institutions were seeking.
Continued Career Growth
Today, Lever is an Academic Advisor for the College of Engineering at San Diego State University, where she assists students in short and long-term course planning, with the goal of setting them up for successful college years that lead to graduation.
As an academic advisor, she’s placed on the other side of the college application process but believes her past experiences in college counseling help her build a rapport with students. Her ability to empathize with them and understand the journey they’ve taken to arrive at the university makes her uniquely qualified to set them on the right path.
In her current role, she teaches a seminar that is an extension of the first-year student orientation. Every week, she reviews study habits, note-taking strategies, and campus resources to establish good foundations for incoming students that will create successful college careers.
“At the end of the day, I believe my job is to empower students with information, she said. “And, then it’s up to them to use it.”
During National School Counseling Week, we’re proud to recognize professionals like Zuzanna Lever, who, through their own educational aims, empower students behind them to succeed in setting and achieving goals.
College Counseling Program and Specialized Certificate
The UC San Diego Division of Extended Studies Program in College Counseling is designed to bring participants the latest in college counseling techniques and to emphasize the personal dimension of working with families during one of their most crucial transitional experiences. The Specialized Certificate in College Counseling is designed and taught by specialists currently working in the field, emphasizing the development of practical skills.