“Everyone has a path to follow, it doesn’t matter so much as how you get there, ultimately it’s about finding the right match and that you are happy. Everything else will follow.”
Jeri Williar, the new Director of College Placement and Counseling at Admiral Farragut Academy, didn’t have the same hands-on experience with her guidance counselor that our students do.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do, just like everyone else,” said Williar who was an average A and B student in high school. “However, my guidance counselor only paid attention to the top 10% of the class. I was so frustrated by it that I would tell my friends, ‘I am going to be a guidance counselor some day and make sure that everyone gets the help they deserve and their voice is heard!’” Little did she know, that was exactly what she would grow up to do.
Williar attended college at Eastern Illinois University and graduated with her bachelor’s in Sociology. She began her career in higher education admissions at MacMurray College and was responsible for visiting high schools and hosting open houses to recruit potential students. After five years at MacMurray, she accepted a position as Assistant Director of Admissions at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida, eventually accepting a position in the Registrar’s Office and staying in that role for nine years.
“The role as Assistant Registrar was definitely not as exciting as working in admissions, but it also didn’t require traveling,” said Williar who, at this time, was working on her master of education in counselor education at the University of North Florida. “What I learned during that time was invaluable. It taught me how to advise college students with choosing their course schedules, financial aid, evaluating their transcripts, and awarding their transfer credits. Now at Farragut, I am better able to help students pick their classes for their first year in college to build a strong foundation to graduate.”
After Williar earned her master’s she served as a guidance counselor at a public high school for seven years, followed by her most recent position at a private high school, St. Joseph Academy, for nine years. During her role as Director of Guidance she advised students on academic and personal issues, assisted with the college admissions process, and coordinated the dual enrollment program.
At Farragut, Williar gets to use all of her skills towards her one main goal, “to find each student the right college for them, have them be accepted, stay in that college, and graduate.” Building on the program that Valdis Gailitis spearheaded for six years before his retirement in May 2016, Williar has started this year with a “Full Speed Ahead” attitude.
“Every school is unique with their deadlines and application requirements and Fall is the most intense time for college admissions. The process can be extremely overwhelming as a senior, but if they are prepared throughout high school it can ease the process,” said Williar, who stays after hours a couple nights a week to be available for the boarding students.
This is the first time that Williar has worked at a boarding and day school and she sees how boarding during high school can be an advantage for college preparation. “The boarders learn to get along with roommates, be organized, be on time, and do their homework,” explained Williar. “A lot of students struggle with independence once getting to college.”
She believes Farragut’s military values also give students an advantage. “I have found the students here are very respectful. You see the school’s core values coming through when you speak with them. They are learning to communicate and present themselves well, which will help them in college admission interviews and job interviews. They will be better students and ultimately stronger more effective people,” said Williar.
She also believes the most important part of college guidance and counseling is for each student to find the right match. “I refuse to rank schools. I encourage each student to self explore; who they are as people, if they want a big or small environment, a specific geographical area, if they want to play a specific sport, or earn a specific degree,” said Williar, who has each student find five to six schools that meet their profile and rank them as a match, reach, or safety school. “I ask them to stop and think about all the factors that would make that next step a positive experience.”
Beginning the 2017-18 school year, Williar will introduce a college planning software called “Naviance” which will include online personalized plans, career assessments, academic planning, and self-discovery tools.
Williar has been married for 25 years to her husband, Marc, who also works in the secondary and higher education system. They have a son, Sam, who is a senior in high school, and a daughter, Sophia, who is a freshman at the University of Tampa.