Student Journalism at San Rafael High School

Off the Leash

Off the Leash

Off the Leash

Laura French Makes College Planning Easy For Students at SRHS


Laura French was working in her designated wide open cubicle standing tall and determined to locate a page in her files. This was a normal part of her routine in the College and Career Center at San Rafael High School. She quickly found the paper she was looking for. I then called out her name letting her know that I was ready to interview her. She quickly placed down the paper and with a smile on her face, lit up and was ready to participate. 

She had a busy schedule that day and despite knowing we had a set amount of time to talk about herself, she immediately asked me about my progress in my college applications.  

Laura French works part time in the College and Career Center at SRHS as a college consultant. She had a long career prior to joining the school. After graduating from UC-Davis in 1992 with a bachelor’s degree in history, she jumped around at different positions. She worked at the legislature in the California State Capitol, worked for the Peace Corps, and other side ventures. These jobs were accomplishing in their own right but Ms. French never felt fully satisfied with her work. 

It wasn’t until things settled down for both Laura French and her husband when she was presented with a new full time job that gave her a new revitalized vision in her life. They had their first born child. 

“It was the first job that I was really invested in,” said Ms. French.  

After six months of their son’s birth, she quit her job and became a full time mom. Her son grew older and aspired to attend college. Ms. French wanted to help her son so she began to relearn about the college application process. She immediately got hooked into researching different universities across the country. She attended seminars, caught up with newspapers, and read many books about colleges. This new found spark would soon ignite into fireworks as she eventually had two daughters. Her kids appreciated and respected her knowledge, but she felt like they reluctantly listened. “So I thought that maybe there will be somebody who wants to listen to what I say,” Ms. French commented.  

Obsession over colleges also had an unintended consequence of deep reflection. Ms. French looked back on her time at UC-Davis. The typical classes had around hundreds of students and she barely formed any connections with her professors. Her grades weren’t the strongest. She learned that had she had the proper resources and information as a teen, she would have prefered to attend a different college. She stated that, “I would have performed better in small, seminar style classes […] it wasn’t a good learning environment for me.”

This is Laura French’s second year at SRHS. She has met with hundreds of students since then spanning from diverse backgrounds. She especially enjoys working with first generation students into navigating their college applications.

Ms. French is a first-generation American whose parents emigrated from the United Kingdom in 1967. During her early childhood, she didn’t grasp this concept at all and saw herself as only American. She remembers how her peers would mention that her “mom talks funny” or they wouldn’t understand what her mom was saying. 

She recounts a story in which she was in a history class in elementary school when the teacher was detailing Great Britain’s invasion and occupation of Boston during the American Revolution. She was mortified and shocked about this telling. Later that day, she was excited to tell her mom about her day at school and that she learned about the terrible “red coats” and how evil and despicable they were. Her mom quietly and awkwardly stared at her and said, “Well, you know, we are British.” 

Many students’ first experience with Laura French came with the 15-minute junior year meeting. The meeting was designed to be a one by one sit down with Ms. French to discuss plans after high school. A senior at SRHS who goes by Whim McGuire says that they “were surprised at how energetic and passionate she was about colleges of all things.” They mentioned that her bubbly personality was overwhelming at first but that they quickly got used to her. 

Luke Paonessa, another senior at SRHS, was stuck on his college application portals and was lost on what to do next. He immediately went to Ms. French for guidance. He said, “Since I applied early and the school was safe, she said that I should wait to respond until I get back from the schools that are higher up on my list.”

“She doesn’t care if you set up a meeting or not. If she’s in the CCC and you show up she’s always happy to help,” said Paonessa. 

Seydi Cifuentes, who is the college and career advisor at SRHS, says that she works really well with Ms. French. Her presence at the CCC has levitated a lot of stress from her job. “She is really good at the grammar aspect of the essays,” mentions Mrs. Cifuentes. “I feel like I know alot about the CC application and financial aid and I think that is kind of her weakness area.”

She finishes her statement saying, “I think we found a pretty good balance of what we are good at and what we can help each other out.”  

Although a fair percentage of students receive help from the College and Career Center, she is still frustrated by the lack of engagement among students for the CCC. She openly rejects the idea of forcing students to attend meetings but instead prefers students signing up from their own intuition. Ms. French wants students at SRHS to take individual responsibility for getting help with college applications. She pinpoints how it’s your “first step of your independence.” 

Despite Laura French being a college consultant, I still wanted to ask her about her opinion on students who believe that college isn’t the right choice for them, as it is a reasonable and valid choice for many. 

“I definitely want to honor what someone is saying to me […] I approach this job as a mom and I understand how teenagers think,” says Ms. French.

Outside of SRHS, she loves to stay active. Ms. French does almost anything related to the outside world: mountain biking, hiking trails in California, and cross-country skiing. During COVID-19, she bought a Peloton to stay active. She also is fanatic about nutrition. She goes to the Farmers’ Market to get the best vegetables and fruits filled with the ideal vitamins for her family. Her favorite band is Crowded House from the 80s. She jokingly says, “You’ve probably never heard of them.” Her family also has a dog named Utah.          

She hopes that for students that do want to go to college, that they see her as a free source for help. She provides the same assistance as a privately paid counselor with the same conferences, same message board, and same information.  

Laura French sees herself staying at San Rafael High School in the foreseeable future. She encourages students from all grade levels to come by to get help. 

“I want high school students to enjoy their high school years and to not always think about this next step,” she then humorously adds, “but the reality is, you have to start thinking about it a little bit!”

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All Off the Leash Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *