Despite being new to Archer, Sonia Arora, the school’s most recent edition to the college guidance team, is already well-known on campus amongst juniors and seniors.
Arora plays an integral role in the revamped college guidance program that Archer upperclassmen will participate in for years to come. The Oracle sat down with the first-year faculty member and discussed her education, career path and the future of the Archer college process.
Education, Early Life and Interests
Arora grew up in Denver, Colorado and was a student at Colorado Academy, a co-ed private school spanning preschool to 12th grade.
“I went there from third grade onwards, so I knew everybody there,” she said.
She then attended Sarah Lawrence College, a liberal arts college in Yonkers, New York, where she studied American Studies and Women’s History.
“I love Sarah Lawrence. It’s my favorite thing to talk about besides Archer these days,” she said.
Arora later continued on to graduate school at Northwestern University, where she pursued a degree in Literature.
Arora enjoyed many activities in her childhood, such as figure skating and playing the piano.
“I grew up figure skating, which was really fun. I still love to ice-skate, although it’s hard to find space and time to do that, and I’m not nearly as capable as I was as a teenager,” she laughed. “But I love ice-skating and watching ice-skating.”
“I also grew up playing the piano, but then recently started learning the guitar. I don’t know if you’ve tried to learn instruments, but it’s an interesting process to be unfamiliar with something and feel like you’re never going to be able to master a chord or have the strength in your hands, but over time it develops.”
Nowadays, she’s taken up new hobbies such as gardening and photography.
Contemplating her teenage self, Arora added, “My advice to myself in high school would have been to take more risks with what I was doing academically.”
Early Career and Experience in Admissions
Despite the small size of her school, Arora didn’t work closely with her college counselor in high school.
“[The counselor] had many, many students, so I didn’t get to work with her very well. My first time at Sarah Lawrence was my first day of school. I hadn’t even visited before I showed up for school, so it was an adventure in and of itself.”
“As a college student, I worked in admissions. I walked backwards as a tour guide and did all sorts of multicultural recruitment for the school. I was like Ms. Extracurriculars,” she said.
She then began teaching at Poly Prep Country Day School in Brooklyn, New York. Arora taught U.S. History and 10th and 12th grade English, all the while beginning to develop an interest in college counseling.
“I got to know the Director of College Counseling there, and he was a really good mentor. He was the first person who trained me in college counseling. I took on 22 students as their counselor, and I got really into it, and then he guided me towards working at a university, because he knew that in order to continue in college counseling, I would have to go work in enrollment. I’d always really loved the University of Chicago, and the city itself, so I went there,” she said.
Arora retained “many stories” from her time in college admissions, but one instance in particular that occurred in her early days of admissions sticks with her.
“Sometimes I wish I could write a whole book,” she laughed. “Something that I’ll never forget – I used to run a lot of programs when I was at the University of Chicago, and for my first program I was supposed to run a case study. They were [University of] Chicago cases, so they were really full.”
“But I thought I had to make the cases, so I basically made three full applications, with teacher recommendations and essays and every little detail, and that was my first time spending my entire night in the office. And the next morning I started my program, and I was told later that I didn’t have to do that. What’s good is now I have these three applications I can use for all sorts of things, but that was a very eager gesture on my part. I’ll never forget spending all night in my office working.”
Arora revealed that the most rewarding aspect of that job was reconnecting with past applicants and seeing how the University affected them.
“What’s been most impactful is that a lot of the students I admitted to the University of Chicago from California come back, and I really love that, now that they’ve graduated, we get to talk about their Chicago experience, and seeing how it shaped them over the course of four years has been really interesting,” she said.
As she’s gained more experience in the field of college admissions, Arora has come to realize important truths about the often cutthroat nature of the admissions process.
“I learned that there are many, many good students out there, and sometimes you can fight for a student with all of your heart and know that there’s a place for them at your school, but sometimes there’s just no room,” she said.
“And I’ve learned to trust that that student is going to go to another school and be just fine, and be happy with their community and become very successful.”
The Road to Archer
Arora’s journey to Los Angeles began when she was still an admissions representative at the University of Chicago.
“I came to recruit in California, and this was my territory, and so I visited all sorts of schools here. Over time I developed more connections here in Los Angeles. When I was finishing graduate school, I knew that I would go into college counseling, and it was only a matter of which jobs would be open at the time, in California and in Los Angeles specifically,” she said.
“At that time, a job at Brentwood was open, so I came and worked there for a couple of years.”
According to Arora, Brentwood was not the right fit for her, and she was excited when a job at Archer became available. She described her experience at Archer so far as “really amazing.”
“I used to come to Archer to recruit, and I always felt like I was walking through a story book. I was shown the tea room with all the little tea cups, and so I always felt like I was going to have some type of tea party,” she laughed.
“But then when I visited here as a prospective employee, I walked around and saw all the spaces, and talked to the students. And having more reference points of different schools, and having worked with different students on the westside, I felt like the students here were really special, and had voices, and were independent thinkers, and were independent people,” she said. “I had a long talk with Ms. Coyne, and asked her a lot of questions about how the school was run and its philosophies on education, and I was totally enamored with it.”
Arora expressed a deep affection for her job at Archer.
“I love coming to work everyday. I love learning from the students. I love when they drop by to fill me in on what happened in AP Art History, or to tell me something about a school tradition. I love the creativity, energy and intellectual spirit of the school,” she said.
Arora’s colleagues recognize and appreciate her positive attitude and praise her performance as a counselor.
“Ms. Arora has been a great addition to our college guidance team,” said College Guidance Assistant Marla Terry. “She has an incredible knowledge base about the process, and I’ve seen her working with the girls, and her energy is always positive and direct.”
“She’s incredibly enthusiastic about everything,” said Scottie Hill, Archer’s Director of College Guidance. “She’ll send emails with the title ‘Exciting!’, even if it’s something you wouldn’t normally find exciting,” she laughed.
“She adds a perspective and sense of humor to the whole thing. It can be a stressful process, not only for the students but for the faculty, too, and her sense of humor assists us a department,” said College Guidance Associate Jed Donnel, who also shares an eleventh grade advisory with Arora.
According to Arora, the most challenging aspect of working at the school is the independent nature of her students, which took some getting used to.
“I’ve learned to just trust that they know what they want and that their voice matters. I think students here really exercise their opinions and their voice, and it’s very genuine,” she said.
“I’ve learned that an Archer girl has a great sense of who she is and of what she really wants out of a school. A lot of other students at other schools are really influenced by their community, and I feel like you [girls] look deeper.”
What’s next for Archer college guidance?
Arora also shared her thoughts on the revamped college guidance curriculum that she helped design and implement, along with Hill and Donnel.
“I think we put a lot of good programs in place for students to start through the H.D. curriculum. In the spring, juniors are going to be writing essays and starting the Common Application. We’re going to be diving in, which I think will be a surprise for a lot of students, but should ease a lot of the stress going into the new year, so I’m excited about that,” she said.
“I think we’ve put more structure in place this year, especially with the Athena document that Ms. Hill came up with. It’s really comprehensive, and at first some students were overwhelmed at the idea of filling out this document, but then once they did it, they were so appreciative because it really helped them stay organized,” she said.
“Mr. Donnel and I spent a lot of time last year rebooting the whole department, and she’s definitely a piece of that puzzle,” Hill added. “What we want to do is be really available to students, so she’s created so much space and time for all of us to work closely with our students. She also brings a lot of other experience and she’s able to add new ideas into the mix, which has been great.”
“The three of us are very different, and we do sit around for several hours and have long conversations where we don’t necessarily agree, but we talk about ‘what is going to be the best thing for our students?’” Hill said. “And it’s just that ability to sit back and say, ‘Well, what do you think? Let’s not just do it the way it’s always been done before, but let’s make a change for the better.’ I think the biggest overreaching change is just that we’re constantly questioning everything, and it leads to a lot of innovation and creativity.”
Arora’s presence on campus has garnered a positive reaction from her students, particularly those she counsels.
“She’s really helpful because she’s done this for a while and she’s worked at really good schools,” said Jordan Alberstone ‘16, one of the seniors who works with Arora.
“She’s always there when I need her, and she’ll respond to an email right away,” said Grace Clarke ‘16. “She’s always on top of it. I can ask her a question or meet with her and she’s always open.”
“Even though she’s not my [counselor], she’s always there if I need anything, and she’s super sweet. She’ll help anyone,” said Grace Brown ‘16.
“She’s amazing. She’s really direct with you, and that really helped me, especially this year so far, with getting organized as a first semester senior,” said Madelyn Arzt ‘16.
Arora’s advice to Archer girls approaching their final years of high school and stressing about college is this:
“Everything’s going to be fine, and you have three people who bring a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience to help guide you and keep you on track.”
“Really enjoy [your time in high school],” she added. “All the time that you spend with friends, making memories and getting involved in the extracurricular life of the school, that’s what you’ll remember. And run around with your friends, enjoy LA. Don’t forget that life takes place outside of school, too.”