All In The Campaign for Blair Academy 2018-2025
2023 College Fair hosted by Blair's college counseling office
Continuing to Build Blair’s Robust College Counseling Program
Adele Starrs

Listening to Dean of College Counseling Niki Applebaum ’01 speak passionately about how to best support Blair’s students in finding the right college fit for them, it is hard to believe that she once had plans to go into any area other than college admissions.

Though she has always been an educator, early in her career, Ms. Applebaum taught English at a series of independent boarding and day schools where she coached field hockey and lacrosse and choreographed musical productions. She then moved to the college admissions and higher education realm and gained broad experience serving as an admissions officer and territory manager for Stanford University, as well as a senior admissions officer and assistant director of financial aid at Harvard University. There, she was the founding director of Harvard First Generation, a program designed to encourage first-generation students to apply to colleges and support them once there.

“Developing that program taught me so many valuable lessons about leading a team and developing new initiatives,” Ms. Applebaum says. “As a first-generation college graduate myself, I wanted it to best support the students it aimed to serve.” 

Today, Ms. Applebaum has found her calling back at her alma mater, inspiring, motivating and directing students to reach their full potential in the next steps of their educational journeys. 

In her third year as Dean of College Counseling at Blair, Ms. Applebaum has made it her mission to continue supporting the robust college counseling program, one focused on helping students identify their own goals and interests, navigating the rapidly changing college-application process, and making informed and confident decisions with students and families about the college or university that will fit them best.

It is no small task. 

Sitting down recently in Ms. Applebaum’s office overlooking Hardwick lawn in the center of Blair’s campus, she talked with excitement about the many ways in which she and her team work to give students and families a deeper understanding of the college admission process and peace of mind. Our conversation covered the strong foundation built by longtime Dean of College Counseling Lew Stival (who was Ms. Applebaum’s own college counselor!) and many other talented colleagues, as well as more recent additions to the office’s offerings—such as introducing college counseling classes as part of Blair’s weekly curriculum for juniors this year, taking students to visit nearby college campuses, hosting Saturday coffee chats with  parents on a variety of topics, and the formation of Blair Bridges, an advisory board of college and university admission professionals that helps Blair best prepare its students for success as they pursue higher education.

Q: Tell me about Blair Bridges. What is this new program and how did it come about? 
A: This year, we started the Blair Bridges program to bring together college professionals from a wide variety of schools to have conversations about their university’s practices to guide our programs at Blair. We live by the motto, “We know our students,” so we wanted to be sure we heard from those who represent the places and the people who will know our students in their next steps, too. Our goal is to gather input from a wide array of post-secondary schools—state flagship public universities, single-gender colleges, historically black colleges and universities, urban private research institutions, highly selective schools and less selective schools. By establishing regular touchpoints with them, it’s easier to keep our finger on the pulse of what's happening on a variety of post-secondary campuses across the nation, so that we can shape our programs here and best prepare our students for what happens at college.

Q: Which schools are currently serving on the Blair Bridges advisory board? 
A:  The advisory board of eight colleges that have partnered with us for a two- to three-year period currently consists of Elon University, Georgetown University, Grinnell College, Lehigh University, Middlebury College, Rice University, Penn State University and Spelman College.

Q: What occurred at the Blair Bridges summit held last week?
A: We invited the deans of admission from a number of colleges and universities to Blair for our first annual gathering. They got to know us better - taking a tour of our beautiful campus, meeting with Blair’s senior leadership, and listening to students talk about our signature programs - while we got to know more about them and what’s percolating on their campuses. We also discussed topics like enrollment, demographics, health and well-being, and we took a deep dive into moving beyond advanced placement classes and how we can best communicate the changes in our curriculum. 

Q: Can you tell me about the college counseling program that was already in place at Blair when you arrived in 2020? 
A: Thanks to the work of colleagues like former Dean of College Counseling Lew Stival and longtime college counselor Joe Mantegna, Blair already had a well-developed program focused on knowing our students well and guiding students through their processes with a huge wealth of institutional knowledge. 

The college process really starts by taking stock of all our students have done and continue to do. Activities then start in full force during students’ junior year. In 2023, our kickoff event occurred on February 8 when the deans of Fordham University, Lafayette College and Princeton University were here to talk to students and their families. 

Almost every Saturday morning since then, we have  also held virtual coffee chats to keep parents involved and informed. Each session covers different topics making the most of visits, understanding athletic recruitment and paying for college. We have past parent panels, too.

We’ve also created a college counseling class for juniors, with each section co-taught by two members of the counseling team. Small sizes really allows for hands-on work. The students get to know two members of the team, in addition to their counselor, and become comfortable with what they need to do throughout the process. 

Additionally, we’ve continued the tradition of in person college fairs and added visits to nearby campuses as well. This April, our college fair welcomed representatives from more than 100 institutions.

We’ve also planned trips to Rutgers University, Lehigh University, Princeton University and New York University. At each, we take a tour, meet an admission representative and, often, the best part is when we meet with a Blair alum currently at that school. It’s a great way to give our students a comprehensive look at what their lives may look like next year, even if the institution itself is just representative of the type of school at which they ultimately end up enrolling.  

Q: The college application process can seem daunting. How do you hope to put families’ minds at ease? 
A: By providing students and families with the right information. We want to put in place a process that students trust and don't feel intimidated by. The idea is to provide more information up front. Having knowledge about those next steps - and a relationship with those who will be guiding them - helps reduce anxiety, because it expands understanding and promotes confidence.

Q:  Finally, what are you most excited about? 
A: I'm so excited to have four full-time counselors, which allows us to have small caseloads and support students robustly. The team of people who work with our students is just as important as the offerings, and I couldn't do it without my amazing colleagues who work here and support our students. I’m excited to tell students, “You’re prepared to tackle these challenges, and Blair college counseling is by your side!”

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