West Liberty High School’s counselor, Stephanie Paulsen, has recently been named as one of the five finalists in the top school counselors in Iowa by the College Admissions Counselor Association. Paulsen has clearly been successful as a counselor, but she didn’t always know she would take that path.

When Paulsen was in middle school, she had a conversation with her mom about different family dynamics. She felt fortunate to have a loving, stable family while learning that not everyone can be so lucky. “I walked away from the conversation feeling like it was very unfair that not everybody had that. I had a hard time deciding on a course of study, but I knew that I wanted to help people since then,” said Paulsen.

Paulsen studied Family Services as an undergraduate. “I loved the major but graduated around the economic downturn and found a hard time finding a job that I enjoyed and could support myself and my husband,” who was in school too at the time. “I was working at a preschool in Iowa City and grew to love the community atmosphere that it provided, the staff, children and parents,” Paulsen explained.

Paulsen took away from that job a desire to be a part of a school community where she could help people. “When I started looking at grad schools, the school counselor position especially appealed to me … It was the perfect fit. I originally went in with the intention of working with elementary aged kids, but I developed an interest in working with high school-aged students in school and decided it was a good fit. I really enjoy getting to know students and helping them discover which postsecondary path will be the best for fit for them.”

Paulsen says school counselors do more than help students pick classes. “School counselors work with students in three areas: academics, career and personal/social. Coming in to West Liberty, I felt more confident working with students in the personal/social realm, but in the past few years I’ve learned a lot and am doing more to address the academic and career counseling as well.”

As far as being named one of the top five counselors in Iowa, Paulsen says, “I was nominated by Jesus Lizarraga, who works as the assistant Director of Admissions at Iowa State. I first got to know him when he worked as an admissions counselor at UNI. He is from Columbus Junction and has done a lot to help out West Liberty on our application and FAFSA days.” Paulsen feels honored and thankful. “It has really been an honor to be nominated and a huge shock. I’m very thankful. The winner is decided by the members or the organization voting for the winner. I’m flattered to be a finalist regardless of the outcome!”

Paulsen feels that all school counselors should be recognized for their hard work. “I’m not sure if I do anything differently than other counselors. I try to make connections with kids like all counselors. So much of what we do is behind the scene: planning and organizing events, AP exams, communicating with teachers, parents, that our direct contact with students at the high school is usually only about 25% of the day. It is really nice to be recognized and I think other counselors are just as deserving of the award. I was fortunate enough to have a recommendation from the admissions counselor.”