#HigherEdHero — Meet Bridget Hamak

While they might not scale tall buildings or catch villains, there are super heroes walking among us. These heroes use their powers to support and guide students and families through their high school and college years. They are creative, energetic, resilient, organized, empathetic, hard-working professionals who make a difference in the lives of those around them.

As an author and speaker, it has been an absolute joy to work alongside these heroes of higher education, providing guidance and reducing anxiety for students and families as you navigate the high school-to-college transition.

This is why I like to share their stories (and superpowers!) with you.

Each month, I feature a #HigherEdHero on my blog and social media platforms. My goal is that by sharing their experiences and advice, we can provide information that will reduce anxiety and build confidence–and help set students and families up for success through the college launch and beyond.

This month I get to introduce you to Bridget Hamak, School Counselor at Cathedral High School in St. Cloud, Minnesota. Bridget attended the College of St. Benedict where she earned a BA in Psychology and a Master of Science in Education Counseling. She is married to Scott and has three children – a 7th grader, a high school junior and a first year college student.

KR: What are some of the biggest challenges you see high school students facing today? How are they overcoming these challenges? 

BH: In my 20 years as a counselor I have seen more students struggle with pressures from so many things they are juggling- school, activities, friends, work, family stress, pressure about choosing a college, and how to manage it all. Anxiety and Depression have increased as kids navigate all these pressures along with increased screen time. We are as a society doing a better job of acknowledging mental health, which helps, and kids are also very resilient. Students and adults also need to be better about finding downtime away from a screen. Information is always coming at us and contributes to our need to always stay connected or “checked-in.” Time away to relax, be in nature, exercise, or do something else we enjoy that doesn’t require a screen is important for our well-being and mental health. We need to be better about modeling this for our youth.

KR: What is a typical day like in your career as a high school counselor?

BH: I think most high school counselors would tell you there is no “typical day.” That is part of the reason I love my job. In my day I can talk to students about grades and homework, colleges, family stress, friend drama, and fun things like their basketball or hockey game or the theater production they might be preparing for. I talk to parents via phone and email and collaborate with teachers to help support kids who may be struggling. We also spend time in the classrooms to talk about choosing classes for the next year or college planning info.

KR: As a counseling professional, what is your philosophy on parent involvement in the college application experience?

BH: My simple answer to this is that students should take the lead in completing their college applications. Parents are a great resource to proofread and help. Students also need to be their own advocate in asking questions of College Admissions. I often have students who have questions and help them make a list of questions to ask and then have them call a particular school right from my office. In a world with so much technology, emailing, and texting, it’s important to know how to have phone and in-person conversations. It’s also important for them to see how important those personal connections can be.

KR: What’s one tip you could give regarding the college admissions process?

BH: Apply to a variety of schools in terms of cost and admissions difficulty, and have more than one option that you feel good about. Don’t get your heart set on a school that costs $60,000-$70,000 or one with extremely difficult admissions criteria with no other college on your list where you can see yourself. It’s important to remind yourself that college is what you make it and what you put into it. Don’t second guess when it comes to choosing. Once you make your choice, feel good about it and create the best experience for yourself.

KR: How can parents/guardians help their students become college-ready?

BH: This is a great question! Help your kids to be self-advocates. When opportunities arise for them to handle something, whether it be a question with a teacher or a conflict with friends, empower them to take care of it. It’s easy as a parent to shoot a quick email to a teacher asking about a re-test or clarifying an assignment, but have your kids do it. Also, don’t be afraid to let them experience struggle and failure. It’s better to learn to navigate these struggles in a safe, supportive environment like high school and while living at home. If they struggle, talk with them about how they can work through it. If they fail a test, encourage them to learn how they can prepare differently so they don’t fail next time. Working through conflict gives them confidence to know they can handle difficulties when they are on their own.

KR: What words of wisdom would you give to a current high school senior as they prepare for their college years?

BH: Make the most of your high school experiences and don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. Try something new, even if your friends aren’t doing it. That is hard to do in high school, but it will help you when you are on your own in college and have lots of opportunities to get involved.

KR: What is a favorite memory from work in the last six months?

BH: The pandemic has certainly challenged us all this past year. At Cathedral, we have been mostly in person, but spent time distance learning from mid-November to mid-January. I still was at school during this time, but it was not the same without the kids! I was thrilled when we returned in person and could connect with my students face to face!

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Kelly Radi is an international speaker and award-winning author who helps families successfully navigate the emotional AND practical aspects of the college launch. Order your copy of  Out to Sea: A Parents’ Survival Guide to the Freshman Voyage today!

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