Sonali Perera Bridges
Independent Educational Consultant
Bridges Educational Consulting (CA)
How did you move into the world of independent consulting? What made you decide to get into this field?
I started working as an independent college counselor 15 years ago when I was working at Mount Saint Mary’s University. The population at MSMU was very diverse with the majority of students coming from underserved communities. I started doing pro-bono counseling for young women who needed college guidance within my neighborhood and my inner circle of family and friends. As a first-generation student of color, I understood the importance of having proper information and support. Over the years, I enhanced my professional development by involving myself with various facets within the field of higher education. Whether it was serving in high level positions at various capacities such as enrollment management, student life, college counseling, or leadership development, my ability to stay in tune with student needs, as well as evolving changes within college counseling, was a direct result of my continued involvement with independent counseling.
During the past three years, I made a conscious decision to grow my college counseling practice into an educational consulting business. My intentions remained the same: helping underserved communities, specifically young women. Shortly after expanding the services of my business, I began to work with a local school district to create and support a college-going culture, as well as develop a college counseling curriculum. Next up was an assignment to work with a community college to provide leadership development for their associated student government. Living not far from Hollywood, I also managed to gain the opportunity to consult on an upcoming TV show, with a supporting foundation, that featured young women in the STEM and aviation fields. For the past year-and-a-half, I have enjoyed the flexibility of independent counseling that has allowed me to fill in and support college access at both the college and high school level. I truly enjoy the flexibility to do various things that allow me to understand student perspectives with a deeper, wider lens.
My passion project at the moment is to establish an interactive college counseling platform for students in underserved communities and schools. I firmly believe that every student deserves access to good college counseling, but may not have access to it because there is only one counselor for hundreds or thousands of students. Some may not have the support at home because they are first-generation, such as myself. It is my hope to finish this project soon and have it accessible to students, counselors, and schools across the world. This would go a long way in leveling out the college admission playing field for all students.
What is your favorite part of the job?
The favorite part of my job has and always will be my one-on-one interactions with students. Nothing fuels me more than helping a student realize their potential, finding a college they belong at, and helping them to communicate the power of their own story. I am sometimes their college counselor, sometimes their coach, and even their cheerleader if necessary.
How has NACAC played a role in your career?
NACAC has played an essential role in my career for 20 years. I was blessed to have bosses and mentors who believed in me and my professional development. I initially started working with Western ACAC and served as a NACAC delegate. I deeply valued the conversations and work that took place in the assembly as we all worked diligently to level out the playing field in higher education. I was a recipient of the NACAC Rising Star award and the organization’s belief in my work encouraged me to do more. I was a member of NACAC’s Admissions Practices committee when Stanford and the Ivies decided to come up with a new definition for applying to college. It took lots of conversations for all of us to figure out how to get Restricted Early Action incorporated into the Statement of Principles of Good Practice, but we did it. Those colleges’ intentions were always to serve the needs of the students and it indeed has. To this day, the SPGP: CEPP is my ethical road map on how best to navigate and advocate for my students. NACAC has also allowed me to create professional relationships with colleagues across the world and I know that I can pick up the phone and call any NACAC member to help me in guiding a student properly or to simply listen when things can feel unfair in the college admission process. I am so grateful for the continued conversations on hard topics that affect our students and how NACAC provides me with the tools to stand on Capitol Hill to lobby for financial aid for students all while giving me a call to action and re-focus every single year.
When you aren’t working, what do you like to do?
I am a busy mom of two young girls. Spending time with them and seeing the world from their viewpoint gives me hope for the future. They are two young ladies who are fierce in their convictions and have already learned the power of their voice. Family pizza/movie nights, painting little toe nails, and having dance parties are what give me joy. Date night with my husband and time with my girlfriends are also essential to my well-being; chocolate and wine are equally as important.
If you could be any fictional character, who would it be and why?
Deep inside I always have and always will be Wonder Woman. In the movie, Diana Prince said it best as to my reason of why: “I used to want to save the world. To end war and bring peace to mankind. But then I learned that inside every one of them, there will always be both. The choice each must make for themselves – something no hero will ever defeat. Now I know, only love can save the world. So, I stay. I fight, and I give…for the world I know can be. This is my mission, now. Forever.”
Describe yourself in five words.
Inspiring, thoughtful, committed, intentional, and fearless.
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