Kirby Families Love Kirby, Santa Cruz's Best High School and Middle School!

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College Prep


We ARE college prep.

We love the way Kirby supports students and parents throughout the college application process. Beginning freshman year, our College Counselor, Lis Bensley, works with students to craft a four-year plan designed to get them where they want to go.

Tech-happy students load up on programming courses, while humanities lovers create a high school plan with room for a range of electives like Utopias and Dystopias, Personal Narratives, The History of India and Pakistan, and Multimedia Journalism. When it comes time to fill out their college applications, Kirby kids have the experience and background to stand out from the crowd.

(Click here to go to the Kirby Curriculum Catalog for a complete list of high school course offerings.)

Lis is on campus every day, which means she is always available when students have questions about prepping for the SATs, deciding which colleges to investigate, and negotiating the college application process. With senior classes of 45 to 55 students, Lis is never too busy to sit down and provide one-on-one support for our kids.

It's such a relief to know our kids aren’t competing with 400 of their fellow students for the attention of one college counselor.

Applying for college these days is a complex process. Kirby families don’t have to negotiate it alone, and that feels great!

Learn more about Kirby's college counseling program HERE.


About Lis Bensley, Kirby's College Counselor

Lis joined the Kirby community in 1999 as a parent (Alex Pino, class of 2003), and served as Chair of the Parent Association. Her experience left her wanting more: "I always thought that if I ever worked for a school, I would want to work at Kirby," she says. In 2007 Lis joined the Kirby administration to provide Academic Support Services, and in 2009 took over the office of Academic and College Counseling.

Lis grew up outside New York City in New Jersey. She received a B.A. in English and Psychology at Trinity College (Hartford), and then worked as a reporter for The New York Times and several other publications.

After moving to Santa Cruz in 1997, she shifted her focus to education. "Because there were so few journalism jobs and because my sons were both struggling with learning disabilities, I began working in that field.” She eventually received an M.A. in Education with an emphasis on Mild to Moderate Disabilities.

Lis successfully parlayed her love of writing into working with students who struggled with essays, which naturally led to helping them with college essays and navigating the college admissions process as well. This provided the foundation for becoming the College Counselor at Kirby.

What excites Lis most in her role at Kirby is working with students at this unique stage in their lives, a time when they are exploring their next educational options, when they are working to understand who they are and what they want.

“Unlike high school with its prescribed required course work, there are many types of colleges to choose from depending on each student’s preferences, needs, and ambitions. The most rewarding aspect of my job is the one-on-one work with the students, helping them find the right fit.”

In her free time, Lis continues to write fiction. She is also passionate about gardening and cooking. She spent a semester at Cordon Bleu in Paris, she occasionally writes for Edible, and has published a cookbook, The Women's Health Cookbook.


How cool is this?

We are so proud of our Kirby grads! Our personal and comprehensive college counseling program doesn’t just support the application process – it helps guide Kirby students to the school which fits them best. And it works!

Kirby kids go on to the finest colleges and universities in the United States, Canada, and Europe, where they thrive and prosper. It feels great to know that so many top-tier colleges have chosen our kids from among thousands and thousands of applicants.

Last year, out of 52 graduating seniors, Kirby sent graduates off to Berklee College of Music, Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Harvey Mudd, NYU, Oberlin, Princeton, Rhode Island School of Design, Swarthmore, and Tufts, just to name a few!

Past Kirby students have matriculated at Dartmouth, Harvard, MIT, Stanford, UCLA, and many other outstanding colleges and universities.

We love the way Kirby educates our kids and prepares them for what comes next! Kirby must be doing something right. We're a small school, but our graduates go far.