We’re bringing back our popular series, Meet an Admissions Counselor, where we introduce students and families to a different member of the College Coach admissions team. Drop in to see what we’re reading, where we went to school, and our strategies for beginning the college essay. As you work with us to find an educational consultant who best fits your needs or the needs of your child, we will help you consider the personality and working styles that will bring out the best in you or your student. Today we introduce Abigail Anderson.
Where are you from?
Abigail: I grew up in Williamstown, Massachusetts, which is as about as far from Boston as you can get without being in Vermont. I should probably just tell you I’m from Vermont!
Where did you go to school?
Abigail: Colby College – and even though I made that decision based on whether or not anyone from my high school was currently attending the college (they weren’t), I wouldn’t change that decision for the world! I probably did the most “academic” learning when I spent my junior year studying at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
What did you study?
Abigail: Sociology. I wrote my Honor’s thesis about the medicalization of childbirth and the decline of midwifery in the United States.
My parents also had a rule that all four of their children learn how to do three things: swimming, Spanish, and summer camp.
Where did you work?
Abigail: Emma Willard School, Reed College.
I also spent all of high school and college working with kids – as a nanny and at all sorts of camps (all-girls, all-boys, and I even ran my own art camp for a while).
What are you reading right now for fun?
Abigail: All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of our Everyday Lives, by Gretchen Rubin (for the College Coach Book Club!)
You have a free weekend and carte blanche to go anywhere and do anything. What do you do?
Abigail: That is a seriously hard question! I’m probably being way too detail-oriented about this answer (surprise, surprise!), but given travel time and distances, a weekend isn’t long enough to travel from Oregon to my favorite place in the world—Martha’s Vineyard.
So, I’m going to settle a teeny bit and be realistic: I’d drive out to Hood River, Oregon with my husband and our dog, Maisie. We’d spend the weekend skiing (which is our all-time favorite sport to do together because we both grew up ski racers), hiking, and eating lots of ice cream and sampling lots of beers at my favorite brewery, pFriem. Hood River is one of my favorite places in Oregon because it’s always sunny and everyone is the epitome of that West coast laidback trope.
What was your favorite thing about college?
Abigail: How happy everyone was. People really, really, really love Colby. I don’t know if it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy (if kids who choose Colby are happy-trending people, or if Colby makes people happy), but I can tell you that the school has a very clear culture of pride and authenticity. Seriously, I challenge you to meet a Colby alumnus who doesn’t just beam googly eyes at you the next time you mention the place!
Sure, it wasn’t all perfect, but I look back at my college experience and think about super long lunches with my best friends in our favorite dining hall (they served four flavors of ice cream from a local creamery at every meal), exploring Maine by spending the weekends skiing and hiking, plopping down in my favorite comfy chair in the library to read tons and tons of interesting ethnographies…Gosh, even trekking home from the library in the snow sounds like fun (now!).
What about your college experience was different from what you expected?
Abigail: In high school, I prioritized extracurricular activities first and academics second. I was like the face of the student body in high school, but didn’t really care that much about my classes. That flipped for me in college, which was a total surprise! I spent less time doing lots of activities and more time devoting myself to the two things I really loved (mentoring a local elementary school student and Sociology Club). I never expected to find a major I loved so much and so deeply that I would push myself to such lengths academically – I studied abroad at the top institution for sociology in the world, was nominated to write an Honor’s thesis by my department, and graduated dean’s list, with distinction in my major, summa cum laude, and Phi Beta Kappa.
What’s your philosophy on college admission?
Abigail: Taking control of your own college process (not letting someone else dictate your expectations and desires for your college experiences), combined with proper planning, produces the best results: happy students.
What aspect of the college admissions process do you most enjoy working on?
Abigail: The essays! Probably because it was my favorite part to read as an admissions officer.
What is the most common mistake you see from students that can easily be fixed?
Abigail: Spelling, punctuation, and grammar. This drove me bonkers as an admissions officer!! You should really spell check every single word of your application, down to your parent’s professions and your activity descriptions. I have an eagle eye for that stuff.
How do you encourage students to look beyond the schools they know to find hidden gems?
Abigail: This might make some parents unhappy, but… social media research. I love using sites like Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat to help a student get a sense for a school. More often than not, those platforms are run by students and not dictated by a communications or marketing team, giving a prospective student a really honest window into campus life. Sometimes, this helps students realize the schools they thought they knew weren’t exactly what they were expecting. Other times, it works in the opposite direction, helping a student open up to the idea of a school they knew less about to begin with.
What in your mind makes a good college essay?
Abigail: Learning something about the student that I couldn’t have learned from anywhere (or anyone) else in their application. Oh, and a dash of creativity that shows your “voice” really helps as well!
What are some important things you’ve learned during your time as a College Coach educator?
Abigail: The founder of NOLS is infamous for saying of backcountry wilderness travel, “prior proper planning prevents poor performance.” I think that his idea totally works for grizzly bears and college applications.
What would you say to your high school self if you could coach him/her through the process?
Abigail: Just because your mom offers a suggestion doesn’t mean you need to go do the exact opposite; she actually knows you really well! Also, don’t let the kids around you add to the stress. They haven’t applied to college before, so they don’t know what they’re talking about. Your college counselor, on the other hand does know what she’s talking about.