Every Thursday this summer, we are introducing 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 Ian Fisher, who works with students both in our Palo Alto office and remotely.
Where are you from?
Ian: I was born and raised in Tempe, Arizona, but I feel like I really grew up when I moved to Portland, Oregon.
Where did you go to school?
Ian: Reed College and the Stanford Graduate School of Education.
What did you study?
Ian: At Reed I majored in philosophy, but studied everything from economics to political science, math, chemistry, and anthropology. My thesis was The Ethical Implications of Creating Life from Scratch. My graduate degree is in Policy, Organization, and Leadership Studies, but I also found time at Stanford to take a class in the philosophy of film.
Where did you work?
Ian: I served for five years as a senior admission officer at Reed.
What are you reading right now for fun?
Ian: Before They Are Hanged, by Joe Abercrombie, which is the second book in the “First Law” series. Book one, The Blade Itself, was so good that I bought the next two without batting an eye. I’m also trying desperately to catch up on my New Yorker subscription but finding I’m always at least a month behind.
You have a free weekend and carte blanche to go anywhere and do anything. What do you do?
Ian: I would take my family to a cabin in the woods with a big, open lawn running down to a lake. We’d meet some of our closest friends there and spend the weekend reading, swimming, grilling, and relaxing.
What was your favorite thing about college?
Ian: Nobody who knows me would expect me to say anything other than ultimate Frisbee, and I couldn’t come up with a better answer, so there it is. The Frisbee team is where I met my closest friends, it was how I created community at Reed and around Portland, and it was a way for me to challenge my physical limitations as much as my classes were challenging my intellectual ones. Ironic that my experience at Reed was in many ways defined by a sport, given the institution’s categorical abstention from varsity athletics.
What about your college experience was different from what you expected?
Ian: I never expected it to be so hard. I thought I was a pretty smart kid when I graduated from high school, but I got to Reed and discovered how many brilliant minds are out there, and how much I have to learn from them. Reed was a seriously humbling experience.
What’s your philosophy on college admission?
Ian: Don’t begin with an answer; begin with a question. Then, ask as many questions as you can. Stay as broad as possible for as long as possible. Give yourself as many options as you can conceive. Do research. Be open to discomfort. Try to see yourself everywhere you look. Try again. Don’t marry yourself to one school too early in the process; if it’s really your #1 choice, it’ll still be there a month from now. If you do it all right, you’ll learn something about yourself along the way.
What aspect of the college admissions process do you most enjoy working on?
Ian: I love writing, and I love the writing process. I love helping students conceive an essay idea that has potential. I love the moment when a student realizes that something he thought was simple and normal is actually really interesting and really special and might make for a terrific essay. And I love helping her write it, and talk through it, and edit it, until she loves it and it’s ready to be submitted.
What is the most common mistake you see from students that can easily be fixed?
Ian: Too often, students try to choose the essay topic that fits their idea of what The College Essay (all capital letters) ought to be. When students let go of that conception and begin to be receptive to writing the idea that they are passionate about, they find the process comes so much more easily.
How do you encourage students to look beyond the schools they know to find hidden gems?
Ian: Visit as many schools within two hours driving as you can, without ruling any out. See a big one and a small one; an urban one and a rural one. Track what you like and what you don’t like by taking notes along the way. At the end of a few visits, you’ll start to get a sense of the kind of place you’re looking for, and your search will be much easier.
What in your mind makes a good college essay?
Ian: A good essay gets right to the point. It has a clear arc. It is written with openness and reflection and humility. After reading it, I know as much about who you are as what you do.
What are some important things you’ve learned during your time as a College Coach educator?
Ian:So much! The team is so great at throwing out different ideas and perspectives, at giving me new strategies for working with different kinds of students with different organizational processes, and at teaching me about the wide range of the college experience.
What would you say to your high school self if you could coach him/her through the process?
Ian: Just because it’s not on a Top 10 list doesn’t mean it can’t be great. Look for somewhere small with a compelling community and pay no attention to the bright lights; there’s plenty of time to catch up to those in grad school. And above all: you don’t know it all, dude.