meet an admissions counselor

Olivia Sajjadieh | College ConsultantWe’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 Olivia Sajjadieh.

Where are you from?
I am a Los Angeles native.

Where did you go to school?
I went to Pitzer College as an undergrad and received my MBA at American University

What did you study?
I was a Media Studies major and a Gender & Feminist Studies minor at Pitzer, and went on to study Business at American.

Where did you work?
I worked in the Admission Office at Pitzer as my work-study job throughout college. I gave tours, filed applications, and interviewed prospective students, all the while thinking I wanted to work in the entertainment industry after college. After graduation, I had a brief stint working on a television show, realized it wasn’t for me, and began my professional career in higher education at USC.

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What are you reading right now for fun?
After the television show came out, I began re-reading The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.

You have a free weekend and carte blanche to go anywhere and do anything. What do you do?
I would spend the weekend in Palm Springs. It is my absolute favorite place in California!

What was your favorite thing about college?
Pitzer College is a part of a consortium called the Claremont Colleges. I loved that as a part of my major, I had the opportunity to take classes at all of the different colleges throughout my four years. I took a class on documentary films at Harvey Mudd, a class on political films at Claremont McKenna, a class on fandom at Pomona, and a class on fairy tales at Scripps. I got to meet so many students with similar academic interests across campuses, and engage with so many different professors. I had the perks of going to a school of over 5,000, and living in an intimate community of fewer than 1,000 students. It was awesome!

What about your college experience was different from what you expected?
I didn’t expect my transition from high school to college to be as difficult as it ended up being. I had such a tight-knit friend group in high school, and we all ended up at different colleges. Leaving that support system behind was harder than expected.

What’s your philosophy on college admission?
My philosophy on college admission isn’t really different from my life philosophy: attitude is everything. You, the student, get to be in the driver’s seat. You have this wonderfully unique opportunity for self-reflection and the ability to decide what comes next for you in life. There won’t be another time in your life quite like it, so approaching it with a good amount of energy and enthusiasm will be to your benefit.

What aspect of the college admissions process do you most enjoy working on?
I love helping student with their essays. It is such a great opportunity for students to let the person reading their application into their world.

What is the most common mistake you see from students that can easily be fixed?
Stop worrying what your peers are doing, how they will be viewed by the colleges they are applying to, and how you think it will interfere with you own chances of admission at those schools. There’s nothing you can do about it! Spend that energy focusing on your own application and how you plan on putting your own best foot forward.

How do you encourage students to look beyond the schools they know to find hidden gems?
By sharing my own story. Pitzer is quite the hidden gem, I’d say.

What in your mind makes a good college essay?
Be yourself! Please don’t write about a topic that doesn’t interest you, just because you think it will give you a better chance of admission. Trust me, that ends up being fairly transparent. Instead, use it as the opportunity that it is to introduce yourself to the colleges to which you are applying.

What are some important things you’ve learned during your time as a College Coach educator?
Students and families all across the country all have similar questions and concerns about the admissions process. You are not alone!

What would you say to your high school self if you could coach him/her through the process?
I would tell myself to start thinking about the process much earlier. I should have started thinking about how I wanted to prepare for standardized tests, instead of showing up to take to the SAT without knowing what to expect. I should have done more soul searching to figure out what type of community I would be the most comfortable in, instead of applying to schools varying in size from 1,000–20,000. I was incredibly involved in high school, from theatre to sports to student government. I wish I would have realized how special that was, and figured out how to articulate that type of passion on my college applications. My high school self had so much to offer a college, and I wish I would have seen that.

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Written by Olivia Sajjadieh
Olivia Sajjadieh is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Prior to joining College Coach, Olivia worked as an admissions officer at University of Southern California and American University.