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 that 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 Amy Alexander, who works with students both remotely and in our Manhattan office.
Where are you from?
Amy: Grew up in Hamden, CT. Lived in Washington, DC, San Francisco, New Haven, CT, Madrid, Spain, and Montclair, NJ.
Where did you go to school?
Amy: Yale University, BA; Golden Gate University, MS in Human Resources/Organizational Behavior.
What did you study?
Amy: Psycho- and Socio-Linguistics, basically how people and cultures use language and communication.
Where did you work?
Amy: Yale University Undergraduate Admissions Office, where I handled the territories of Northern CA, AZ, NV, IL, and IN. Procter and Gamble after college in sales, Montgomery Securities in HR while getting Masters, and then past 17 years at ALA Educational Consulting as an independent college advisor in the NY/NJ areas.
What are you reading right now for fun?
Amy: Just finished Plain Truth by Jodi Piccoult about the Amish and Rules of Civility by Amor Towles about life in the 40s in the Upper Crust in NYC. Now reading Maya’s Notebook by Isabelle Allende, because I love Latin and Spanish Literature. Hope to read The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt on vacation soon.
You have a free weekend and carte blanche to go anywhere and do anything. What do you do?
Amy: NYC to hear great music, find some art show or gallery, see an off-Broadway show, walk around Central Park, and eat at a fun restaurant for some good wine and food.
What was your favorite thing about college?
Amy: The independence and learning to make decisions.
What about your college experience was different from what you expected?
Amy: I didn’t realize how much I would grow and evolve as a person, from a young woman to a full adult in four years.
What’s your philosophy on college admission?
Amy: Ask for help, consider all of your options, be open minded, VISIT, listen to your gut, present yourself and feel good about that, and find a place where you will thrive, without necessarily having a brand name attached.
What aspect of the college admissions process do you most enjoy working on?
Amy: Interview and essay prep: mock interviews, brainstorming essay topics, writing the essay, narrowing down the list as fall of senior year nears.
What is the most common mistake you see from students that can easily be fixed?
Amy: They haven’t yet developed confidence in their own ideas, they go after brand name rather than a good fit, and they procrastinate without realizing how cumbersome the process can be.
How do you encourage students to look beyond the schools they know to find hidden gems?
Amy: I ask them questions about who they are, how they think, what they like to do, how they spend their free time, who they hang out with, what they read, what their hobbies are, how they learn best, what gets them jazzed. After learning this, I might suggest a school or two they never thought of and ask them to do some research. Many include this school on their lists, and some end up choosing it. One example some years back was a boy in all AP classes, very bright, but struggled with a non- verbal learning disability. I suggested a small and nurturing environment, Wittenberg in OH. He had never heard of it, neither had his parents, and they were skeptical at first. He chose to apply to the big names, Tufts, and similar, but included Wittenberg. Ended up going there and it changed his life. He loved it because of the professors, the atmosphere, and the style.
What are some schools that you think are great fits for different kinds of students?
Amy: Depends I guess on what you consider different. If you mean alternative, then I would suggest Evergreen State, Hampshire, Bennington, Lewis & Clark, Oberlin. If you mean LD, then Curry, Lynn, Landmark, Mitchell, Dean. If you mean schools that would accept and nurture all different kinds of kids then likely a larger school in an urban area, such as NYU, USF, U IL-Chicago, for example.
What in your mind makes a good college essay?
Amy: One that presents and reflects who the student is inside: how they think, what’s important to them, what defines them. What makes them unique and only can be about them?
What are some important things you’ve learned during your time as a college counselor?
Amy: In my 17 years advising HS students and families about college admissions, I would say it is most important for parents to listen to their kids. Listen to their wants and needs, be up front with them about financial and geographic restrictions and limitations early in the process, and let the student guide the process. Also, it’s important to be patient with students and families because it can be a daunting, stressful, and overwhelming process.
What would you say to your high school self if you could coach him/her through the process?
Amy: I did coach myself, as neither of my parents attended college. This is why I got into college advising in the first place 18 years ago. I wasn’t afraid to ask questions, and set about researching and finding answers, getting on a bus to go for an interview by myself, filling out apps by myself, etc. But I know most kids at 17 or 18 are not like that. And I know the process has become much more complex in recent years. I would encourage high school students to ask for help, to ask questions, to get online and do research, to start early and learn as much as possible, to start doing a self- inventory and figure out what makes them tick and what environment would help them reach their goals and where they’d feel challenged and comfortable at the same time, and lastly to present a true picture of themselves throughout the application. Also, choosing the college that is a good match is the ideal. Getting rejected doesn’t mean you could not have handled the work or deserved to get in, it just means the more selective the college, the less predictability of getting accepted. They have to build a class from many different sources and strengths.