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 Emily Toffelmire.
Where are you from?
Emily: I was born in Arkansas, but spent the second half of my childhood in Las Vegas.
What did you study?
Emily: As an undergrad, I majored in Advertising & Public Relations, but also took a lot of courses in journalism, Japanese, literature, and pop culture. My Master’s is in Educational Counseling, with an emphasis on grades 9-12.
Where did you work?
Emily: My entire admission career was at the University of Southern California. Prior to that, I was a high school counselor in Nevada, California, and Thailand.
What are you reading right now for fun?
Emily: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. It’s a long, beautiful book and I have a feeling I will be heartbroken when it ends, so “fun” might be a stretch.
You have a free weekend and carte blanche to go anywhere and do anything. What do you do?
Emily: I just relocated to the Northeast after living most of my life in the South and Southwest, so I’m excited to check out the lakes and forests of Vermont and the coastline of Maine.
What was your favorite thing about college?
Emily: The people I found through my extracurricular activities. The creative, unorthodox friends I made by working on the campus newspaper, the arts magazine, and the radio station were the kindred spirits I’d unsuccessfully been looking for in high school.
What about your college experience was different from what you expected?
Emily: I never expected to move back to Arkansas for college. I’d attended junior high and high school in Las Vegas, and though I still loved my home state, I didn’t feel very culturally connected to it. My decision to go to U of A was a financial one, but it turned out to be one of the best choices I ever made. It resulted in amazing friendships that continue to this day, brought me closer to my extended family, and gave me an appreciation of my roots.
What’s your philosophy on college admission?
Emily: My unexpected college experience taught me that most students, if they make the effort, can be happy anywhere. I don’t think it’s healthy or productive to be narrowly focused on just one college or one type of school. Keep an open mind not just when you apply, but when you make your final decision. If you go in with a positive attitude and take advantage of opportunities and resources, you can truly be the architect of your own unique, rewarding college experience wherever you are.
What aspect of the college admissions process do you most enjoy working on?
Emily: I’m a lifelong reader and also like to write, so it’s not surprising that I enjoy helping students with their essays. I’ve seen firsthand how powerful a strong essay can be in the admission process, especially for students who may not otherwise stand out based on their numbers.
What is the most common mistake you see from students that can easily be fixed?
Emily: Students tend to put a lot of heart and energy into their main essay, then rush through the activities section and supplemental/short answers. Admission officers read every single part of the application, so it can be disappointing when you love an essay, then realize the rest of the application was filled out hastily or with little effort.
How do you encourage students to look beyond the schools they know to find hidden gems?
Emily: By talking about my own experience. It’s so important to not get hung up on the idea of where you think you’re supposed to go based on others’ expectations or some impossible standard you’ve set for yourself.
What in your mind makes a good college essay?
Emily: I want to read the last sentence of an essay and think, “Yes, now I know this person.” I want to walk away from your essay with a better understanding of who you are, what makes you tick, and what you’re going to bring to a college classroom or a club meeting. I’ll also mention my pet peeve: the essay as a laundry list of accomplishments. That’s what your activity section is for!
What are some important things you’ve learned during your time as a College Coach educator?
Emily: I learn so much from my colleagues on a daily basis, and I love to pass that knowledge along to families. My time with College Coach has also reiterated something I learned as a high school counselor: Parents and students have to communicate with each other openly in order to reduce stress. Be honest and clear from the get-go, and you will prevent countless arguments and hurt feelings.
What would you say to your high school self if you could coach him/her through the process?
Emily: Stop being so afraid! I had no idea what my options were, how financial aid worked, or what I wanted to major in, and I didn’t attend the type of high school that aided me in the process. I let my ignorance about the process turn into a fear of failure. Though I have no regrets about my ultimate decision, I wish I’d taken more initiative and had more confidence in myself and my potential.