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Meet an Admissions Counselor: Karen Spencer

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Karen Spencer

Written by Karen Spenceron October 12th, 2021

Like many admissions officers, I was introduced to this line of work after having been a tour guide at Valparaiso University. I went to graduate school to study counseling in higher education and, while working in the admissions office at UVA, realized that admissions was my passion. As an admissions officer at Franklin & Marshall, I read and made decisions on applications from NY, CA, and CO, was in charge of transfer admissions, and was the liaison to all coaches during the athletic recruiting process. Moving to Georgetown, I continued to oversee transfer admissions and reviewed applicants from the Midwest, reading up to 1800 applications each year. I also acted as the liaison for the soccer coach, and led one of the business school admissions committees. During my time in the admissions world, I particularly enjoyed meeting with students, helping student athletes decide if they really wanted to play a sport in college, helping transfer students find a better fit at a different college, and helping students and parents debunk the myriad of myths that are out there regarding this process.
Learn More About Karen
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 Karen Spencer. Where are you from, where have you lived, and where do you live now? I was born and raised in suburban Chicago (LaGrange, to be exact), went to grad school at the University of Virginia where I was reminded that winter in Virginia is waaaaaaay better than in Chicago, bounced around a bit in my 20s, but have lived in northern Virginia now for over 20 years. What are you reading, watching, and/or listening to lately?  Ted Lasso is one of the best shows on TV. Ever. I will seriously consider giving you my Apple TV ID if you’ll watch it. I’ve never met someone who doesn’t love this show. The writing is fabulous, and is a perfect blend of feel good and funny. Who couldn’t use that after the past year+?  I’m also reading The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and enjoying it. What do you do for fun or to relax? I’m a “doer” by nature, so even if I’m not working, I’ll find some project to work on. However, I love a good movie, a good massage, cooking or exploring a new restaurant, gardening, or shopping with my teenager at Home Goods. What are some of your interests—things that fascinate you or send you down internet rabbit holes, or things you love to learn more about? I read cookbooks like they are novels. I love cooking, watching others cook, food, and eating food. Do you do any volunteer work? If so, what, and are there certain causes that are close to your heart? I am the swim team rep for our summer swim club of 150 swimmers. It’s definitely a labor of love (that sometimes feels more like labor and sometimes more like love), but this program has brought so much to my three kids that I can’t think of a better way to give back to this community. I also do event planning for my children’s school, teach Sunday School, and recently finished sitting on the board of directors for a summer family camp. -- What did you study? Psychology was my major, but I picked up three minors in theology, music (vocal performance), and political science because those subjects interested me. I also have a Master’s of Education from the University of Virginia. What was your favorite thing about college? I was in a lot of social groups in high school, but never really found my people until college. I’m still best friends with the four girls I met in my dorm freshman year. What about your college experience was different from what you expected? I think I had hoped, but never really realized, how freeing college is. You get to be yourself without any of the nonsense of high school. This really allows you to find your people and your interests in such a liberating and genuine way. What would you say to your high school self if you could coach him/her through the research and application process? What would you have done differently? Honestly, I ended up exactly where I was meant to be. I did some research, ended up visiting three colleges, and in the end, Valparaiso was the clear winner. It’s where I felt I was “home,” even though it was snowing during my tour in early April (welcome to Northwest Indiana), and was a clear safety school for me. -- Where did you work in admissions and/or counseling? Franklin & Marshall College and Georgetown University What aspect of the college admissions and/or counseling process do you most enjoy working on? Crafting the college list. I love helping a student explore what they like (and don’t) about the colleges they are researching. I really enjoy helping students figure out where they are most likely to thrive. How do you encourage students to look beyond the schools they know to find hidden gems? I require students I work with to rate schools on a scale of 1-10 and they have to tell me specifically what they like (or don’t) about them. This requires them to really do some digging and be thoughtful about why schools end up on their list. What in your mind makes a good college essay? It should be so personal that no one else could have written it, even if it’s about an event that could have happened to someone else. The essay is an opportunity to add color to what can otherwise be a fairly black and white application. Good essays are where there is a real pop of color, and I have a sense for who this student is and how they tick. How would you describe your counseling style? Genuine, direct, and with the student’s best interest in mind. To learn more about Karen, visit her bio.

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