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Meet an Admissions Counselor: Kurt Isaacson

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Kurt Isaacson College Coach

Written by Kurt Isaacsonon January 16th, 2024

Before joining College Coach, my educational and professional background specialized in the arts. As an admissions counselor for California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), I had the opportunity to review and decide on the applications of young musicians, dancers, actors, artists, animators, and filmmakers. After that, I became Chair of the Music Department of the New Mexico School for the Arts and advised high school students on their next steps into higher education—be it for an arts-based discipline, a STEM field, a future career in medicine, or a broader education in the liberal arts. While at ArtCenter College of Design, I reviewed applicants to Master’s-level programs in visual art and technical design disciplines, often engaging with creative technologists, aspiring entrepreneurs, and creative problem solvers of all types. I am fortunate to have had such a varied professional experience that has allowed me to see college admissions through many different lenses, and it is this experience that I bring with me to College Coach.
Learn More About Kurt
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 a college admissions 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 Kurt Isaacson. Where are you from, where have you lived, and where do you live now? I’m originally from Batavia, a suburb outside of Chicago. I currently live just outside of Los Angeles, in Azusa. In the past, I’ve lived in the Bay Area, Ohio, Chicago, and Santa Fe. What are you reading, watching, and/or listening to lately? I’m currently reading two graphic novels by Nick Drnaso—Sabrina and Acting Class—and I generally love literary fiction. I’ve also been getting more into sci-fi and am working through the Dune series. I also read tons of popular science books, especially on quantum physics and cosmology, which I’ve always had an interest in because I grew up next to Fermilab, where physicists from all over the world have unlocked secrets to our universe. I don’t watch a ton of TV or movies, but I’m re-watching Twin Peaks and am obsessed with a British panel show called Taskmaster, which is hilarious. What do you do for fun or to relax? I’m an avid outdoors person. I have been a long-distance trail runner for about seven years and have raced in over a dozen ultramarathons. I’m pretty much always in my local mountains—the San Gabriels—hiking, running, or just exploring whenever I get the chance. 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 am currently studying to be an EMT, which is a requirement of being on the Search and Rescue team I volunteer for. Because of this, I’ve become absolutely fascinated with anatomy and emergency medicine. Do you do any volunteer work? If so, what, and are there certain causes that are close to your heart? I’ve been volunteering for two years as a mountaineer for a local Search and Rescue team, which is fun and exciting. We are called on to help individuals in our local mountains, as well as anywhere we are needed around California. -- Where did you go to college and what did you study? I did my undergrad in composition at Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio. After that, I earned my Master’s and Doctorate in composition at Stanford University. What was your favorite thing about college? Was anything very different from what you expected? I loved collaborating with my fellow students. I worked with a hugely talented group of student musicians while at Oberlin. I also immersed myself in Oberlin’s activist culture that reached beyond the conservatory into the highly-driven student body, which was a rewarding avenue for collaboration as well. Nothing about college was what I expected, but it was always exciting! What would you say to your high school self if you could coach them through the research and application process? What would you have done differently? The college search can often be overwhelming when you look at it altogether, but each step is manageable and leads you to where you need to be. My college search was very narrow since I went into a niche field but, if I had to do it again, I’d expand my options by looking at different types of schools, programs, and opportunities before focusing in on my selected path. -- Where did you work in admissions and/or counseling? I started as an admissions counselor at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). From there, I moved to teaching in secondary education at New Mexico School for the Arts before joining ArtCenter College of Design as their Director of Graduate Admissions. What in your mind makes a good college essay? Honesty and a good understanding of what a reader should take away from your writing are the foundations of a good college essay. Everyone has an opportunity in the college essay to express what shapes their character and motivates them to grow, learn, and become part of a community, which requires first and foremost being true to oneself and not just trying to “impress” your reader with flashy language. How do you guide and nurture students through the college list process, from initial research to narrowing the final list? I’m a big fan of the “funnel” analogy—that you start out with a broad array of possibilities and methodically work through each of them to find the right fit. This allows a student to keep as many options as possible available while going through the process of self-discovery and introspection that ultimately leads to the best fit college or program. How would you describe your counseling style? I would describe myself as process-oriented and collaborative. I love counseling students and demystifying the admissions process. To learn more about Kurt, visit his bio.


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