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 Lisa Albro, who works with students both remotely and in our Short Hills, NJ office.
Where are you from?
Lisa: Fort Lee, NJ – home of the George Washington Bridge and the gateway to New York City.
Where did you go to school?
Lisa: Goucher College in Towson, Maryland (a northern suburb of Baltimore) for both undergrad and grad school, but with a 12-year gap between finishing undergrad and starting grad school.
What did you study?
- Undergrad: English with a Writing Emphasis. I took very few (read: “the minimum required for graduation”) literature classes and an overabundance of writing classes: journalism, writing for film, TV and radio, every creative writing class Goucher offered, technical writing, writing for public relations and advertising, you name it. Of the literature courses I took, my absolute favorite was the James Joyce seminar. Reading Joyce just does something to my soul.
- Grad: I have a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction. Sometime in the early 2000’s I became serious about my writing and embarked on the program much sooner than I had planned.
Where did you work?
Lisa: An urban consulting firm, a commercial real estate firm, an advertising agency, a paralegal school, and a veterinary technician training school. I have spent 19 years in admissions and counseling, working at Goucher College and as the director of college counseling at three high schools.
What are you reading right now for fun?
Lisa: I am between books right now, having recently finished The Burning Room by Michael Connelly, and anxiously awaiting the release in a few days of Radiant Angel by Nelson DeMille. I love detective novels, a hazard of having grown up with a cop for a dad. As a kid I would pick up whatever he was reading, and it was almost always a detective story. I got hooked on Lawrence Sanders’s “Deadly Sin” series at a very early age.
You have a free weekend and carte blanche to go anywhere and do anything. What do you do?
Lisa: My perfect weekend is spent relaxing on a raft in our pool, grilling for friends and family, going for long walks, and playing with our 5-year-old shepherd/hound mix Mattingly.
What was your favorite thing about college?
Lisa: Discovery! It was four years of ongoing discovery – of artists, writers, philosophers, friends, experiences – you name it! One of the reasons I love working with students who are going through the college process is that my college experience was so positive because I went to the right school for me. I want to help kids find the places that will give them their best experiences too.
What about your college experience was different from what you expected?
Lisa: For starters, I didn’t expect to be so homesick in my first semester. I was The Most Homesick Freshman in the World for a good four months there. Meeting the right people and getting involved in campus life helped me to overcome that by second semester. I think I was a little bit sheltered as a kid, and being on my own in college made me realize what it meant to take responsibility for myself and to take initiative.
What’s your philosophy on college admission?
Lisa: It’s a process. One does not just apply and get in and be done with it. You need to investigate and research and narrow things down. It’s about finding the right fit for a student’s interests, abilities, and personality. Like any process, it’s not without its challenges, but in my role as a facilitator of this process, I see such terrific growth in students from overcoming those challenges.
What aspect of the college admissions process do you most enjoy working on?
Lisa: I really like the interaction with my students, and listening to them as they discover things about themselves by visiting campuses, or looking deeply into programs or majors of interest. And I love having those discussions with seniors in the spring who are considering multiple offers of admission. I get to help them assess their pros and cons, which allows me to sometimes play the devil’s advocate, to help them come to the best decision for themselves.
What is the most common mistake you see from students that can easily be fixed?
Lisa: I meet and speak with so many students – and parents – who will only consider what we call “name brand” schools that only account for a small percentage of the thousands of offerings here in the U.S. alone. I try to get my families to think outside the box a bit and look more deeply into what different schools have to offer. I see so many students become fixated on one particular school far too early in the process, causing them to focus too narrowly on just one place without giving full consideration to other opportunities. It’s an easy fix: keep an open mind, and be willing to consider all options before narrowing the focus.
How do you encourage students to look beyond the schools they know to find hidden gems?
Lisa: If the conversation allows, I tell them my story, for starters. I suggest some places they may consider that offer some of the options they are looking for, be they certain majors or programs, and help them to look more deeply into these other options. I share facts and testimonials to help debunk myths that lead them to believe there are only certain schools they should consider.
What in your mind makes a good college essay?
Lisa: An essay that helps a reader to see a student in three dimensions. On paper, students can look so similar to one another within a given applicant pool. A good essay brings a student to life, and helps a reader to learn something about the student that they might not otherwise know. The best essays are the ones that sound like the writer, not who the writer thinks he or she ought to sound like for the benefit of the readers. I always tell my students, “be your authentic self.” And for God’s sake, please avoid using the “SAT words” that so many students think they need to throw in for good measure. No one regularly uses words like “plethora” or “myriad,” but they always seem to pop up in college essays.
What are some important things you’ve learned during your time as a College Coach educator?
Lisa: The collective expertise of our team of experts is astounding. I learn something new whenever my colleagues and I have a conversation or a meeting. We are really, really good at what we do, and we all want to make a difference in the lives of the students we assist. I’ve also learned that 99.999% of the time, students end up pretty much exactly where they are meant to be in spite of all the stress and worry they put themselves through.
What would you say to your high school self if you could coach him/her through the process?
- You are NOT going to be the next Woodward or Bernstein.
- Don’t doubt yourself so much!
- You are not your standardized test score. Focus on the qualities that make your application stand out apart from your scores.
- Trust your gut.
- When you visit a campus, look for students who are “your kind of people.”
- Don’t think you have to map out the rest of your life RIGHT NOW. Embark on your college career with ideas and a general direction, but be open to the opportunities that may come your way from out in left field.
- Don’t try and rush through your college experience. The “real world” will be there whenever you finish.