Lisa Albro college advisorWe’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 New Jersey native, Lisa Albro, who works with students both remotely and in the Short Hills, NJ area.

Where are you from, where have you lived, and where do you live now?
I grew up in Fort Lee, New Jersey, in the shadow of the George Washington Bridge and across the Hudson River from New York City. I’ve lived in Baltimore, New York City, Santa Fe, and Denver. I currently live about 20 miles from my hometown, in northern New Jersey.

What are you reading, watching, and/or listening to lately? 
I’m reading A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures, by the late Ben Bradlee, longtime executive editor of The Washington Post. I love memoirs, particularly those written by writers, and I absolutely cannot resist fiction or nonfiction that revolves around journalists or reporters. I’ve been watching The History of the Sitcom on CNN, having just finished The History of Late Night. My latest guilty pleasure is Manifest on Netflix. Even though I’m aware of so many good podcasts that friends and colleagues tell me about, my listening time is largely devoted to live broadcasts from Relevant Radio, which keeps me connected to my Catholic faith.

What do you do for fun or to relax?
Fun for me involves spending time with people I love—my husband, friends, family—especially my nephews, ages four and seven. We are fortunate to have a large yard and pool so much of my summer fun revolves around the pool. I enjoy spending time with my dog (an 11-year-old shepherd/hound mix named Mattingly) on walks or just playing endless games of fetch in the backyard. When it comes to relaxing, I’m all about floating on a raft while reading or napping.

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 love art history. I took a course in college to satisfy a requirement and was hooked on learning about techniques in painting, sculpture, and architecture, and about how artists and their art have been influenced by what was happening in their world at the time. I’m also fascinated by the concept of having a calling to a certain vocation or quest, and I spend a lot of time reading about and talking with people who pursue jobs or activities they feel deeply moved to do.

Do you do any volunteer work? If so, what, and are there certain causes that are close to your heart?
I volunteer for my parish in different capacities. I’ve taught catechism class to middle school students and have done some work with the parish youth group. I went on a number of service trips when I worked at Xavier, namely to Tijuana to work with a group called Esperanza International to help families build their new homes, and to New Orleans and Bayou La Batre, Alabama with a group called Bayou Recovery Project, to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. I’m still in touch with several of the volunteers and families I met on those trips.

Where did you go to college and what did you study?
I attended Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland and studied 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.

What was your favorite thing about college?
Discovery! It was four years of ongoing discovery—of artists, writers, philosophers, friends, experiences, talents, skills—you name it! One of the reasons I love working with students who are going through the college process is that my own college experience was so positive because I went to the right school for me. I want to help students find the places that will give them their best experiences, too.

What about your college experience was different from what you expected?
I can’t really recall what it was that I expected, but one thing that surprised me as I began my college experience was how homesick I was at first. Looking back, I know that the people I first met and started spending time with weren’t really the right ones for me. It wasn’t until I connected with the friends I have to this day that I found my niche and the homesickness faded away.

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?
“Do you due diligence, consider every option, and keep an open mind. Accept that this is a time of great uncertainty for everyone, not just for you. Maximize the opportunity to learn about yourself as you look for your college destination. And don’t be scared to reach!” While I’m still pleased with how my college process turned out, I was too afraid of rejection to even think about applying to any reach schools. And, although even if I’d applied and been admitted to some of those schools I probably would have made the same choice, over 30 years later I still wonder if I would have gotten in. If you don’t try, you’ll never know. I say this cautiously, though, as I still believe it’s important to have a reasonable number of reaches on one’s list—not too many of them.

Where did you work in admissions and/or counseling?
I worked in admissions at Goucher College and was a counselor at Little Red School House/Elisabeth Irwin High School, Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex & Union (now Golda Och Academy), and Xavier High School.

What aspect of the college admissions and/or counseling process do you most enjoy working on?
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.

How do you encourage students to look beyond the schools they know to find hidden gems?
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?
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. An engaging 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 they ought to sound like for the benefit of the readers. I always tell my students, “be your authentic self.” And please lay off the thesaurus. No one regularly uses words like “plethora” or “myriad,” but they always seem to pop up in college essays.

How would you describe your counseling style?
I am interested in my students and in their lives, so I like to know what’s going on with them apart from the college process. I find that the better I know my students, the more effective I can be as their guide through the process. I also believe that it’s important for students to be invested in their college search and application process: to be eager participants as opposed to just letting things happen to them. To that end, I try to get them excited about just how much power and control they actually have over certain aspects of the process. I am part guide and part cheerleader, and I am quick to celebrate even the smallest of victories with them.

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Written by Lisa Albro
Lisa Albro is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions consultants. Lisa previously worked as a senior admissions officer at Goucher College and as the director of college counseling at Solomon Schechter Day School and Xavier High School. Visit our website to learn more about Lisa Albro.