Every Thursday this summer, we are introducing 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 Mary Sue Youn, who works with students in our Ridgewood, NJ office.
Where are you from?
Mary Sue: I grew up in South Jersey, and have lived in New York and Southern California. I have lived in Montclair, NJ since 2000.
Where did you go to school?
Mary Sue: Cornell University. I also did graduate work in Psychology at the Claremont Graduate University.
What did you study?
Mary Sue: Psychology, with minors in Statistics and Music
Where did you work?
Mary Sue: Whittier College, CA and Barnard College, NY.
What are you reading right now for fun?
Mary Sue: JK Rowling’s adult novel – A Casual Vacancy.
You have a free weekend and carte blanche to go anywhere and do anything. What do you do?
Mary Sue: For just a weekend, I would likely head to my mom’s beach house at the Jersey shore. I love to ride my bike, so a weekend filled with biking, swimming, my family and good food at the beach sounds like heaven to me. I also love to travel further away – but then I’d want to take my time to explore.
What was your favorite thing about college?
Mary Sue: I love the friends I made – and I still keep in touch with them to this day. I loved sitting up late at night and talking to friends about the most random topics. I think that Cornell is unique in that I had friends studying a wide array of subjects – from Hotel Administration to Agriculture to Pre-med – and I found it fascinating to bring together such disparate viewpoints into one place.
What about your college experience was different from what you expected?
Mary Sue: College was definitely an academic adjustment for me. I was a top student in high school, and my first semester of college was rough as I got used to the higher academic demands and extremely talented peers. But I once I found my niche and settled in, I loved the freedom to academically explore that college allowed.
What’s your philosophy on college admission?
Mary Sue: I believe that there are great colleges out there for every student. Choosing a college is a process – and sometimes the student that starts the process is not the same as the student at the end of the process. From the bird’s eye view, it can seem like an overwhelmingly stressful experience. However, when broken down into manageable tasks, it can be rewarding and exciting to figure out your next goals in life.
What aspect of the college admissions process do you most enjoy working on?
Mary Sue: Honestly, I think I most enjoy witnessing the student’s growth throughout their process. Some students I have worked with for years before they go off to college, and some just a few months, but I have found that many students find their own voice while searching for a college.
What is the most common mistake you see from students that can easily be fixed?
Mary Sue: The easiest fixes are simple mistakes in the essays – typos, grammatical errors, poor word choice. When I was at Barnard, I was so disappointed when a fantastic student did a sloppy application. An essay isn’t the sole reason that a student is ever admitted, but it CAN be the reason a great student is denied!
How do you encourage students to look beyond the schools they know to find hidden gems?
Mary Sue: Colleges change, and it is likely that a particular school will have a different academic profile than it did when your parents went to college. I encourage families to look beyond the norm and think about what is the best personal and academic fit for the student. Many students in my North Jersey office only initially consider Northeast colleges between Boston and DC. There are so many great schools beyond that parameter that I always push students to think outside the norm of what everyone else in their school is considering.
What makes a good college essay?
Mary Sue: In my mind, great college essays have two distinguishing features. First, draw the attention of the tired and overworked admissions officer right from the first line. When I was in admissions, boring opening paragraphs made me not want to read more and advocate for the student. Second, great essays truly reflect the student’s voice and their own personal story. When a student is done with his essay and has others read it, it should be clear who the writer is. If an essay doesn’t sound like the student in tone, writing style and content, it is missing an opportunity to let the admissions officer know more about the student’s personality.
What are some important things you’ve learned during your time as a College Coach educator?
Mary Sue: I think the most important thing I learned is that EVERY student has a story to tell. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had students come in and bemoan that they have nothing to write their essays about and that there is nothing “special” about them. There is something unique about every student and family I work with – and my job is to help them discover that story to put into their applications.
What would you say to your high school self if you could coach her through the process?
Mary Sue: I am the youngest of five kids in my family. Although he worked full time in law, my dad spent many nights acting as my college counselor by helping me choose colleges and organize my essays. I was devastated at the time by a couple of college rejections, but in the end, Dad encouraged me to dive fully into my college experience and get excited about the colleges that wanted me on their campus. He was right, and I absolutely ended up at the best college for me. Looking back, I truly believe that my college choice helped shape who I am today, and I think I would tell my younger self that everything works out for the best.