meet an admissions counselor

Sally GangaWe’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 Sally Ganga, who works with students both remotely in our Westport, CT office.

Where are you from?
Sally: Born in Detroit, MI, but my family moved to Los Angeles when I was two years old.  I attended Santa Monica High School.

Where did you go to school?
Sally: Reed College in Portland, OR. I’m currently in classes for an MS from Fairfield University.

What did you study?
Sally: My degree from Reed is in History.  I focused on American History and my thesis was on the women’s suffrage movement in Oregon.  I took a lot of French literature classes too.

Where did you work?
Sally: Reed College, Whittier College, and University of Chicago.  I then went into college counseling at the Archer School for Girls and Chadwick School in the Los Angeles area before coming to College Coach.

What are you reading right now for fun?
Sally: Blood Child by Octavia E. Butler and How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran.

You have a free weekend and carte blanche to go anywhere and do anything. What do you do?
Sally: If it’s just a weekend, I’d go to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.  If I had longer, I’d travel to Asia and visit Cambodia, specifically Angkor Wat and Burma.  I’d visit some touristy sites but also try to wander around cities and towns, go to local markets, take boat rides…

What was your favorite thing about college?
Sally: So much to choose from—I’d say the fact that almost everyone I met was irreverent and smart and capable of having long conversations on the most esoteric topics.

What about your college experience was different from what you expected?
Sally: It was more academically intense than I expected, although I did expect that to a certain degree.  It’s hard to imagine what writing a year-long thesis is like until you’re doing it.

What’s your philosophy on college admission?
Sally: Students who start the process by thinking carefully about who they are and what kind of environment they will need to thrive, instead of picking colleges based on prestige, will land in the right place.

What aspect of the college admissions process do you most enjoy working on?
Sally: Assisting students in identifying their own strengths and imagining their future.  The beginning of the process, in other words.

What is the most common mistake you see from students that can easily be fixed?
Sally: Not paying enough attention to No Problems (safeties) and Just Rights (targets) in favor of spending all their time researching Challenging (reach) schools.  Also, imposing geographic limitations based on no or faulty information.  I’ve worked with students who said they wouldn’t look at the Midwest because they didn’t want a rural school.  Apparently Chicago, Minneapolis-St. Paul, etc., are all small towns?

How do you encourage students to look beyond the schools they know to find hidden gems?
Sally: I can be very pushy.  If there’s a school I think a student will love I will nag them to consider it, research it, even visit it, and I tell them I won’t stop nagging until they can give me a good reason for not considering it.  And I make it clear that “I haven’t heard of it” or “my friend heard it was xyz” don’t count as good reasons.

What in your mind makes a good college essay?
Sally: I look, first and foremost, for sincerity.  It is pretty clear to me when a student has picked a topic that isn’t meaningful to him or her.  While I (like most admissions counselors) prized originality, an original topic that felt forced was not as good as a topic that, while common, read as sincere and meaningful to the student.  Beyond that, I always recommend that students use an informal and conversational writing style.  It helps us get to know who the student is in a non-academic way.

What would you say to your high school self if you could coach him/her through the process?
Sally: First, I wish I’d been open-minded about women’s colleges.  A Smith or Wellesley might have been great for me.  However, overall I’d affirm the choices I made.  I went against what most people expected me to do by turning down UC Berkeley and choosing Reed, but I knew I wouldn’t be happy at a very large university like Berkeley.  I knew I needed small, discussion-based classrooms.

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Written by Sally Ganga
Sally Ganga is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions consultants. Prior to joining College Coach, Sally was a senior admissions officer at The University of Chicago, Reed College, and Whittier College. Visit our website to learn more about Sally Ganga.