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Meet an Admissions Counselor: Steve Fernandez-Brennan | College Coach Blog

Steve Brennan

Written by Steve Fernandez-Brennanon August 18th, 2014

Before coming to College Coach I worked in admissions at a breadth of institutions. My most recent experience was as associate dean of admission at Occidental College in Los Angeles, where I was responsible for international admissions and read applications from around the world but specifically Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Australia, Russia, Romania and Bulgaria. While at Oxy I also made the final decision on applications from students applying from all over California; Chicago and the Midwest; and Hawai'i and the Pacific, and I served on the athletics admission review committee and was liaison with baseball as well. I started my career at Marquette University where I reviewed applications for each of the seven undergraduate colleges including engineering, business, and nursing, as well as for the direct entry physical therapy and BS/DDS programs. At Loyola University-Chicago, where I was assistant director of admission, nearly half of the applications I reviewed were applying for pre-medicine. While in Honolulu completing my master’s degree at the University of Hawai'i I served on the graduate admission committee for the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, and after graduation I served as the founding director of advising at College Connections Hawai`i, a Honolulu non-profit focused on Native Hawaiian and first generation to college youth, where I worked as an independent counselor helping students and their families with all parts of the college application process. I have presented at the national admission conference as well as state and regional conferences on topics related to keeping the admission process student-centered, helping students write their best essays, and retaining first generation students and students of color.
Learn More About Steve
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 Steve Fernandez-Brennan. Where are you from? Steve: Fowler, Indiana. Where did you go to school? Steve: Undergrad: Marquette University; German classes: Loyola Chicago; Grad school, University of Hawai`i – Mānoa. What did you study? Steve: Majors? English and history. Minor? French. Grad Degree? Urban and Regional Planning. Studied? Philosophy, theology, statistical modeling, East Asia political structures, community planning, and lots of data on the variables of seatbelt use in Hawai`i. Where did you work? Steve: Marquette, Regis College (CO), Loyola Chicago, Occidental College, College Connections Hawai`i, Banana Republic, Kinko’s, and as a house painter, a seat belt monitor, an editor for Master’s Theses, a detassler and a roguer (weed walker) in soybean fields. -- What are you reading right now for fun? Steve: Confessions of a Mask by Yukio Mishima. You have a free weekend and carte blanche to go anywhere and do anything. What do you do? Steve: I’m going to say that it’s a long weekend, and I’d travel. Cambodia is at the top of the list, followed by Greece and then Colombia What was your favorite thing about college? Steve: Discovering the interplay and interconnectedness of seemingly disparate topics. Learning how to learn. What about your college experience was different from what you expected? Steve: I didn’t expect to love an urban experience as much as I did – it was awesome going to school in a fun, accessible city like Milwaukee. -- What’s your philosophy on college admission? Steve: Do your research, be as candid with yourself as you can be, and do whatever you can to make sure – make sure – you’ll have options in April. And relax. It matters less and in different ways where you go to college. What aspect of the college admissions process do you most enjoy working on? Steve: Helping students develop their writing skills through their essays. What is the most common mistake you see from students that can easily be fixed? Steve: Waiting too long and then using the application stage as the research stage. How do you encourage students to look beyond the schools they know to find hidden gems? Steve: For students in SoCal it’s often the case that location is the biggest challenge. To help, I have an atlas in my office and we find places on the map, we look at what’s around the area, we’ll look at Google maps so they can visualize the neighborhood, and we demystify that piece of the process. What are some schools that you think are great fits for different kinds of students? Steve: Lawrence University for a curious musician who doesn’t necessarily want to major in music but who does want change the world; Westminster (Salt Lake City) for potential Olympic-level athletes who want to train at a high altitude; University of South Carolina for someone interested in International business, particularly in Asia through their Hong Kong program, and who wants a surprisingly diverse campus and all of the rah-rah atmosphere they could ask for. What in your mind makes a good college essay? Steve: One that answers “So…what?” easily; that shows the reader why what’s been written has been impactful in the author’s life. What are some important things you’ve learned during your time as a College Coach educator? Steve: Seriously? About a bazillion things.  That every kid is a better writer than she or he thinks he is. What would you say to your high school self if you could coach him/her through the process? Steve:
  1. Well… I did it all wrong but I ended up someplace that was perfect for me, so I’d ask him, “Why mess with success? You got lucky!”
  2. I’d tell him, “Look, you’re going to be coming out in a few years, so pick someplace that has a healthy environment for gay students.”
  3. I’d tell him, “You don’t want to be so saddled with student loan debt that you have to be broke – really, really broke, like only getting a five out of the ATM broke, like digging dryer sheets out of the garbage can at the laundromat broke – for the next decade of your life, so don’t entirely discount affordability in your college search.”
  4. I’d tell him, “Don’t prioritize your search based on how challenging you find the essay prompt.”

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