As I left Boston to visit the University of Pennsylvania (where my parents met as graduate students), my mother called after me, “While you're down there, you might as well visit Swarthmore.” Being the sharp high school student I was, I assumed Swarthmore must be a college. “Where is it?” I asked. “It’s in Swarthmore.” Right-O.
I had never heard of a college called Swarthmore, and since it was Thanksgiving break when I arrived, there was only one student there. He showed me around, and I fell in love with the gorgeous campus. Not the best reason to decide to apply to a college, but the rest is history, as they say. I finished my BA in Biology there (with an exchange semester at Middlebury College) and moved to New York City.
Later, I earned an MBA and M.Ed. at Columbia University and a Ph.D. in Education Policy at the University of Maryland. The latter two degrees were paid for by Columbia University and a Howard Hughes-funded philanthropy. I turned down an offer to attend Harvard's Graduate School of Education due to the full rides I received to Columbia and Maryland. As a result, I have been a student at every type of higher education institution - a small liberal arts college, an Ivy League school, and a public university.
In New York, I taught at the Fieldston School, worked on Wall Street, and was an Admissions Officer for Columbia University, where I ultimately served as Executive Director and Assistant Dean for Admissions, Financial Aid and [Diversity] Affairs. My immediate supervisor reported to the President of Columbia University, while I managed a team of 24, represented the school worldwide, interviewed hundreds of hopeful applicants, and evaluated thousands of applications. When I moved to Washington, D.C., people from all over the world started asking me to help them "get into top schools." I did.
As my children approached college age, I assumed they would apply to Swarthmore and/or Columbia since my husband and I had attended both schools. Due to strong test scores, they received dozens of mailings from “top-ranked” schools, and felt enormous pressure to apply to them. Unfortunately, these schools did not meet their college criteria. At a certain point, we realized we needed to look beyond the “household name” schools to find the right fit for them. They deserved colleges that would best match their unique needs, and at which they would blossom and thrive. I knew from my work in admissions and admissions consulting that there are thousands of terrific colleges and universities out there (around 4,000 schools, 300 of which I consider terrific). Where would my children's strengths, interests and desires be nurtured?