Director of College Counseling
Tower Hill School (DE)
How long have you been in admissions/college counseling?
This is my 17th year in education. I spent the first 12 years of my career as an admission officer at Hampshire College, Wellesley College, and Princeton University, and moved to the college counseling side of things the summer of 2010, now completing my fifth year as director of college counseling at Tower Hill School.
How did you get started in college counseling/admissions?
I got started in what I suspect were the usual ways: my college roommate and I were both interviewed and hired as tour guides at Bryn Mawr College on the same day in the spring of 1995, and I worked as a tour guide in both the academic year and summers as an undergraduate. I loved the intimacy of small tours at a place I adored as a student, and working at a place that felt so much like home felt natural. I was hired for my first formal admission officer position in the summer of 1998, right after graduating college.
What's your favorite admissions/counseling memory?
There are so many. At both Wellesley and Princeton, I was lucky enough to work in international admission (at Princeton I was the director of international admission), and so many of those favorite memories revolve around food all over the world: my friend Alice and I filling the table with amazing food and drink at our favorite Thai restaurant in Hong Kong (she worked at Columbia at the time and is now a college counselor in Seattle) – we used to order so much food and so many drinks with the most flavorful limes that our server inevitably had to bring us a second table!; sharing incredible meals at hole in the wall local places with my friend Panetha (at Brown University) in Athens and Istanbul; watching a rainbow appear as I pumped gas into my car in Montezuma, New Mexico, after spending a full two days interviewing students at the Armand Hammer United World College and after a long travel season, that rainbow was a welcome site; calling a student in Singapore to admit him from the wait list – he was on the subway, and it was 11 p.m. his time, but hearing the joy in his voice when I told him we had a spot for him. As a college counselor, I get to share in the little day-to-day joys of my students: last year, one of my terrific students was admitted early to his first choice school; he bounded in to my office to share the news, and afterward I quickly dropped a note to say congratulations to his parents. Turns out he’d not yet told them. I asked them to act surprised when he came home to share his good news! My other absolute favorite thing about working as a college counselor is the group of counselors here in Wilmington I’ve come to call dear friends. We have a remarkable little group of four who email, meet, and talk regularly – to vent, to celebrate, to say goodbye to another ED cycle, to travel to colleges together in the summers. I never knew I’d have such a collegial group of co-workers I adore when I began as a college counselor, and it has absolutely made the work a bit easier and to put things into greater perspective.
What advice would you give to someone looking to pursue membership in PCACAC and/or NACAC?
The same advice I try to follow every day: put your head down and work hard. Ask lots of questions, start small, and get involved in all the little things. Once people realize you are committed and capable of good work, they will ask you to become even more involved. Don’t walk in thinking you know all the answers, but definitely feel like you have a voice that should be heard and experiences from which others can learn. Your perspective – whether from a different side of the desk or from a college/university where you’ve worked – matters, and as long as you are respectful of the process in every setting, you will find a group of people happy to have your help and thoughts.
If not working in admissions/college counseling, what else could you see yourself pursuing?
In something creative, frankly. If you look at my Myers-Briggs type indicator (INTJ/INTP), college counseling isn’t anywhere near the list of things recommended for people like me. I’m soft-spoken, and I’m naturally an introvert. This job, as well as speaking in front of huge crowds all over the world while working for Wellesley and Princeton, has forced me to be more engaged. Small talk doesn’t come naturally to me, nor does interaction with large crowds. But working with kids who want to learn and work hard does. If I weren’t an admission officer or a college counselor, I’d love to try my hand at architecture, at being a surgeon – both pretty solitary pursuits, which suit my MBTI! I’d love to be a travel writer (my wanderlust kicks in all the time), would love to be a pastry chef.
What's one thing that most people don't know about you?
People who know me well know this, but I love to create and to bake and to cook. All of these things calm me down and relax me at the end of a difficult work day: I love the chopping and prep work involved in baking and cooking (and the precision of the former and the more loosey-goosey nature of the latter seem to suit both sides of my personality!). I am in love with all things Japanese and French, and have a passion for things made by hand: caramels, paper, and pottery.
What's a current trend or future issue you're passionate about right now? And why?
I’ve always cared a lot about the adolescent development of girls, and the messages we send girls. The world has changed so much since I went through the college process 20 years ago: back then, as a girl and as a first generation college student who grew up in the coal region of eastern Pennsylvania, I didn’t know how many options there were in the world, but I definitely felt limited. We’ve spent a lot of time telling girls they can and should be anything they want, but I worry that it will take them a long time to realize they can have it all – just not all at once (usually). I want them to be strong advocates for themselves, and to work hard every day for gender equity and parity.
*** To Celebrate Potomac Chesapeake's 50th Conference Anniversary, we're highlighting some of our current members. Each week until the conference at The Homestead in Spring 2015, a new member will be posted. Interested in participating? Email Aundra Weissert at firstname.lastname@example.org to get started.***