I have been a private college entrance coach for 27 years, supporting hundreds of students to get into the finest colleges in the United States and Canada. My students have gotten into every type of college and university: Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Haverford, U. of Chicago, Wellesley, Marlboro, CAL, UCLA, Amherst, Emery, UT Austin, Biola, USC, Santa Clara University, Carleton, Tulane, Colorado College, etc. with full and partial merit scholarships. I work with all kinds of students, those who are in the top five per cent of their class, average students, special issues (sickness, gap year, grades etc.), and students with disabilities.
In 1993, when I was writing a book, a friend asked me to help her son with his college essay for UCLA. I discovered I loved doing it, got along well with him, and got him into UCLA with a scholarship. Before I realized it, I had a line of teenagers and their parents out my door asking for help. I have never looked back.
The gift I bring to today’s college application process is the understanding from years of experience that although grades, etc., matter, what matters the most is your ability to tell your story in a moving, surprising or inspiring way that reveals who you really are beneath all the bits and pieces of your extracurriculars and classes. An effective story is, literally, “an offer your brain can’t refuse” (10, Story Genius).
Most of us are completely unaware of the hardwired power story has on us. “For writers, though this is where the keys to the kingdom lie (10).” It’s equally true for students getting into college. Your essays, heartfelt, real, and insightful are “where the keys to the kingdom lie.”
This is how each essay is approached in a college application by admission officers. “What am I going learn here about how this student not only survived but prospered in high school that will allow me to accept he or she into our college and trust she will prosper here.”
There is a spell to a compelling story. But just as important, along with it you must provide evidence that you are what you say you are, that all of this is absolutely authentic.
One of my parents used to call what I do, “Barbara’s Magic.” And there is a kind of magic to a well told story that is carefully backed up by teacher recommendations, your resume, yearbook photos, website, etc.
This is the work I am passionate about. I believe every student has an amazing story. It is not about writing well nor learning to write an essay.
It is about how to tell a story well so that your reader is mesmerized, learns inside info about your character and comes to care about you more than all the hundreds or thousands that apply to college.
This is what I do. Allow me help your child tell his or her story to colleges.
However, even though I was an expert on the college application essay, I quickly figured out that I needed to become an expert in positioning students (leadership, volunteer service, academic initiative etc.) so that they could shine for colleges and scholarships (see Tell Me How). In addition, and just as important, I needed to become an expert in financial aid so that I could help family’s position their unique financial story on the FAFSA, CSS Profile, and with financial aid officers so that they could get the most money possible.
Since that time, I have visited and toured colleges and universities across the country and read and studied the best books and articles on the process. Above all, I have learned from the triumphs and tragedies of the hundreds of students and parents I have worked with over the last 27 years. Today I am an expert on everything that has to do with getting into the best colleges for my clients with as much money as possible.
My task is to be a college ‘handler’ for your child. That is, I will support your child to choose the finest college possible for his or her talent, temperament and ambition. Simultaneously, I will help your child to become irresistible to her dream college so she actually gets in! My task is also to be a financial aid coach for you, supporting you to find and use the legal loopholes in the financial aid methodology so you never have to pay sticker price for college.
Above all, I see what I do as essential today for three reasons: one, in today’s college market your child needs to be as competitive as possible; two, your child deserves to have a college application process that not only is as easy and effortless as possible but improves the high school experience; and three, you family deserves to get the best financial deal for college as possible. What your child and I are doing together is designing his or her future. I will do whatever it takes in time, energy and patience to get the job done marvelously!
– Barbara Austin, PhD
UC Berkeley—Graduate Theological Union;
University of Integrated Learning