Wan Chen Interview with Lynbrook Newspaper – The Epic, with Alice Zhang

1. What are most student concerns and fears when getting a counselor?

I am an A.B.D. (all but dissertation) in my field of Higher Education Administration. I had a horrible adviser: a non-communicative pro who did not answer the phone, check email, or return voice mail. I never finished my dissertation. I guess the common fears students might have are: does she know what she is doing? Does she care about me? Is she going to get me into a top college?

As it gets closer and closer to senior year, it gets tougher for students to change their academic and extracurricular profiles. When you are a senior, you cannot really say, “I wish I had joined a club in my freshman year.” It is for this reason that many students freak out on their applications. Usually, as the admission deadlines approach, students fear that they did not do enough during high school to be strong college candidates.

As a counselor, I have my own concerns. On the applications of all selective colleges, there is a section asking for a student’s Awards & Honors. I know many students sacrifice themselves in order to get awards. They sleep less, work more, play less, compete more. I’m afraid that we’re producing an award-driven, sleep-deprived generation that is going to hinder creativity. I’d like to see colleges reconsider their admission practices to rely on teacher recommendations more. The idea of selecting students like beauty pageant contestants is disturbing; it leads to the kinds of anxieties that I am describing.

2. What is your approach when it comes to counseling?

Our name, “IvyClimbing” reflects our approach to counseling. It was chosen to reflect the rigorous process of applying for college admissions – one steady step at a time.

Just as a mountain climber begins his ascent up the mountain at base camp – gathering together the tools for his climb – our students thoroughly prepare for their journey to the top. IvyClimbing is their “base camp” – the place where they begin to build the foundations that will carry them as high as they want to go.

Just as a mountain climber grips with all of his might to sheer walls of granite and the edges of rock as thin as a dime, our students know there will be challenges ahead, as they begin to climb. With the IvyClimbing team at the base of the mountain, looking up and cheering them on, our students sharpen their focus and continue onward with unquenchable energy and steely resolve. When faced with twists and turns along the way, climbers can count on the base team every step of the way with: knowledge, insight, experience, wisdom, and unfailing support.

Just as a mountain climber never stops thinking about the next mountain he will conquer, our students stand at the summit they have finally reached, breathe in the fresh air, and look straight ahead – secure in the knowledge that they can keep climbing, for all of their lives.

3. Many students try to find a “miracle formula” when it comes to applying to college, would you say college counseling is the next best thing?

I’ve read thousands of applications and travelled extensively to recruit students at both Stanford University and Santa Clara University. The applicants who stood out the most were the ones who excelled academically, had strong relationships with adults/teachers (who advocated for them), and took responsibility for their own education. Given the extremely small number of students top colleges are admitting, a student may or may not get in even if he does everything “right.” Therefore, I encourage students to do what they’re good at and enjoy the process along the way.

Is college counseling the next best thing? No, absolutely not; not all students benefit from paid counseling services, especially those who lack motivation. For me, I always enjoyed working with students who wanted to work. Abraham Lincoln once said that: “Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any one thing.” This is especially true when it comes to college admissions. At the end of day, it is the student who will have to complete all required elements on his applications, while the counselor’s job is to be there with him every step of the way.

4. What do you think are the benefits for students to get a counselor?

Private counselors often work with students one-on-one. I have had the thrill of helping high school students realize that there is more to learn than the information in their textbooks. I have coached student presentations, changed their minds about their college majors, dealt with disciplinary violations and grade challenges, traveled across the country to gather first-hand college information, learned when to play by the rules and when to push against them, formed lasting friendships with my students, and had my head filled with new ideas along the way. I have become an advocate for all of my students.

5. What are the differences between your job/private counselors in general and a school counselor?

As a private counselor, I view my job as one that compliments a school counselor’s job, never to replace it. I support the school counselor’s work by encouraging the students to follow school deadlines and procedures.

Unlike a school counselor, I have the privilege of working with a small number of students. I emphasize squarely on quality, not quantity. With a small staff to student ratio, students receive personalized attention in a caring and supportive environment, seven days a week.

6. As your pricing is approximately half that of UC tuition in 4 years, what is your reasoning behind your high prices?

There are many families that are willing to pay higher prices for better services. There are four full-time professionals on my staff, working with 39 seniors this year. Even with a roughly 1 to 10 staff to student ratio, I find the workload demanding. Currently, I work about 14 hours a day, 6 days a week. I am a “Portable”College Guidance Counselor, responding to student needs 24/7. I believe personal attention and quality service is what sets us apart.

Being a guidance counselor takes many years of training and self-learning. Even now, I read campus news, magazines, newsletters, and research activities every day. I stay in touch with college campuses. I travel to meet with admission officers, faculty, and students, feeling the pulse of each campus.

Every college sees itself as unique. I try to get a sense of how the college views itself, what it does well, and what makes it vulnerable. I ask our students to think about how they could contribute to a college’s success. Ultimately, the challenge of an outstanding college application is to convey what students think is most important about themselves and their work, and how admitting them would enhance the college.

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