Originally Posted: Jul 2, 2012
Last Updated: Apr 3, 2013
Betsy Woolf is the director of Woolf College Consulting. She has seven years of experience as a college counselor. Betsy holds a B.A. from New York University, a J.D. from Hofstra University, and a certificate in college admission counseling from the University of California—Los Angeles. She is a member of NACAC, HECA, NYSACAC, and WPRCA and has won Medill Editorial Awards and Clarion Journalism Awards for her writing.
Insights and advice
What inspired you to become a college counselor?
My background has created a perfect storm for me to work in this profession. I have a long-term interest in education and older teens. I hold New York State Certification (secondary school and social studies) and I spent many years as an editor for parenting publications. A main interest as an editor was in these areas, and I was always pushing the envelope to include stories about older teens. This experience gave me invaluable insight into parents, students, and education. My law background has made me an effective advisor and advocate. And my ability and experience in journalism and law is the perfect fit for a profession that involves advising students on how to write and present themselves to colleges.
What do you enjoy most about your position?
Working with the students and brainstorming essay ideas and approaches.
What is the biggest challenge you face in your position, and how do you tackle it?
Fall is amazingly busy—24/7. Since I am a morning person, I tackle it by rising early and doing a lot of work before I start seeing students later in the day. I am also very organized and efficient.
What are some of the steps you take to cultivate a strong college-bound culture among your students?
Often students create the culture themselves. As time passes, they become more mature. As deadlines approach, they become more cognizant of the work that has to be done.
What are your top goals for the students you work with?
I want every student to find a college in which he or she will be happy—where he or she will work hard yet still have time to enjoy the extracurricular college experience.
What is your advice to college counselors who are new to the profession?
Travel. See as many colleges as you can. Attend conferences and workshops. The more you see and learn, the better you will serve your clients.
What are some common misconceptions that students have going into the college admission process?
One of my parents once referred to the anticipation of the process as "a complicated mystery," and I think that many students feel that way. Yes, there are a lot of schools out there, and each one has its own rules and regulations and ways of doing things. My job is to remove the mysetery and complications from the process.
It is often a misconception that a student has to find one school to love. I find that students can love many schools, and that it isn't unusual for a student to actually love more than one. That's actually good news. Another misconception is that it is impossible to get into the most selective schools. Yes, it is very difficult because there are so many applicants and so few spaces in the freshman classes. I find that students who apply to very selective colleges will find that they get into some and not others. But since students can love more than one school, it all works out. Sometimes, in fact, in April a student may fall out of love with a school that looked like the perfect place in October, and then fall in love with another college.
Do you ever encounter situations in which students and their parents have different goals in mind?
As long as the lines of communication are open, anything can be worked out. I am often the facilitator of these conversations. Often, hearing from a third person is all that is needed.
What can/should a college counselor do to help students prepare for the SAT or ACT?
Refer students to a good tutor. There certainly are questions that I can answer about the SAT and ACT, but since I don't work with students directly on test prep, some questions are better answered by the people who see these students on a regular basis.
In your experience, what makes a counselor successful in his or her role as an editor of college application essays?
I can only speak for myself. I think I am a natural at writing and editing, and I have a lot of experience to back that up, working for online sites, magazines, and newspapers. I have won editorial awards and I have had articles published in magazines as well.
What is your process for helping students narrow down the list of schools to which they will apply?
The more they learn, the easier it is for students to narrow down the list. That involves checking out the colleges' websites and visiting colleges. A large part of the process is for students to get to know themselves, and as that happens, it becomes easier and easier to narrow down the list. When students do the research, they start to realize who they are and what the best matches are.
In your opinion, what are some of the best ways that students can make themselves stand out beyond their applications?
I do believe that students absolutely can stand out in their applications, and that is part of my job: to help students present themselves so that colleges know who they are. Everyone is unique, and I help bring out that uniqueness.
Finish this sentence: On my first day at work as a counselor, I wish I had known...
...how much I would enjoy visiting colleges and seeing places in the U.S. and abroad that I probably never would have seen.
What would you consider your biggest accomplishment or your proudest moment as a college counselor?
Every year, every time one of my students gets accepted to a college of his or her choice!
Favorite book: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. I think it is the greatest story in all of literature.
Favorite musician or band: Peter Allen
Favorite movie: Jumpin' Jack Flash, an old Whoopie Goldberg film—but it's one of several favorites. Living in New York, one of the greatest pleasures is attending the theater. So if you asked me my favorite Broadway musical, I would have to say, Ragtime.
Favorite quote: "It certainly won't happen if you don't try."