Originally Posted: Jun 29, 2011
Last Updated: Feb 27, 2020
Marna Atkin is an independent college consultant at Atkin College Counseling, LLC. She has 30 years of experience as a high school guidance counselor and three years of experience as an independent college consultant. She attended Boston University, where she earned a B.S. in elementary education, and the University of Massachusetts, where she earned a master's in education. She is a member of IECA, NACAC, and CDCA.
Insights and advice
What are some of the common challenges your students (and their parents) are currently facing in the college admission process?
Seeing the big picture. Most parents seem to have a narrow view in relation to their child and the world around them. They don't really grasp the level of competition at the top-tier colleges.
What are some of the steps you take to help them successfully overcome those challenges?
Hard core statistics (application rates, etc.) seem to have the biggest impact.
What are your top goals for the students you work with?
To have options and to have schools that are the best possible fit.
If you could give one piece of advice to college counselors who are new to the profession, what would it be?
Do the research. Dig deeper. Don't rely on one source for your information.
What are some common misconceptions that students have going into the college admission process?
That certainly varies from student to student. I would say that most students are not truly prepared for the time, energy, and work that is required for completion of the college applications.
Do you ever encounter situations in which students and their parents have different goals in mind?
Yes...mostly about location of college as it relates to distance from home.
Describe what are, in your opinion, a few of the cornerstones of a successful college admission essay.
Honesty. Sincerity. Passion (a much overused word, but it does resonate in an essay).
What is your process for helping students create the list of colleges to which they will apply?
It's an ongoing process. If a student is very general, the initial list tends to be a bit large and unwieldy. If a student is more focused and has some definite ideas about characteristics of a college, possible majors, etc., the list will be more manageable. In any case, it is crucial to have some safety schools, where the student would be happy attending. I strongly encourage my students to visit as many schools as possible, within reason. A school can be perfect on paper, but the student has to be able to identify with that school.
What are, in your opinion, some of the best ways that students can make themselves stand out beyond their applications (e.g., college visits, speaking with professors, etc.)?
Certainly, what you have mentioned . . . perhaps supplemented with a résumé that highlights unique or interesting accomplishments, possibly those beyond the scope of a typical high school student (scientific research, musical accomplishments, athletic achievements). An exceptional, focused, relevant, and balanced essay will make a student stand out.
What would you consider your biggest accomplishment or your proudest moment as a college counselor?
There are many but all with the same theme: knowing that I have successfully guided students through the sometimes overwhelming college application process. This acknowledgement comes in many forms--thank you notes, e-mails, genuine compliments, and the satisfaction of knowing that the end result, in part, was due to my efforts.
Favorite book: 700 Sundays by Billy Crystal
Favorite movie: Forrest Gump
Favorite quote: Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be. -- Robert Browning
Five people you would invite to a dinner party: John F. Kennedy, Johnny Carson, Oprah Winfrey, Tom Hanks, and my husband, Bruce Atkin
Your personal motto: I don't know if it's a motto per se, but I live by a very strong work ethic and the moral value of hard work.