Leah Beasley is a leading college admissions consultant and the President and Founder of Beasley College Consulting in Farmington Hills, MI. She has over a decade of selective college admissions and college counseling experience at universities including Harvard and University of Michigan. Learn more about Leah in this “5 Questions” interview.
1. Before starting Beasley College Counseling, you were the Assistant Dean of College Counseling at Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School in Bloomfield Hills, MI. How does your experience with clients differ from your experience with students at Cranbrook Kingswood?
At Cranbrook I worked with over 50 students in each class, and while I got to know them, I wished that I had more time to be involved in their lives more deeply. Now, because I only work with a small number of clients each year—I visit their homes, talk with their families, and support each student through every stage of the college search and application process—I feel that I can help each student make the right choices for their future. The relationships that I form with my clients and their families are one of the most rewarding parts of my job.
2. Having worked in Admissions at several prestigious universities across the U.S., you have some insider knowledge about how and where schools tend to differ in their admissions criteria. In general, what aspects of the admissions process do you feel differ most from school to school? Oppositely, aside from grades and test scores, where do you think the admissions criteria overlap?
The admissions process can vary greatly depending on the selectivity of the institution. However, in general, the more selective the institution, the more holistic the admission process is in terms of what matters in the selection process. For example, many less selective institutions will simply rely on hard numbers to assess an applicant’s admissibility and review only grades, courses and test scores. On the other hand, at more highly selective institutions, a more holistic approach is taken. While admissions officers at highly selective colleges carefully review grades, courses, and test scores, they attend to other factors such as activities, leadership, essays, recommendation letters and interviews to help differentiate among the highly qualified pool of applicants.
3. Are there any essay topics you get tired of seeing or would warn students to stay away from?
As an admissions counselor as well as an independent counselor, I’ve read thousands of college essays and I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly. Here are a couple of tips when thinking about your essay:
- No topic is inherently a “good” or “bad” one. Admissions people want to discover something about you that they cannot learn from your transcript or test scores, so write about something that matters to you, not what you think they want to hear.
- While no topics are “wrong”, there are wrong approaches. In general, do not dwell on specific experiences, but on your perception of or reaction to those experiences.
- Some topics do need to be treated with great care, and should be avoided if you cannot do so. It is very difficult, for example, to write about personal tragedies or those that affect your community or the world. If you choose one of these subjects, be sure to focus less on the events than on how they affected you—and never focus on just the negatives, be sure to note how you’ve overcome this adversity. If you are asserting a strong opinion on a sensitive political, social, or religious issue, you may also want to point out that you are open to the opinions of others.
- Try to avoid writing about privilege in your essay.
4. You were featured on “College Money Insider’s” blog as one of the 10 educational consultants to follow on Twitter. It’s clear you understand the power of social media and how to leverage it to make meaningful connections. Do you think social media has provided any advantages for students in the admissions process that were unavailable prior to sites like Facebook and Twitter?
In my experience, Facebook, Twitter and other social media don’t provide a way for students to meaningfully connect with college admissions officers. However, admissions officers are now frequently using social media to find out more about students. Therefore, it is important for students to be judicious about how they present themselves in these very public arenas. I review all of my client’s social media accounts to ensure that whatever is included is appropriate for an admissions officer to see. The rule of thumb—if you wouldn’t show your grandmother, take it down!
5. What are the biggest changes happening in the college admissions process, and how have you adapted to help your clients succeed?
The two biggest changes that I have seen in the past several years in the college admissions process are the decision of more colleges to go “test-optional” and the increase in competition for admission to the most highly selective institutions.
Over 850 4-year institutions no longer require students to submit standardized test scores as part of their application for admission—and a growing number are moving toward adopting a test-optional policy. I work closely with my clients who choose to apply to test-optional colleges to present a personal portfolio that showcases their talents and abilities.
Unfortunately, while the vast majority of colleges admit most of their applicants, a very small portion (think top 25 colleges in US News & World Report) have become much more competitive, with acceptance rates dropping into the single digits. However, I strongly believe that there are many wonderful college options for students, and it is my job to help students find a list of colleges to apply to that both fits their particular needs and also is balanced. While many of my students go on to apply and be accepted to these highly selective institutions, just as many have opened their minds to other options beyond this “Top 25” and are not only happy, but successful.