As an author of a book on parenting into and through the college years, I meet many folks in the higher ed biz. Several months ago, I was on a panel for a financial aid and admissions event where I met a college admissions coach named Jessie Peck Martin. I was so impressed by this articulate, informed and super intelligent woman. She knew her stuff–clearly this wasn’t her first rodeo!
Long story short, we made a connection and have partnered on a couple of projects. I joined her last summer for her Parent Sanity Series and College Admissions Made Simple Book Club (can you guess which book we discussed?). And she’s my go-t0 for admissions guidance. Here’s why: Jessie Peck Martin, MEd, is the founder of CompassU. She launched her educational consulting business in 2014 with 25 years of experience in classrooms, in educational publishing, and in youth advocacy. Jessie was named a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) in 2019, and she is also an active member of the New Jersey Association of College Admissions Counselors (NJACAC), New Jersey Independent Educational Consultant Association Regional Group (NJIECA), and the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC). Jessie visits an average of twenty colleges and schools annually. She also meets with admissions officers and colleagues and attends national conventions to stay up-to-date on the ever-shifting landscape of admissions. Jessie earned a bachelor of science degree in marketing and a master’s degree in education from Lehigh University (go Brown and White!).
I told you she knew her stuff.
When she is not meeting with students, Jessie is busy raising four children. She and her husband have launched two college graduates (University of Chicago `18, Lehigh University `19) and they are currently busy cheering on their younger son and daughter on the slopes at boarding school (Stratton Mountain School `22 & `24). Jessie enjoys a yoga class here and there, cares for a sweet and needy Vizsla and a hyperactive German Shorthair Pointer, and she volunteers extensively around northwest New Jersey. When not coaching alpine ski racing or running his business, her husband, Dave, is an active participant in the chaos.
KR: What are some of the biggest challenges college students are facing today?
JPM: I think we need to be talking more about mental health – depressive disorders and anxiety have been rising among the student population for a number of years. COVID-19 exacerbated the sense of isolation and loneliness that many students were grappling with before the pandemic came along and worsened the situation. A multitude of studies have been done, including longitudinal surveys conducted by the American College Health Association, and the statistics are both clear and alarming, In just one study, the higher education research collaborative between UC Berkeley, the University of Minnesota and other institutions screened over thirty thousand undergraduate students at nine research universities in early summer of 2020 . They found that 35 percent indicated for major depressive disorder and fully 39 percent indicated for generalized anxiety disorder.
In the context of the work that my firm does, helping students and families manage the college admissions process, this means we need to support each family member through the full arc of the admissions journey. More specifically, it means that we need to stay acutely cognizant of the relation between a student’s sense of self-worth based on acceptance or rejection by particular schools, and try to ensure that they don’t head off to school in the fall with a pre-existing inner narrative of failure for having not gotten into a different institution.
KR: How are they overcoming these challenges?
JPM: Students need to understand that there are pathways to cultivate their own resilience by challenging themselves intellectually, academically, physically and emotionally. Students who become involved in organizations outside of the classroom and are engaged in meaningful activities are faring much better than those whose sole focus is academics.
KR: What is a typical day like in your career as an independent educational consultant (aka admissions coach)?
JPM: The work is quite cyclical, and just like accountants have tax season, educational consultants (IECs) have “application season.” This means working 6-7 days per week mid-August through October, taking breaks only to walk dogs, sleep, and feed my family. I use the other months to visit colleges, interface with admissions officers, develop my business, and find time to read, write, and develop new ways to help students and families.
KR: As a higher ed professional, what is your philosophy on parent involvement in the college experience?
JPM: A college student is an emerging young adult and part of learning “how to adult” is becoming independent. When we dropped off our oldest at the University of Chicago, one of the events we attended was a welcome session by the Dean of Students, at which, an upperclassman had been asked to give us parents a little guidance. That student shared that the best thing his parents had done for him was to be there for him when he needed to talk. He reiterated that they didn’t call him – they’d reach out with a text to stay in touch – but they let him call them when he needed to talk. We have four children, two of whom are in their twenties and have graduated, and I talk to them more now than I did when they were in college. They need that semi-protected time and space at school to learn that they can survive and thrive on their own.
KR: That student offered great insight! One of the most common questions I get from parents is in regard to communication, specifically how often they can/should reach out the their students. In fact, I have an entire chapter dedicated to it in Out to Sea: A Parents’ Survival Guide to the Freshman Voyage.
Jessie, what’s one tip you could give regarding the college admissions process?
JPM: Am I allowed to share two tips? I’m known for my long-windedness, so I’m going to just go right ahead. First, name your biggest fears. This is important for both students and parents. Let’s get those out in the open and expose them to a bit of sunshine so we can mitigate the volume of the voices in the student’s head. Second, do something you are not told to do and tie it to your your Application Pitch. I’ve designed a mini-course on this for students and it is something I do with every student I work with one-on-one. Your application is an elevator pitch, whether or not you are comfortable calling it that, it’s the reality of the process. A student’s pitch needs to make sense and authentically represent who they are. If you combine that with an interest or curiosity and pursue something “on your own” like hosting a fundraiser, challenging yourself with a goal (any goal), listening to a podcast on a topic of interest — well the possibilities are limitless — this is a guaranteed to boost a student’s confidence as well as the strength of an application.
KR: One of the questions I hear students ask—especially now with COVID-19 and many campuses placing them in single rooms—is “How will I make friends?” In your opinion, what are the best ways for students to connect with one another?
JPM: Get involved somehow. Join an organization or two that interest you. Also, head outdoors with your mask on and get involved.
KR: How can parents/guardians help their students become college-ready?
JPM: Parents, too, need to understand that they are not in this alone and their feelings around the complexity of the process are real. It’s why I am developing new resources for parents to help them flip from overwhelm to empowered, so that they can be there for their student in a more grounded way.
KR: What words of wisdom would you give to a current high school senior as they prepare for their college years?
JPM: There is this fabulous Marie Forleo quote, “The power isn’t out there. It’s in YOU.” It is so true, no matter where they attend college: YOU will be the single biggest influence on your college experience. Therefore, encouraging students to take the time to get clear on who they are and what they want is imperative if they’re going to select the best possible school for them.
KR: What is a favorite memory from work in the last six months?
JPM: Reconnecting. I love reconnecting each year with families where I have worked with their older children and they are excited to have me work with a younger sibling. This year, I’ve also been privileged to reconnect with some former students post-undergrad and work with them on their graduate school applications. This is has been a blast on so many levels.
Want to learn more about how Jessie helps parents and students successfully navigate the college admissions process?
Visit her website at www.jessiepeckmartin.com
Kelly Radi is an international speaker and award-winning author who helps families successfully navigate the emotional AND practical aspects of the college launch. Order your copy of Out to Sea: A Parents’ Survival Guide to the Freshman Voyage today!