While they might not scale tall buildings or catch villains, there are super heroes walking among us. These heroes use their powers to support and guide students and families through their high school and college years. They are creative, energetic, resilient, organized, empathetic, hard-working professionals who make a difference in the lives of those around them.
As an author and speaker, it is a joy to work alongside these heroes of higher education, providing guidance and reducing anxiety for students and families as you navigate the high school-to-college transition.
This is why I like to share their stories (and superpowers!) with you.
Each month, I feature a #HigherEdHero on my blog and social media platforms. My goal is that by sharing their experiences and advice, we can provide information that will reduce anxiety and build confidence–and help set students and families up for success through the college launch and beyond.
This month you get to meet Stef Tschida, a professional college essay coach.
Stef spent 15 years working in all aspects of corporate communications before starting her own communications consultancy. She helps high school students with their college application essays and counsels small and mid-sized companies on how to clearly communicate with those who matter to their success. Stef has a master’s degree in Strategic Communications from the University of Minnesota. She lives outside the Twin Cities with her husband, two young kids, and newly acquired yellow lab puppy.
KR: What are some of the biggest challenges college students are facing in the application process today? How are they overcoming these challenges?
ST: The students I work with are all challenged with how to synthesize their entire lives and academic careers into the small word count allowed by the college essay prompts. This is the only part of the application process where students are asked to share qualitative information, not quantitative details like grades and test scores. That’s really intimidating to many – especially those who don’t consider themselves to be great writers. Many struggle to put their finger on what truly makes them unique, while others are tempted to list out all of the things they’ve done to appear impressive to the admission committee.
KR: What is a typical day like in your career as a college essay coach?
ST: While essay coaching is one of many things I do in my business, I must say it’s one of my very favorite things to work on. When I’m working with a student, I spend a lot of that time listening to them talk about everything they’ve accomplished and what makes them tick. I’m able to identify themes across their experiences and help them use those themes to elevate how they talk about themselves when responding to essay prompts. It’s like being an investigative journalist!
KR: As a professional college essay coach, what is your philosophy on parent involvement in the college essay-writing process?
ST: The most successful work I’ve done with students has been when parents help connect the student and me – and we all agree upfront about how our work together will go – but then the parent steps back and lets the student and me work directly together. In fact, most parents I’ve worked with are more than happy to do this. They’re often looking for a third, objective adult to be part of the process – one their student will be more willing to listen to than mom or dad!
KR: What’s one tip you could give regarding the college admissions process?
ST: When it comes to essays, I push students to articulate how what they’ve done in the past applies to what they’ll do in the future. That’s what the admissions committee is looking for – clues about how they think a student will perform on campus, based on their achievements up to that point. When students can make that direct connection in their essays – doing the hard mental work for the admissions committee – they’ll stand out. That’s sophisticated communication most other students won’t do.
KR: How can parents/guardians help their students become college-ready?
ST: Start talking about college early! Research shows students are much more likely to go to college if they’re encouraged to do so by school counselors and parents, and it’s never too early to start planting those seeds. As your student gets older and approaches their junior year, encourage them to look holistically across their experience and activities to identify any gaps – then take action to fill in those gaps so they’ll have a more well-rounded background to showcase in their essays.
KR: What words of wisdom would you give to a current high school senior as they prepare for their college years?
ST: Don’t procrastinate on your college application! While it may not be the most urgent item on your to-do list for the first few months of your senior year, it IS the most important and needs to be a priority before it becomes an emergency. Your college career is too important to put off.
KR: What is a favorite memory from work in the last six months?
ST: By far my favorite memory has been throughout the month of April as National Decision Day approached on May 1. One by one I heard from many of my students, saying they’d gotten to choose from a long list of acceptances – often getting to pick their top-choice school. It’s such a blessing to play a small role in helping them achieve this. For many, it’s the biggest accomplishment in their lives to date!
Want to connect with Stef?
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!