We are thrilled to introduce the families of Wash Park to Whitney Talmage. She is an expert at guiding teens as they embark on the journey from high school to college. To call this path “overwhelming” is an understatement. 

Before you became an Educational Consultant, you were a teacher and a counselor. Can you tell us a bit about that part of your life and how it helped shape your current role? 

I absolutely loved my time in public education. I spent ten years teaching English and counseling high school students prior to transitioning into this role. Working in schools was so special because I got to see my kids daily. Good days, bad days, problem situations, self exploration–I got to see it all. There was a level of trust and a depth to the connections I built with my students and their families that truly left a mark on me. I always knew I would have a career in a helping profession and my time in schools ignited my passion for working with teens specifically. They’re interesting, vibrant, hilarious, aware and inspirational, and they give me so much hope. I feel lucky that I get to help teens chart a path that celebrates who they are and who they want to become. Being an educational consultant is really my dream job!

What would you say is the most common misconception parents have when starting the process of helping their child find potential colleges and applying, etc.? 

Most parents and students experience a combination of anxiety, stress and overwhelm as they approach the college search and application process. There are thousands of colleges, so it can be challenging to know which direction to go. Additionally, the admissions climate is ever changing, creating confusion over what information is accurate. While you probably won’t be able to avoid stress entirely, I think it’s a misconception that you (and your student) have to lose sleep over it. The experience can be made significantly better with support. The key is for your student to have help to clarify what they don’t understand so that they can fill in those blanks and knock out each task methodically and with confidence.

What services do you provide students and when should students start working with you? Is senior year too late? 

Junior year is an ideal time to start working with an educational consultant. There are situations where it can make sense to begin sooner, but for most students junior year is great. For any students or parents who feel like they’re late to the game, fall of senior year isn’t too late! It’s a crunch, but not too late. 

I guide students in under-standing what they are looking for in a college, help them form well-rounded lists of schools to apply to, and then coach them through the application process from start to finish. One of the most impactful pieces I help with is the essay component. The college application process asks teens to not only write about themselves, but to be introspective and connect ideas in a way that they probably haven’t before. This is a huge challenge for most students and it’s a game-changer to have someone help them figure out what they want to express and how to weave that into a clear, attention-holding narrative.

Do you think the pandemic has had any adverse effects–or positive for that matter–on how teens are approaching the college process?

One challenge from a college admissions perspective is grade inflation, in that many schools essentially lowered the threshold for what it meant to achieve a higher grade in the thick of the pandemic. Having worked at a high school myself during that time, I understand why adjustments were needed. That said, given that more students are graduating with higher GPAs, it is increasingly important that students differentiate themselves in ways that go beyond grades. Essays can be particularly important, as can activities. Test scores, when strong and accepted by the school, definitely help. The bottom line is, while grades and course rigor remain the most important thing for college applications, GPA alone is not enough for competitive programs.

Many challenges have come out of the pandemic. But there have been positive side-effects as well. I see teens being more comfortable with change and able to put new challenges into perspective. I see teens who took time in the pandemic to really get to know themselves and clarify what they want out of life. Some have discovered new hobbies and passions. Overall, I see a newfound sense of perseverance and maturity, and that will benefit students when applying for and entering college.

Being a mom yourself, what is the best advice you would offer parents of teens who are dipping their toes into this daunting journey?

My daughter is 17 months old, so there’s time before she asks me about the college application process–just kidding, I know she won’t want help from her mom! That said, my entire career has centered around teens and young adults. 

My biggest piece of advice for parents of teens is to put your child in the driver’s seat of their future. Encourage, educate, support, and offer guidance, certainly, but let them lead the way. Dreaming about your future is incredibly vulnerable and teens are more likely to be honest about what they really want within a supportive space. Empowering your child to follow their instincts on whether they are ready to transition to college, the kind of schools they’d like to attend, in what sort of location, etc. will increase the likelihood that their time and your finances will be spent productively. 

My second piece of advice is to be mindful of your student’s mental health and their life-balance. It’s easy to get caught up in worrying about taking every AP class, but the strength of a student’s course load is only as powerful as how well they perform within those courses. My philosophy is to always encourage students to take a course load that is challenging but manageable and that provides space for them to have joy in their life. Hobbies, time with friends, and ample sleep are all important; be an advocate for balance in your child’s life.

My final advice would be to seek support for your student. Most families can really benefit from having an independent expert on their team. By outsourcing this task to an educational consultant, you gain the knowledge of a professional, prevent tension in your relationship, and create a safe space for your child to authentically explore their dreams and options. Partnering with an educational consultant means that you can largely keep your focus on enjoying the time you have with your child before they depart for college. The goal is less stress and hovering, more quality time. 

Do you have any success stories of students you’ve worked with in the past?

Of course! I just talked to a student yesterday who found out she got into nursing school and received an offer for $50,000 in scholarships! 

Finding out about acceptances is obviously fantastic, but my favorite part (and when I truly feel I’ve been successful) is when I see a smile of pride on a student’s face when they complete their personal statement. The college application process isn’t only about acceptances–it’s also about the personal growth that happens along the way. Writing is challenging for most kids, and my style of coaching is very collaborative. Lots of thinking aloud and hashing out ideas, and searching for where insights into the student’s heart can be added. This kind of one-on-one coaching can be intense and draining, but the outcomes are significant. Helping students understand that they can write about something that is authentic to them and that it doesn’t need to be earth shattering can be very liberating. It allows them to refocus their energy on self-exploration and communicating ideas clearly and creatively. It’s an incredibly rewarding process to watch unfold.

When you’re not with your baby, or helping our babies, how do you spend your free time?

As anyone with a child knows, the way I spend my time has changed immeasurably since becoming a mom. Work and my family dominate the vast majority of my time–luckily I am delighted by both! Outside of that, I love hot yoga and baking. I am a tea and microbrew aficionado. I grew up in Alaska and had the travel-bug implanted in me at a young age. I am equal parts ocean- and mountain-lover and find that being outside is the fastest way for me to recharge. 

Anything else we should know?

If you are interested in working with an educational consultant, many offer free consultations to discuss needs and assess fit. Colorado is blessed to have an amazing organization called the College Consultants of Colorado, which is a collaborative group of individuals doing this type of work. The CCC website has a directory that includes the specialties of many consultants available in the area. I encourage you to check it out!

Thank you for sharing your wisdom, Whitney! If you’d like to learn more, please visit essentialcollegeconsulting.com.