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Meet Evelyn Alexander of Magellan College Counseling in Topanga

Today we’d like to introduce you to Evelyn Alexander.

Evelyn, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
In my first career, I managed political campaigns. While that was my job, my hobby was interviewing students for my alma mater, Johns Hopkins. I interviewed students, visited high schools, representing Hopkins at college fairs and trained other alumni on how to be involved in the admission process. After 15 years of serious volunteer involvement, I realized that parents and students were unbelievably stressed out about the college admission process. I went through the Certificate in College Counseling program at UCLA, in order to help families see beyond the names they know and go through a real college search instead of just creating a list based on assumptions and reputation. I opened Magellan College Counseling in 2011.

Today, I’m proud that four other talented counselors in the LA area, and three in Boston, have associated with my company, and our goal for each of our clients is that they build well-researched, balanced college lists, that they submit applications far before deadlines (teenagers are great at last-minute!) and that they have choices – real choices that they love – in the spring of their senior year.

While it’s fun to share the incredible (“big name”) colleges to which our clients have been admitted and attend, we are more proud of the fact that our clients use their time with us to explore their interests and talents, and really think about what their best-fit educational environment will look like. We know we’re successful when clients ask us to work with their younger siblings and refer us to friends.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
One of the challenges is that there are no licensing requirements to call oneself a college counselor. So, people go through this process with one child and suddenly think they are an expert – and they hang out a shingle and start charging their friends. There are many of us, on the other hand, who treat this as a true profession – with hundreds of hours of professional development, membership in multiple professional organizations and weeks of travel each year visiting dozens of colleges. This costs money – and so our pricing may be a little higher than less-experienced counselors. There is sometimes a challenge in explaining to our prospective clients how all of the money we spend traveling to conferences and colleges brings value to their college search and makes us worth what we charge.

Please tell us about Magellan College Counseling.
Magellan College Counseling helps high school students and their parents navigate the college admission process. I am very proud of having built this company from the ground up. I’m especially proud that seven really amazing people have joined me and have contributed to the very strong reputation we have on both coasts, and even in states where we have clients but not an actual office.

There are 2 things that make Magellan College Counseling stand apart from other individuals and companies that offer college admission guidance. The first is that we approach this process in two phases. Phase 1 is “College Search,” and that involves some self-exploration: What kind of learner am I? What type of educational environment will I thrive in? What do I have to offer a college community? These questions are deep – and difficult questions for teenagers! We help them go beyond the simple “big college/small college,” “urban/rural” questions you’ll find on most college search websites. Phase 2 is “College Applications,” and we help students organize their tasks and complete each application, hopefully, long before deadlines. In this phase, we help with all stages of the college essay, from brainstorming to development to revision and final edit.

The other thing that makes Magellan different is that we truly work as a team. Each client (student) is partnered with one of our counselors who will be their leader. But each of us has worked with different types of students and has visited different colleges. So, our team of counselors meets regularly, both in person and virtually, to share information and ensure that each client benefits from all of our experience. This comes into play during the initial college list phase; frequently a student will see suggestions for colleges from many of our team members. We also take advantage of our team during the essay stage; frequently we will ask other team members to review our clients’ essays, just to get some fresh eyes on them before finalizing.

We’re known not only for working with high-flying students – those with top grades and top test scores – but also with those students whose parents think that community college will be their only choice. There’s been nothing more gratifying than working with students who thought they only had one option, only to show them that there are dozens (hundreds?) of colleges out there who are quite happy to take a chance on a 3.0 student – or even lower. We remember every day that we are working with the fragile egos of teenagers, so helping them feel like they are smart, they have potential and someone wants them is the most rewarding thing in the world.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
In the Santa Monica Mountains – in Topanga.
It’s why my husband and I moved here five years ago.

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