In today's intensely competitive environment, where highly selective colleges will often turn away as many as 13 qualified candidates for every one that they admit, good grades, high test scores, and strong evidence of extracurricular involvement are only the beginning -- enough to get your foot in the door, but often not enough to land that coveted admittance letter in your mailbox. But here's the thing: as students scramble to take the most AP courses, jockey for the top class ranking, or sign up for every club on campus, they often lose sight of the one thing that sets them apart from millions of other talented and ambitious high school students: their sense of self.
Irena Smith, Ph.D. spent four years reading thousands of applications at the Stanford University Undergraduate Admission Office. Since 2007, she has been using that expertise to provide in-depth and highly personalized college counseling to high school students (grades 9-12) and their families. Her unique guidance gives her students a sense of control over what can be an overwhelming and frustrating process; most importantly, she encourages her students to think long and hard about who they are, what matters to them, and what they bring to the table as they embark on the journey from high school to college student.
Irena's extensive experience as an admissions officer, writer, teacher, and editor allows her to hone in on and elicit the qualities and strengths that make each applicant unique. Because there is no such thing as an "ideal" applicant, and because substance (in college admissions as well as in life) invariably trumps superficiality, Irena does not "package" her students; rather, she focuses on the qualities that make for a good student -- and a good person. Given the frenzy that has surrounded the college application, recruitment, and admissions process in the past decade, she makes every effort to keep expectations realistic and to return the application process to what it should be: a rite of passage that allows students to take stock of who they are and what they have accomplished in a meaningful way. Students often remark that as a result of working with Irena, they gain not only a reassuring and powerful advocate, but significantly improved critical thinking and writing skills as well. They complete the application process with a renewed sense of confidence and the certainty that their applications reflect exactly who they are in a way that is compelling, memorable, and authentic. In the end, it comes down to this: regardless of GPA and SAT scores, regardless even of the decision that arrives in the mail, applicants with a strong voice and a strong sense of self -- applicants who understand that having something to say is very different from having to say something -- have already scored a victory.
The process begins with a personal meeting with students and their families during which we will review transcripts and test scores and discuss the students' strengths, interests, and aspirations. By the end of the initial consultation we create a detailed and individualized plan that encompasses test preparation strategies, ways to enhance curricular and extracurricular participation, letters of recommendation, and possible essay topics and approaches that will allow students to articulate who they are and what matters to them in a genuine and powerful way. In other words, we will ensure that the student appears -- and has worked to -- full advantage and full potential, and that once it is time to begin work on the applications, everything "clicks." We begin to work on planning, brainstorming, and refining and revising application essays in the summer preceding senior year, and go through as many revisions as necessary until the essays articulate -- with clarity, conviction, and vigor -- exactly who the applicant is. Please click on the Services page to see more details. Do you have questions about the college admissions consulting process? Is private college admissions consulting the right option for you? Please see Irena's answers to many common concerns on her F.A.Q. page.
To contact Irena or to schedule a consultation please send her an email.
Irena is based in Palo Alto, CA and provides private college admissions consulting to students throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, across the United States, and around the world.
Over the past six application seasons, seniors who have worked with Irena have gone on to earn admission to every University of California campus as well as Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Princeton, Columbia, MIT, UPenn, Dartmouth, University of Chicago, Duke, Rice, USC, Caltech, Pomona, Northwestern, Swarthmore, Reed, Vassar, Middlebury, Williams, Emerson, Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown, and many other colleges across the country.