Beth Pickett Author, College Admissions: The Essential Guide for Busy Parents

Beth Pickett
Beth Pickett

I had the pleasure of interviewing Beth Pickett. Beth Pickett,the founder of College Prep Counseling, has been working with students across the U.S. as a college admissions counselor for more than a decade. Her clients and essay students have earned admission to Harvard, Yale, Brown, UC Berkeley, UCLA, Stanford, Williams, Pomona, UMich, Tulane, Colgate, Cornell, and many other colleges and universities across the U.S. A graduate of Stanford, also earned her Certificate in College Counseling from UCLA and began working with families as an independent admissions consultant in 2007. Beth’s philosophy of college admissions is founded on the principle that students who dig deeply into their interests during high school become happier, more accomplished students who are able to submit more compelling college applications. By developing the ability to articulate their goals, students learn about themselves and how to make a plan to move forward in a methodical and precise way. She feels privileged to guide families and mentor students as they navigate the rite of passage that is selective college admissions.

College Admissions: The Essential Guide for Busy Parents

Can you share with us your background and your career?

After high school, I headed to Stanford with the idea of becoming a science writer. I majored in human biology (with a heavy dose of marine biology classes mixed in) to provide me with a solid academic foundation for the science part. I figured the writing part could largely be learned on the job. Stanford was an amazing place to spend four years.

From there, I had various positions in writing and editing for the American Cetacean Society’s Whalewatcher magazine and being a staff writer and editor for The Cousteau Society’s membership magazines. It was my writing and editing background that eventually led to working with students on college admissions essays, then growing that business to offer full-service college admissions counseling (helping students build their college lists, helping families understand the financial aid options for both low- and  high-income families, creating a manageable schedule for the student to get all the work done before the deadlines, etc.).

Can you share with our readers how you started your business and the mission behind it?

In 2000, my first student went to his school counselor to talk about his college list. He really wanted to apply to some of the colleges in the Ivy League, but his counselor scoffed. “No one from our high school has ever gotten into one of those. Don’t even bother to apply,” were her pessimistic words of advice.

That student’s mom and I were colleagues at an educational publishing company. She knew I had graduated from Stanford and wondered if I might be able to help him. At the time, I didn’t have the proper training to call myself a college admissions counselor, but as a professional editor and writer, I knew I could help with his essays. We worked on those for a few months, and the following spring, he was admitted to one of the eight Ivy League schools–Cornell University. The student, his parents, and I were thrilled when he got that letter of acceptance. He is now a PhD researcher running a lab in the Bay Area; I’m hoping his children will be coming through my program in the next few years and I’ll have my first second-generation clients.

I realized that it was great fun working with him to come up with topics and develop his ideas, but I needed more training to learn more about the profession. So a few years later, I enrolled in the UCLA certificate program for College Counseling, and finished that in 2007. That’s when I officially started my business.

My mission has always been to help support students and families through a process that so many feel is confusing, stressful, and often overwhelming. One of my strengths is making complicated issues, such as financial aid, more clear and understandable for parents and students. You can almost see them relax and grow in their confidence as they learn how the system works, what needs to be done, and how to approach each step. I love being the one who makes it all clear and helps make the process “smooth sailing,” as one of my students said to me last year.

If you could go back and talk to your younger self, what would you tell her and why?

I’d tell my younger self exactly what I tell my students today: take time in high school to explore potential careers and discover activities they love to do and subjects they love to be immersed in. It’s unrealistic to expect a student to decide in high school what they want to be when they’re 40 or 50, but they can learn to identify patterns and preferences, and try different careers on for size with internships, job shadowing, and summer courses.

If the students begin, in high school, to clarify what they’d like to do in their first few years out of college, then they’ll be able to identify many wonderful colleges that offer aligned majors and programs where they will thrive. These could be colleges that are extremely selective or colleges that welcome a broader range of students. If students identify a group of colleges that would be a great fit for them, then they can’t be knocked off course if a few of the colleges don’t offer them admission. The students have the power to dictate the trajectory of their lives; they should never give that up to some faceless admissions committee that has never actually met the student.

Can you share more about your new book and how it can help students who are just starting the college application process

My book, College Admissions: The Essential Guide for Busy Parents, launched in June and immediately hit #1 bestseller status on Amazon, so I know there’s a need out there for solid information presented clearly. The chapters cover core topics such as financial aid, building the college list, Early Decision/Early Action considerations, demonstrated interest (which many families don’t know about), and testing (because high SAT or ACT scores will still help a student at the majority of colleges).

I wrote it as a quick-reference guide for parents to give them key information without making them wade through endless pages of detail that may or may not be relevant to their student. It outlines what to do, and when, so they can make informed decisions along the way.

The book is available in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook versions to suit the preferences of the reader (although Amazon has put them on different pages because it hasn’t figured out that they are all the same book). Feedback from early readers indicates that I was able to hit that sweet spot of solid intel intersected with encouragement and a clear path forward.

There are key takeaways at the end of every chapter (for when the parent only has five minutes to remember the critical points) and a month-by-month to-do list for students in the back.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now?

We’re busy translating the book and one of my online courses (Financial Aid: Key Concepts That Can Save You Thousands) into Spanish. I feel like many Spanish-speaking parents care deeply about education and want to help their children obtain a college degree, but they may not understand the U.S. college admissions system if they either never went through a U.S. college admissions process or if they went through the process years ago.

I think a number of families, whatever language they speak, don’t understand how financial aid works and, therefore, make choices that seem reasonable (such as picking a state college with a lower sticker price over an expensive private college) without understanding that the private college may offer much better financial aid and a greater likelihood of the student finishing in four years. It’s counterintuitive, so it’s critically important that families build their knowledge about this subject to avoid as much debt as possible.

Where do you see yourself and your career going in this new year and in the future?

I love working one-on-one with my clients, but I understand that many families cannot afford to work with a private counselor. I still want them to have information, though, so I’m building a system that can help people at any budget level. My book is $14.95, and it’s a solid start. My online courses are more expensive, but affordable–the financial aid course is only $79 and could quite easily save a family thousands so the return on investment can be huge. Those who want more customized, face-to-face counseling can join one of my group programs. And those who want the most individual attention can work with me one-on-one. Whichever path a student takes, I want students and their families to feel informed and empowered.

How can our readers connect with you on Social Media?

They can find me on my website, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, or LinkedIn, and my book is available in different formats on Amazon:

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