Brittany Maschal on John Dewey, Travel, and the Joys of College Admissions

Noodle Expert Brittany Maschal shares her thoughts on John Dewey, travel, and the rewards of being a college admissions counselor.

Noodle Expert Brittany Maschal shares her thoughts on John Dewey, travel, and the rewards of being a college admissions counselor.

Who would you pick, alive or dead, to be your teacher for a year? What would you want to learn?

John Dewey. I would love to learn more about his work at the Hull House and his views regarding women’s place in society and the women’s suffrage movement. He once said, “Think of them [women] as human individuals for a while, dropping out the sex qualification, and you won’t be so sure of some of your generalizations about what they should and shouldn’t do.” He was often criticized for not coming up with any working strategies that would put his ideas into action. Discussing these topics with him more, as well as his views on the current state of education, would be awesome!

What is one small piece of advice that has had a big impact on your life?

Someone once told me, “Don't postpone joy.” This stays in the back of my mind each and every day. I pursue my goals and surround myself with people who make me happy, simple as that.

Where would you send a student who hasn’t traveled before?

I would send her on a cross-country road trip. I grew up traveling and have been to over 30 countries. I’ve seen some pretty amazing places, but there is something about what is right here in our own backyard that never ceases to amaze me. I’m embarrassed to say, but I didn't do this trip myself until I was 28 years old — it was eye-opening! You can see what you encounter on the news and the Internet, but seeing our country from the road is something else — something I believe students (both U.S. and international) should experience.

When was a time that you failed academically, and what did you learn from the experience?

Believe it or not, high school! I switched schools a few times, and where I ended up in 10th grade was not a great fit. I admit to being less than motivated, and as a result, my performance was sub-par. I didn't learn much from this experience until I got to college and was finally challenged. Looking back, I realized I would get farther in life by working up to my potential. I also realized that college is NOT like high school, and this was exactly what I needed.

For the first time in a long while, I got excited about my studies. I decided I wanted to shape my own education and really take ownership over what I was learning. I altered my major to be self-designed and interdisciplinary, which suited my interests best. This wasn't a move my advisor welcomed; I vividly remember asking if I was not allowed to do what I proposed (which would also enable me to graduate in three years, instead of four). He said I could try, but no one had ever done it before. So I did.

Why did you go into your field, and how is it different from what you expected?

I honestly never planned on working at a university or as a college counselor. Like many students, I entered college with an idea of what I wanted to do (which was to be a teacher or learning disabilities specialist), but during my sophomore year, I realized I wasn’t cut out for the classroom. I continued to take courses in special education, but also in education policy and anthropology. A professor in one of those courses became an informal mentor and was the first person to introduce to me the idea that I could have a career in education outside of teaching. This led me to an internship in education research and then to UPenn for graduate school where I studied educational anthropology. I was granted work study, and, having also considered law school, applied for a student-worker position in admissions at Penn Law.

Although I'm still unclear why I was hired, I fell in love with admissions. I loved reading student files because I got to learn about the applicants' paths through education and to law school. For me, the rest is history: I volunteered to be a college counselor at a local high school and following graduation, took on roles in the offices of admission and student services at Princeton and later Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. I even circled back to Princeton and Penn (Wharton) one more time! I also earned my doctorate in higher education during this time. And coming from a family of entrepreneurs and business owners, it only seemed natural to leave the university setting and focus on independent college counseling, a field where I would be able to focus more on what initially drew me in — that is, helping applicants tell their stories.

Independent college counseling, in my opinion, isn't a profession that can be taught in a workshop, certificate program, or retreat. Not only does it require expertise in college admissions and writing, but it also relies on excellent interpersonal and communication skills, patience, and compassion. I would never have guessed how closely I would come to work with students and their families, nor how well I would get to know everyone involved, from the student to the parents to the siblings. And it's gratifying to recognize that they come to rely on me for far more than just college knowledge.

I’d like to think that one of the things I bring to the table that really makes the experiences of my clients so positive is my capacity to meet them where they are, wherever that is, and that they know can count on me every step of the way. I’m a great listener, and sometimes that is all students or families need, even if our communication is via text way too late at night, early in the mornings, on the weekend, on vacation, or during the holidays! When people begin to see you as “part of the fam,” these things can happen. And being there for them through what can be a very stressful process is well worth it. I didn't expect this, but it's created stronger relationships with my clients and, in nearly all cases, great outcomes.

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