Deciding on your college and figuring out how to apply in the first place can be STRESSFUL.
It causes a bunch of anxiety in the many, many highschoolers and college-aged students I work with. And while I’ve written on How to Prepare Your Anxious Highschooler for College and Parenting Your Anxious College Student, sometimes you need really specific information and to do lists from someone who does more than just the emotional/stress management side of college. That’s where Joann comes in!
I’m so excited to share our interview below! Joann also has one book out and another on the way, helping to walk parents and teens through the whole college application process (links below).
Why did you choose to become a College/Career Counselor in St. Louis?
I really sort of fell into my profession. I always knew I wanted to help people but was unsure of the capacity. I loved the idea of education and working in a school. After I’d already gotten my Business degree, I opted to get my Master’s in Counseling. I originally wanted my career to be at a career counseling center at the college level, but life had other plans. My first job opportunity was in a high school and I loved it! I loved working with the students to set goals and plan for the future. After 21 years and 2 high schools as both a college and personal counselor, I went into private practice where I felt I could have a bigger impact with more 1:1 time with students and more in-depth counseling time. I have been in private practice 5 years.
What kind of help do you provide?
I provide college counseling for teens who are trying to navigate the college admissions process. I work with helping them identify colleges and/or majors that may be a potential fit, brainstorming the essay, creating an activity list/resume, completing the Common App, organizational skills, help with scholarships, interviewing, talking about their fears and concerns, answering questions, and whatever else comes with the college process. (I do NOT do financial aid or test prep.)
I give every student an Action Sheet after each session.
This is their ‘to do’ list that breaks down what we talked about that day and puts things into ‘baby steps’ that help the student more easily manage this big project. This works especially well for students who have anxiety about the process or who would like help organizing themselves for the long haul to minimize stress. College counseling isn’t just a to-do list though. It is much more personal counseling, soul-searching, and conversation than most people realize. It truly is a journey.
I also do career counseling for ages 15 and up. Everything from interest inventories to values identification and networking ideas! I meet clients where they are and help them determine the best ‘next step’ in their lives. For some, this is choosing a major and for other it is changing jobs or course all together. There is a lot of soul-searching and baby steps, but every single action moves them forward to the life they want.
What ages do you work with?
I usually work with students as young as 15 and students in the 16-18 age group are my most popular demographic because of the college work I do. For my adult population and career counseling, my most popular age groups are 19-35 although I’ve worked with people in their 40’s, 50’s and retirees.
What can parents expect to leave with after working with you?
Hopefully, a sense of calm and order as well as a game plan. Understanding the process on the whole can greatly reduce stress! The college admission process has changed tremendously over the last 25 years and people often find themselves at a loss as to where to begin even if the parents have a college degree. People can also expect that I am going to be having those conversations about college with their son or daughter and they will hopefully see a decrease in the nagging battles at home about getting things done as we all work together collaboratively.
How long have you been working with highschoolers, and how long have you been in St. Louis?
I am proud to say I am a native St. Louisan. Where you went to high school, though, is never as important as the plan you chart for your future. I have worked in the profession with high school students for over 25 years.
Who are your favorite types of clients to work with?
The ones who are motivated and yet not afraid to be vulnerable. The ones who are open to suggestions and new ideas as well as willing to work hard. It doesn’t matter to me your GPA or your ACT. What does matter is finding the best FIT for your next step in life. Clients willing to do some soul-searching and be honest about their fears goes a long way in helping us find the right path. Honesty is crucial.
What happens during a first appointment with you?
I usually get the basic background information so I can start to know the client better. I am always interested in what the client’s goal is for that session so I can make sure I am meeting them where they are. Once I get some background and address what the goal for the meeting is, I also like to leave time for the client to ask as many questions as they want about any related topic so they leave feeling heard and their concerns/questions answered.
Could you talk a little about your approach and how you modify it when working with teens who have anxiety/perfectionism/stress/anger management?
The interesting thing about what I do is that nearly everyone has stress about the college process, not just those with diagnoses. It might be the idea of leaving home and the fear it invokes or it might be just being anxious about getting it all done and making a good decision.
For people who have anxiety or perfectionism issues, though, college counseling can be especially helpful because we can separate fact from fiction and ‘urban legend’. Knowledge is powerful and knowing when to ask for help is a sign of intelligence! Being able to ask questions freely is a great help to reducing students’ stress.
For the anxious student, breaking down the steps into manageable baby steps has proven very stress-relieving as well! Being able to talk in a safe environment away from the school day where students can voice their opinions, fears, and concerns reduces stress and anxiety. They are in a place where they can be their true selves. Meeting regularly can help keep the student on track and not get off-course further reducing stress.
What do you wish people knew about college counseling or coaching?
It’s truly a combination of knowing facts—things about a given college or the process—along with the very important skill of listening. Some people who are ‘college counselors’ don’t have a degree in counseling on top of the credentials/experience to do college counseling. The advantage in having a licensed professional counselor is that they can put on that hat and really listen and help students and their families discern what the options are and hear their concerns. Counselors don’t have an agenda for you—they just want what is best for you!
Share one fun fact about you that most people don't know.
I am the author of the book When to Do What: A Step-by-Step Guide to the College Process. The book outlines in detail timelines, worksheets, definitions, and a clear understanding of the order in which to address each step of the college process. The book is a great resource for parents and students in grades 8th-12th and it’s an easy read! The book can be purchased on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2K9ISGJ. I also keep copies in my office if you need one ASAP. Just contact me if you are in St. Louis and you can buy one in person.
I am also in the process of writing my second book on the six ways a college should fit every student. It takes a holistic approach to the college search process. It will be released late 2019 or early 2020.
Curious to learn more about how anxiety therapy pairs with college counseling? Compassionate Counseling St. Louis specializes in anxiety, anger management, and stress for kids, teens, and college students. You can set up your first free phone consultation with Kelsey Torgerson Dunn at www.compassionatecounselingstl.com/consult. We work with kids, teens, college students, and families throughout University City, Clayton, Creve Couer, Town and Country, Wentzville, and surrounding areas.