The story behind the counselor

Gesturing with her hand toward a wall covered with photos of her family, High School College Counselor Patty Strohm didn’t use many words to explain why she felt it time to return home. “It’s time to spend time with my grandchildren,” she said. “Time to be closer with my family.”

Her colleagues describe her as “an inspiration,” a testament to the years of success she has brought to the school in the realm of college counseling. “She sets a wonderful tone of professionalism and leads us all to feel like we are doing good work for the students,” College Counselor Ivan Hauck said.

Strohm’s students hold her in similar esteem, claiming her fluency in all things college related gives her advice a ‘magic touch’ like quality.

Strohm’s expertise in the college process did not develop by chance. Her knowledge of the process is the result of dedicating nearly her entire professional career to education. Even so, she claims to have been teaching long before the age of 22. “I had been a teacher since I was a little girl, I have always been a teacher. That’s just who I was as a child,” she said.

The world of college counseling enveloped Strohm, like it does for many, when her own children started their college application process. “Our sons went to a large public [school] so they really did not have the kinds of resources that kids at ASL have,” she said. “So I had to learn a lot, and I did learn a lot, and I found I really liked it.”

Watching her eldest son mature throughout the process showed Strohm the value the college process can have on high school students. “I could see with our older son how the process of applying to college really made him more confident and more sure of himself,” she said. “I saw this intellectual and social and emotional benefits that actually going through all that decision making and reflection had and what it could do for person growing up.”

After her children completed high school and were into college, Strohm took a break from teaching and worked as a cartographer for National Geographic. “I know it sounds really odd, but I needed a break from teenagers for a while,” she said.

Strohm worked as a researcher collecting data and creating both digital and physical map projections. After her brief spout working for National Geographic, Strohm decided to take on college counseling as a profession. The experience she acquired in helping her own children through the process landed her a job as a college counselor in an all girls school in Washington DC.

Strohm had no intention of leaving her post in Washington DC, but when ASL called to encourage her to apply to become the next head of college counseling, she did. “It was a good opportunity for me to do something new. My husband had passed away and you know how you get a little restless, my kids were grown so I thought, ‘ok, maybe I will try a new adventure’.”

With over a decade of experience in college counseling before she came to ASL, Strohm has observed some important developments to the process.

For starters, Strohm recalls a system in which colleges and universities were more easily distinguishable when her own children were applying 20 years ago. Stohm cites the development of the Common Application as an agent to this change.

When her eldest son was applying she felt, “just by reading the application you could get a sense of the nature of the school. You could get a very clear sense of it,” Strohm said.

Strohm sees this development as an unfortunate loss to the process. “That loss of individuality through this trying to make things uniform is one the biggest changes to happen and I think it makes it much harder for you to discern differences and to figure out where you want to go,” she said.

Strohm also believes the expectations for teenagers to mature and have a comprehensive list of accomplishments at a younger age is another recent development in the college process. Universities used to be “looking at potential more than at achievement. And you know what we really should be looking for in all of us, even into middle age and beyond is potential and what kind of potential can we build on to become better people and more interesting people, more helpful people,” she said.

With an increasingly large emphasis being placed on what students have already accomplished, Strohm feels some concern for how this can impact the development of some teenagers. “I always think late bloomers are best, to give yourself a chance to grow up, and that’s one other thing that worries me about college admissions now,” she said.

Thinking about ASL specifically, Strohm has observed a growth in the diversity of schools students apply to. “That fact that [students] are going where it’s right for them to go rather than where they think they ought to go; that’s to me a really good movement,” she said.

In upcoming years, Strohm wonders whether more college application platforms will make themselves available, and also if standardized testing will continue to play the same role. “You know there’s a lot of cheating on the standardized tests in different parts of the world, what’s going to happen to all that testing? You really wonder how that piece of it is going to play out,” she said.

Cost is another issue that Strohm predicts may cause major changes to the system in the upcoming years. “I think the traditional model of the four year school may not be sustainable,” she said.

Next year Strohm will do part time work helping underprivileged students with academic advising. While Strohm looks forward to this new opportunity, she will miss her time at ASL. “ I love the students. I think the kids here are really wonderful, I think you have a sense of adventure, a sense of openness, a sense of curiosity, and I love working with the faculty here,” Strohm said.