The College Whisperer

Finding the Right Fit for Your Kids' College Experience

Article by Melinda Gipson

Photography by Celeste Linthicum

Originally published in Leesburg Lifestyle

More students head to college next month than ever before, and schools are becoming more selective regarding applicants, not to mention more expensive. It’s enough to give parents fits. The tension causes them to put even more pressure on their children to excel, creating a kind of anxiety spiral that can put the whole family on edge.  

To both parents and students stressing over college, Hannah Serota says, “Hold on! it’s going to be okay! There’s a lot you don’t know about.”

“There are more than 3,000 colleges and universities in the U.S. There is a good college for everyone, and going to UVA isn’t the be all and end all for everybody!”

Hannah has spent three decades working in college admissions, as a college counselor or an admissions consultant and visits 20-30 campuses a year, so she should know. She has helped literally thousands of students find the right place for them to learn and grow and is relentless about discerning “the right fit.” Her innovative consultancy in Leesburg called Creative College Connections helps students grades nine through 12 use tools to aid not only in the college selection and the application process but to assist students to get the most out of their high school years and life experience. The whole process helps them figure out what kinds of careers they might find fulfilling as adults.

Only 40% of college students will finish their degree in four years, and not all of those who return home with a diploma will have made the most of their time there, so getting the right fit is about more than just getting admitted to a "good" school. Hannah imagines that fit as a “three-legged stool.”

1. Academic fit: “This means different things to different students; it’s not just about majors, but degree of rigor, class size, internships, research opportunities and the presence of co-ops or hands-on learning opportunities.”

2. Personal fit: “They are going to be living on a college campus so kids wonder, ‘How am I going to find my people? Do I feel comfortable here? Do I want to be in a city? Do I want to be in a place that has traditional rah, rah, school spirit?’ All those things about living day-to-day are important to a successful college experience.”

3. Financialfit: "We want to make sure parents don’t leverage their retirement in order to pay for college and help kids graduate without enormous debt because it becomes an albatross around their necks as they enter their adult lives.”

Creative College Connections offers a free discovery phone call, a frequent Zoom webinar and a blog dealing with typical questions. The goal is to help your student echo what Hannah says every day: “I love what I do!”


"Hannah taught me how to express who I was and what made me unique out of all the other applicants."

—Laura, Villanova U, Civil Engineering

"Hannah was a great mentor. If I were stressed out, she always put me at ease."

—Esha, UVA, Rodman Scholar

“I had a bad case of senior slump. Hannah broke [the application process] into a schedule with deadlines, so I was done before Thanksgiving!”

—Dani, U. of Delaware

"Hannah got to the heart of who each [of my sons] is and what matters to them. She helped them  find what they really wanted in a college."

—Christine S., Mom

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