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Cross-eyed over college applications?


Troutdale business offers one-on-one advising for college-bound students

Sandra Mershon was a 24-year veteran English teacher at Reynolds High School when she received a Fulbright Exchange to teach overseas in 2000.

Her yearlong stint at an international school in Istanbul, Turkey, unleashed not only a floodgate of personal wanderlust but also taught her that pursuits for higher education among students and parents are the same the world over.

“Parents are parents, and kids are kids, regardless of where you are in the world,” said Mershon, owner of Mershon College Counseling in Troutdale. “In the end, parents just want the best for their kids.”

Mershon, a lifelong Corbett resident, spent 10 years traveling the world, teaching English in such far-flung places as West Africa, Japan and China. She returned to her roots this past August and now helps students and their parents navigate the college applications process as an independent educational consultant. by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Sandra Mershon, a former English teacher at Reynolds High School, helps students and parents navigate the college admissions process.

It was an accidental career path, discovered on foreign soil, but a service Mershon says is aimed at quelling the panic experienced by college-bound students and their even more confused parents.

Mershon’s years of teaching outside the United States were done primarily in international schools. Most students were offspring of other Americans working in the country, and as is common here at home, teaching English was only part of Mershon’s job description.

“They were usually small schools, and to make the school work, you have to do a lot of different things,” she said. “We wore lots of hats, and one of those was college counseling. Most of our students wanted to attend college in the U.S., the U.K. or Canada, so I had to learn the variety of requirements for all the universities.”

Mershon found she enjoyed college advising and pursued her certification through UCLA’s College Counseling Certification Program. She tailors her services toward high school juniors and seniors, but encourages parents to consider meeting with an adviser as early as freshman year to ensure projected high school course work is on target for college admissions.

But not all students arrive at Mershon’s office with a known college major, she said. After reviewing PSAT test scores and current transcripts, Mershon helps students explore potential majors and appropriate schools for that field of study. She identifies areas where the student might need academic improvement, and suggests future classes that are in line with specific college admissions requirements. Mershon also helps students explore schools that will challenge them and help them thrive.

“I play the role of matchmaker,” she said, laughing. “Colleges are seeking good-fit students, and students are seeking best-fit colleges. But it’s very difficult for parents and students to stay current with admissions trends, policies and new academic programs across multiple campuses. My role as an (independent educational consultant) is to stay current, visiting somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 college campuses each year, and maintain a strong network of college admissions professionals. That helps me provide individualized advice and personal service.”

And with the costs of a college education skyrocketing, understanding the financial aid side of things can be overwhelming. Parents are reduced to “nagging” their child to fill out forms, Mershon said, and many are unaware of financial options out there beyond student loans.

“I can help a student apply to schools where they might be eligible to receive money from the school as a scholarship,” she said. “But I also teach kids to advocate for themselves — to make phone calls and follow through. They need to take ownership for the process and be responsible, because this is real life.”

Mershon knows well the dilemma faced by school counselors these days. They play many roles, making it difficult to provide one-on-one college counseling to students and remain in tune with college requirements. Working with an independent adviser, whose only focus is a student’s post-high school education, Mershon said, makes the process far less painful.

“The admissions game has changed a lot,” she said. “It’s very competitive and expensive. But in the end, it still boils down to finding the school that’s the best fit for the student and the student is the best fit for the school.”

Fast Facts

Who: Mershon College Counseling

Where: 107 E. Historic Columbia River Highway, Suite 202, Troutdale

What: College counseling and assistance with the applications process; Mershon is a member of Independent Educational Consultant and the Higher Education Consultant’s associations; fees run between $1,100 and $2,100, for a one- or two-year program of comprehensive planning and advising. Mershon also offers a complimentary introductory consultation to see if long-term counseling is needed.

Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.

For more information: Call 503-667-4445 or visit mershoncollegecounseling.com.