With all the external pressure that students face surrounding their college search, it can be difficult for them to know what kind of educational environment best fits them. Standardized tests, extracurriculars, the prestige of certain institutions over others—all of these considerations are absolutely important and worth investing in. By putting time and resources into helping your kid become the strongest applicant for college, you help them gain access to all of the opportunities a great higher education can provide. However, if your kid isn’t sure what kind of opportunities align with both their unique passions and talents, they will have a harder time making the most out of that college experience.

Enter Yellow Parachute coach Lisa Boes. With a doctorate in Learning & Teaching from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Lisa has decades of experience in higher education, whether advising Harvard undergraduates as their academic dean or what she does now: one-on-one coaching and consulting high school students through the college application process, current undergraduates preparing for after graduation, and even younger students. Lisa’s own college experience inspired this path: “College was pretty transformative for me, and probably without being able to articulate it, it was an environment that was just really engaging and interesting for me, so I wanted to stay in it.”

Above all else, Lisa’s approach is about making the process “feel like they can really just focus on who they are and find a place that’s a really good fit.” With her calm presence, she provides her students the structure and support to navigate the college application process by tackling it step by step. She makes sure to “meet them where they’re at,” she said, and to devote the time to discover “what makes them tick.” Lisa has found this process to be successful with students from a wide variety of backgrounds and needs: she has even worked with high school girls in Nairobi, Kenya to great success.

Lisa’s practice is grounded in her training as a Clifton Strengths coach, and she has found that the insights that make the StrengthsFinder model so valuable in professional environments are also impactful for students. Lisa works with students to help them identify and articulate their natural strengths, which is more difficult than it might seem: “Their natural talents just are so natural to them that they’re hard to reflect on.” But once you realize these talents, you can commit your energy to them and sharpen them. Research shows that you get much more bang for your buck when you invest in strengths rather than focusing on weaknesses.

Through this method, students learn to tell their story “from the inside out.” This is key. When a student can build their own narrative of who they are, they can hold onto the strengths that are a part of that narrative, and they can see can see how to build upon those strengths for the future. Rather than following the pressure of externally-prescribed paths—those “I’m supposed to” and “I should” messages—they can visualize a “natural path” for their future in college and beyond.

While many of Lisa’s clients are high school students thinking about college, she works with both younger students and students already in college. For those younger students, she spends more time helping them build that story from the inside out and thinks with them about how to identify and invest in their innate strengths. For college students, Lisa helps them prepare for life after graduation, like assisting them in searching and applying for internships that truly fit their interests.

I asked Lisa if she had one practical tip for parents who want to prepare their kids a little more for the college application process. She said, “It’s never too early to visit campuses.” That doesn’t mean flying your fourteen-year-old across the country to visit a dozen campuses in a week. But if you happen to be traveling, consider taking an hour or two out of the day to stop by a university. “Younger kids need an experience of it, not an idea of it,” and visiting campuses will give them a “language to talk about what they’re drawn to in terms of a college environment.”

Want to schedule a coaching session with Lisa? Contact us here.