“I have no idea what I should major in or what career I want!”
This is the refrain I hear from my students: they’re often overwhelmed by societal pressure to have their whole lives planned out by age 17. My own path has been full of surprises, challenges, blessings….and I bring that hard-earned wisdom to every student I encounter. I’m grateful for my foundational education in the humanities, which supported my growth as a reader, writer, and thinker. Upon graduating magna cum laude from the University of Notre Dame in 1997 with a dual degree in Studio Art and Philosophy, I completed a master’s degree in English from the University at Buffalo.
But I had no idea what I wanted to do. I considered PhD programs, law school, the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, or even just some job in a cubicle. Eventually, I wrote for a newspaper in Scranton, Pennsylvania (alas, before The Office) and worked as a copywriter for Book-of-the-Month Club in New York City.
But I never considered becoming a teacher.
That all changed on September 11th. I had recently gotten a marketing communications job at an office in Midtown, but my real passion was volunteering at Manhattan Comprehensive Night and Day High School. After 9/11, I was laid off from my marketing position and forced to reevaluate my life. What did I really want to do? What was holding me back from doing work that was truly meaningful to me?
As we now say in the post-pandemic world, I pivoted. I took baby steps toward becoming a teacher, and soon I was hired at the Browning School, an independent all-boys school on the Upper East Side. Even though those early days in the classroom were hard (teachers joke that they wish they could apologize to their first group of students), I was glad I had taken the risk and switched careers. By the time I moved to Maryland with my husband and fellow Buffalonian Ross Comaratta, I found my stride. Teaching at the Key School in Annapolis greatly influenced my pedagogical style: I learned to really listen to my students and help them find their distinct voices as writers.
Ross and I moved back to Buffalo in 2007: he took at job at M&T Bank, and I started teaching in the English and Art departments at Canisius High School. With the support of Jesuits like Fr. Bob Pecoraro, I was able to complete the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises and take part in many of the campus ministry retreats. Relating to students – regardless of their faith tradition – on an emotional and spiritual level informs the way I engage with students to this day. The Jesuits talk about cura personalis – the care of the person – and that’s precisely what I aim to do at Stress Free Admissions. I want each student to feel fully seen and understood as a whole person…not merely a sum of test scores, GPAs, or sports statistics.
Just as I never planned on being a teacher, I never planned on running my own college admissions consulting firm. I started this business in 2009 with fellow Williamsville East alumna Allison Newman (now COO of Educational Programs at Gateway-Longview). As I tell my students, this wasn’t a job that I even knew existed when I was in college. I’m proud of crafting this position from scratch, and even prouder of meeting the needs of teenagers as they move through important life transitions. I remind them that, somehow, I ended up exactly where I was supposed to be. Even though life might not unfold they way they plan or expect, I tell my students that they too will find their place.
I love helping students share their own stories in college essays, and I love sharing my story openly and honestly – even the difficult parts. In 2016, my husband Ross died from acute myeloid leukemia at age 39 (here’s a short video about us from Ride for Roswell: https://vimeo.com/131687070). This experience deepened my empathy and made me more attuned to the struggles and hardships of my students. I’m committed to supporting the mental and emotional wellbeing of every teenager I work with, and I’m mindful of the stress and anxiety they face.
As I move into my second decade of guiding students and families through the college admissions process, I’m grateful for the wisdom I’ve gained through all the twists and turns on my path. I look forward to helping future students walk their paths with peace and confidence, gaining their own wisdom along the way.