What is your life’s purpose?
I help students reach higher education after going through an educational crisis like expulsion, suspension, dropping out, or flunking out.
How are you living your purpose?
I spend my days working with the students who need me. Some were caught selling drugs on campus; others had to leave school to go to rehab; some flunked out due to undiagnosed mental illness; still others were accused of sexual misconduct and expelled. I can help them get started in college, transfer back into college, or move on to graduate school and professional careers in spite of the problems on their records. I coach them in making realistic plans for an academic comeback. My unique experience as a former troubled teen who overcame her mistakes gives me unusual sensitivity to the challenges young people face. I teach them to write their honest stories persuasively so that schools are inspired to give them another chance.
It is a dream come true to make my living by offering specialized help that these students can’t find anywhere else. For example, I worked with one student for three years after he was expelled from his university; he made it all the way to medical school. I helped another young adult go from a GED to Cornell and then Harvard Law. Their successes are my oxygen.
How did you find your purpose?
My purpose sought me out. I flunked out of high school and got a GED. I had the highest SAT scores and lowest grades in my high school class. I didn’t think I was college material, and I didn’t want to go. After two years working as a museum guide, a freelance caterer, and an Omnimax projectionist, I decided to return to the academic path. I entered Bryn Mawr College, excelled academically, and transferred to Harvard College. There, I joined the Office of Admission as a student guide. On tours, we guides told our own stories about what brought us to Harvard. There were always a lot of surprised faces when I said, “I got straight Fs my last three semesters of high school; I have a GED; I worked full time for two years; I started my undergrad work at Harvard when I was 22.” But after every tour, some family would take me aside and say, “You have to talk to my nephew. He just got out of rehab, and he wants to go to college. Can you help us?” Before I knew it, parents I had never met before were calling me and asking me to be their counselor. I found that I loved talking to the students and their families and helping them figure out a way forward after a crisis.
Following college, I received my J.D. from Harvard Law School. I had a six-year legal career in Chicago, but I kept my college counseling business going throughout the years. My client families kept seeking me out and would not let me forget my purpose. I left legal practice in 2008 and have been in higher education ever since.
What advice do you have for purpose seekers?
Listen to what others tell you that you are good at. Pay attention to the help they request from you. Maybe your purpose is hiding in your hobby, or on the internet discussion board that you stay up late to read.
What resources do you recommend for college applicants?
How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims
Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania by Frank Bruni
Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges by Loren Pope
Connect with Hanna Stotland
Hanna Stotland has been an admission trendsetter since 1997, when she was admitted to Harvard College with a G.E.D.Hanna flunked out of high school and began working full time on her 18th birthday. After two years working as a museum guide, a freelance caterer, and an Omnimax projectionist, she decided to return to the academic path. She entered Bryn Mawr College, excelled academically, and transferred to Harvard College. There, she joined the Harvard College Office of Admissions as a student guide and began to offer volunteer advice on admissions sites. Before long, families began to seek her professional counsel, and she opened her consulting business.
Following her graduation from Harvard College, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, Hanna received her J.D. degree from Harvard Law School. She completed two federal judicial clerkships and spent several years in law firm practice. Hanna has also worked as an admissions advisor and LSAT instructor for Kaplan, Inc. and Brody Admissions.
Hanna’s unique experience as a former troubled teen who overcame her mistakes gives her unusual sensitivity to the challenges young people face.
Hanna left legal practice in 2008 to become a full-time career and educational counselor. She is based in Chicago but works with client families nationwide. She enjoys supplementing her counseling work with pro bono work on behalf of underprivileged youth. She is a frequent speaker at high school career days and community events encouraging young people to reach for college.
Her recent speaking engagements include programs at the Union League Club of Chicago, the Chicago Math and Science Academy, the Harvard Club of Chicago, the Glencoe Public Library, and the Deerfield Public Library, as well as multiple presentations to fellow education professionals at meetings of the Higher Education Consultants Association, the Independent Educational Consultants Association, the Pacific Northwest Association for College Admission Counseling, and the Mawi Learning Power of Adults Conference. Hanna also serves as an expert witness in lawsuits concerning college and graduate admission problems. In 2018, she is scheduled to speak at conferences for admissions professionals in Ohio, Michigan, New Jersey, Illinois, New York, Texas, and California.