We talked to Leo Sanada of WeAdmit about online college counselling and COVID-19’s impact on higher education.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Leo Sanada: So far, we’ve been very lucky. My wife and I both work remotely, so we’ve been able to stay home and healthy despite the pandemic. Meanwhile, my two kids are still in preschool, and their school took this very seriously. It’s great that they’ve still been able to go out and learn, while also knowing they will be safe.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded WeAdmit.
Leo Sanada: I began my career in Japan’s corporate world, and that experience taught me something very important – that passion is far more valuable than prestige. A lot of my peers got sucked into careers they didn’t have any passion for, simply because it was what others expected of them, and it didn’t take long for them to burn out as a result. Hopefully, you can see the parallels between this environment and how many college students enter into the US. This is why I eventually founded WeAdmit. Yes, our focus is on getting students into good colleges, but even more importantly, we want to ensure those colleges are the best fit for them and their future – not just the highest ranking on some arbitrary list.
How does WeAdmit innovate?
Leo Sanada: By far, our greatest innovation at WeAdmit is moving the college counseling process online. Our all-online structure allows us to build each of our students a personalized team of some of the country’s most talented college counselors. Not only that, but we’re also able to adjust to fit each student’s personal needs and schedule because we’re not locked down to a specific time zone or office building. Basically, we’ve moved college counseling into the modern internet era.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Leo Sanada: We’ve been very fortunate – because we’re an online company, the pandemic hasn’t forced us to close offices or stop operating. However, it has required us to shift our focus. Now, rather than just helping students with the usual college preparations, we’ve also had to help them navigate some more complex decisions regarding the pandemic. Many colleges are closing or changing their schedules dramatically, and it seems every day brings a new hurdle for students to overcome. We’ve been working round-the-clock to keep track of these changes so we can help our students make informed choices, despite all of this uncertainty.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Leo Sanada: We haven’t had to make any difficult decisions yet – instead, the pandemic has encouraged us to double-down on our all-online approach. We can tap into top-notch talent from anywhere in the world, and as more college counselors are forced to work from home, we’ve been able to reach out to offer them a solution. Really, this pandemic has just shown us that our all-online model is the right choice.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, and how do you project yourself and WeAdmit in the future?
Leo Sanada: Personally, I’ve dealt with the stress of this pandemic by keeping a strong daily routine. I wake up early, stretch and meditate, and take some time to soak in the outdoors before I get to work. Usually, I’ll work throughout the morning before taking a short break around mid-afternoon to rest and recharge. Toss in a few runs throughout the week, and I’ve been able to stay grounded despite how chaotic the world is. Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned when it comes to dealing with stress is to handle work-related stress at work, not at home. Rather than trying to cover up stress by distracting myself, I focus on what I can actively do to relieve or solve that stress, and then I don’t give up until I’ve overcome it. Fortunately, at WeAdmit, we’re a pretty optimistic bunch – everything is a learning opportunity!
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Leo Sanada: WeAdmit is in an interesting position, because – though you might think our competitors are traditional college counselors – they’re actually our partners. We regularly hire traditional counselors to join our team, giving them access to a wider reach of students, while we benefit from their expertise and skills. Of course, we do have some competition from other online college admissions startups. Overall though, our team-based model and our focus on finding each student’s best-fit college set us apart. We walk all our students through a unique methodology designed to help them discover their life goals and then work together to match them with the right colleges for achieving those goals.
Your final thoughts?
Leo Sanada: Overall, while this pandemic has been a stressful, difficult experience for students and their families, it’s also an opportunity. Rather than stumbling through this experience and hoping for things to go “back to normal,” the best thing we can do is take stock of our new situation and learn how to adapt and improve. For us, that means leveraging our all-online structure and doing everything we can to support and encourage our students – especially during these vulnerable times.
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