When you’re a budding senior in high school, college admissions can seem like a gray cloud hovering over you. For many, it’s the first big, adult decision you make regarding your future: Where do I want to go to college?
There are an abundance of factors that loom: Do I want to move far away from home? Do I want to follow in my parent’s footsteps? Do they have my major? How can I afford it?
With all these questions swirling in a student’s mind, that’s where PLNU alumni Chad Van Soest (B.A. 03, M.Ed 10) steps in. Van Soest is an independent educational consultant with a mission to ease the minds of students as they plot college admissions whilst still trying to tackle things like prom and AP tests. It’s a lot.
“I have compassion for the student in transition,” Van Soest says. “I think when you are a senior in high school, that’s one of the toughest transition periods in your life.”
“They associate their identity [with] whether they get in or not. I’m trying to be a healthy advisor or mentor in that whole process. My passion is knowing that not only are these students trying to find the place they’re going to get their education and profession out of, but the place that’s going to really send them on this trajectory in life.”
It’s much more than checking a box on an application or doing a simple Google search. There are layers to finding the right school for the right student. Van Soest can empathize — the transition from high school senior to college freshman wasn’t easy for him.
“I was the wandering soul in high school and college where I wasn’t really sure what my direction was,” Van Soest, who was a third-generation PLNU student, said. “I landed on a major out of fear because I didn’t want to go in undeclared. Now I can lend a healthy perspective that it’s okay to go in undeclared. You’ll be fine. It’s okay to take your time to figure it out.”
“I have compassion for the student in transition. I think when you are a senior in high school, that’s one of the toughest transition periods in your life.”
PLNU was the only college he applied to. He was insistent on continuing the family legacy that his grandfather, parents, and brother started — he absolutely loved his time in Lomaland and continues to serve on the alumni board. But today, he doesn’t advise his students to only apply to one school. They have options, and he encourages them to dig deeper.
“Point Loma to me was the prototypical example of making wonderful friends, having wonderful mentors, and doing all those things that not every high schooler thinks about, Van Soest explained. “They think, ‘Is the major going to be good? Am I going to be ready to make money when I graduate?’ Of course, PLNU does that, but it [also] set me on a good trajectory in life to not just have a profession but to be a good individual and find my calling.”
Using his personal college experience, Van Soest embarked on a mission to make sure future college students can make the most of their college decision. He was an undergraduate admission counselor for PLNU while also earning his Master’s in education on campus. Then, he went on to spend 10 years as a high school counselor at Valor Christian High School in Colorado.
Now, he runs his educational consultant business, Apex College Services. A nod to his love for mountain climbing and the outdoors, Van Soest’s business created the quintessential college tour guide that he never had.
“I understand there’s many pathways people can take,” he said. “If we envision the road or the path to college as a mountain… I’m a guide to help you figure out a path, because there’s not necessarily one right way to go.”
Van Soest wanted to ensure his recommendations were well-researched and had a personal flare. So in 2022, he and his wife, Brittany, their two dogs, and two cats hit the road in a camper for a year-long road trip to tour college campuses around the U.S. Now living in Florida, they jetted up to Maine as a starting point and worked their way back down as the months grew colder, ending in Georgia in December.
“I understand there’s many pathways people can take. If we envision the road or the path to college as a mountain… I’m a guide to help you figure out a path, because there’s not necessarily one right way to go.”
“It took a lot of planning. It took a lot of spreadsheets, it took a lot of me looking at maps, figuring out where I want to go,” he said. “You don’t want to move your camper every day, so I would have to find a place where we can set up camp for two weeks and where I was within two hours of colleges.”
He talked shop with admission counselors, scoped out the vibe of the campuses, and even jotted down the local cuisine scene.
“I’m in my industry, it’s important to be keen on all the college options that are out there. Helping students build a college list is a part of what I do,” Van Soest explains. “If a student is interested in Cornell University, what’s the area like? What do they have to offer? What is the feel [of the] campus? How close is the airport? Are there restaurants nearby?”
In total, Van Soest traveled over 35,000 miles, visited 160 colleges, camped at 60 sites, and traveled to 33 states in one year in order to add more out-of-book substance to college recommendations for his students.
“To be able to tell them, ‘I remember walking through and seeing this building’ or ‘Oh man, you should definitely check out their engineering program, they have a brand new facility.’ I do have notes, lots,” he adds, emphatically. “The whole intent was to educate myself on all those college options out there.”
Not every family of students applying to colleges has the luxury of touring hundreds of campuses to pick the best fit, but that shouldn’t hinder their decision on their student’s future. Van Soest also volunteers for the Matchlighters Scholar Program, which pairs high-achieving students from low-income households with experienced counselors for free.
Recently, one of his students from the program who lives in Las Vegas received some great news: His QuestBridge college application — an eight-page essay, rigorous application for 50 of the country’s elite colleges — was a finalist. This means that he’s going to be matched with one of the top four or five schools that he chose. His dreams were coming true, and one of the first things he did was pick up the phone and call Van Soest.
“It’s a good example of why I do what I do,” he said proudly. “It’s a reminder that [this] is a calling, it’s not all about the money.”
As Van Soest continues to help students navigate to the top of their personal apex mountain, he always takes a moment to revel in their resiliency.
“It’s humbling. I don’t know that I could do half the things that they’re doing,” he remarked. “Students are so involved, they’re juggling so much, and to add on top of that, the complexities of what colleges demand of you now. I’m amazed at what students are capable of.”