Meet Alyson Tom

Alyson Tom headshotAlyson Tom
Associate Director of College Counseling
Castilleja School (CA)
Co-Leader of the Asian American/Pacific Islander SIG

What drew you to the world of college counseling?
Both of my parents were educators, but I fell into the college admission world by accident. Right out of college I co-taught middle school English in the Japanese public school system through the JET Program. I enjoyed working with students, but I also realized that middle schoolers were not my calling. Once back in the US, I was helping a family member look at colleges and offered to take her to visit Houston-area schools. When I was on the Rice website trying to find info session times, I clicked on the employment opportunities link out of curiosity. The admission position looked fun, so I applied on a whim. I was hired and stayed there for five years. I loved admission work but wanted more control over my schedule, so I switched to the high school side. I’m now in my tenth year on the high school side and haven’t looked back.

What is your favorite part of the job?
It’s all about the students! It’s powerful and humbling to be a small part of a student’s life journey.

How did you get involved with the Asian American/Pacific Islander SIG?
When I started in admission, I was the only Asian American in my office for the majority of my time there, and I really didn’t run into many Asian American admission officers from other colleges on the road either. It was isolating at times, so I felt drawn to the AAPI SIG. It was so empowering to meet AAPI leaders in the field. In fact, the SIG is one of the reasons I felt the courage to apply for a position on the NACAC Government Relations Committee and why I began presenting more often at conferences. I started going to SIG meetings every time I attended the NACAC national conference. The longer I was a member, the more involved I got. When one of the SIG co-leaders retired in 2018, I was asked to take her place.

Why is this SIG important to you?
I see the SIG as a way to support colleagues in their professional development, promote AAPI representation in NACAC and our field in general, and advocate for AAPI students. Lately, one of my primary goals has been to encourage my AAPI colleagues to get more involved in professional organizations. There’s a serious lack of AAPI representation in NACAC and regional ACAC conference sessions and leadership, and that needs to change. Another goal is to educate the greater professional community that the AAPI community is not a monolith; rather, it’s a diverse group that encompasses a wide range of ethnicities, skin colors, cultures, socioeconomic backgrounds, educational attainment, and more.

Why should counselors and admission professionals get involved with a NACAC SIG?
Representation matters, and there’s strength in numbers. SIGs are a great way to network with people and to unite under a common theme. You might join forces with others in the SIG to advocate for particular populations or even start a movement. You could share best practices, or you may find comfort in being in a space with others who share similar characteristics. You might identify a mentor (or become a mentor!), find conference co-presenters, or meet others who inspire you to grow personally or professionally. There’s really no downside.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing our profession today?
The costs associated with college is a huge barrier for students. And I’m not only talking about tuition. Even the costs of applying to college and for financial aid can be major hurdles. For example, if a student just misses the fee waiver cutoff for the SAT or ACT, they’ll have to pay to take (and usually re-take) the test(s), pay to send the scores to colleges, and pay for application fees. They also have to pay to submit the CSS Profile. (Why do students who need financial aid have to pay to be considered for financial aid?) If the students are lucky, the colleges they’re applying to will accept self-reported scores and/or do not have application fees. If they’re lucky, they attend a high school that can help subsidize these costs or that will advocate for them by requesting fee waivers even if they didn’t officially qualify for them. Not all students are lucky. Only after they’ve jumped through these hoops can they then worry about paying for college.

When you aren’t working, what do you like to do?
I really enjoy travel, and I’m hoping to visit all 50 states before I turn 50. My husband and I do escape rooms whenever we travel; we also like to make music together — he plays the piano while I sing. Up until my recent pregnancy, I was working toward a black belt in taekwondo, so I hope to get back into it eventually. In the summers, I enjoy volunteering, helping first-gen and low-income students with the college application process. I’m also a homebody at heart (introvert here!), so a day at home with no formal plans is equally glorious.

If you could be any fictional character, who would it be and why?
Pretty much any character played by Michelle Yeoh, who has a history of playing strong women (good and bad). She’s a boss.

Expand / Collapse All