Meet Dawn Blanchard

Dawn Blanchard
Independent Educational Consultant
Early Light Educational Consulting (NC)

How did you become an independent educational consultant?
Long ago on a coast far away, I was searching for just the right job. As a first-generation college student reared in a single-parent home with eight siblings, I graduated with a psychology/sociology double major and a desire to do well by doing good. Fresh out of college, I was hired for a one-year position as a traveling national director, setting up mentoring programs for at-risk youth matched with student-athlete volunteers from forty colleges and universities across the United States. It was a life-changing experience.

When that job was over, my new husband and I took up residence in San Diego, where he earned a master's degree while I worked at a social service agency. We made a competitive wager about which state we should live in next, resting the decision on whoever secured the first job. Being more "Type-A" than my mellow spouse, I promptly signed up for an all-day career assessment course, which helped me discover an aptitude for student personnel work. I quickly applied for and was offered a college admission counseling position at my alma mater. I won the bet, so my California-born-and-bred husband and I moved to Durham, North Carolina, in August 1981. I contentedly worked in college admission for a total of sixteen years. 

My family moved to Minnesota, where I enjoyed a half-time job at a college-prep high school. I was learning the ropes of college counseling under a future NACAC president and another terrific colleague. During those years, I earned professional certifications and toured dozens of college campuses while serving 50+ students one-on-one. When my husband’s next job moved us back to North Carolina, I mustered up the courage to follow the advice and encouragement of friends and mentors and set up my own independent educational consulting practice. Eagerly serving my first two private students plus many pro bono clients led to several dozen more signing on within a year or two. My client load grew exponentially, by word-of-mouth, until I was forced to restructure my business in order to balance my lifestyle for the sake of my students, my family, and my sanity.

What made you decide to get into this field?
It all started in Miami, Florida, in the mid-1950s. I grew up in a chaotic home surrounded by mental illness, but I was blessed because I adored school. Sitting in my fourth-grade classroom, I decided I'd need to go to college if I were to have any chance of becoming independent and happy one day, so I sat up straight, listened intently to my teachers, and did my best to excel. My home life only got worse, but I received a prestigious academic scholarship and, with little emotional or financial support from family, I was the first to graduate from college. 

Getting to know myself better—thanks to that personality assessment tool in 1981—enabled me to embrace my interest in helping students seek a post-secondary education. My life experiences naturally contributed to me developing the necessary skills and, once I recognized a palpable desire to help families according to their students' particular needs, I was hooked on independent educational consulting.

How has NACAC played a role in your career?
I attended my first NACAC conference way back in 1981–1982 when I worked for Duke University's undergraduate admission office. I am proud to be a member today. From 1999 to 2001, I gained expertise from working in the same office with the esteemed director of college counseling at The Blake School in Minneapolis and was not surprised when he became the president of NACAC a few years later. As a member of NACAC, I have contributed to the Imagine Fund, attended national conferences, and served as a NACAC teller. Having the NACAC acronym behind my name has undoubtedly benefited me in my business, and I am grateful for the support I have at my fingertips as a NACAC member. 

When you aren’t working, what do you like to do?
When I am not working, I spend time with loved ones, especially two delightful granddaughters. I see movies, journal extensively, take photos, and travel as much as I can to see wonderful places and peoples. Over the past three years, besides taking trips within the U.S., I visited friends and family in Sweden, Finland, Italy, and Australia. I also try to exercise to mitigate the long periods of sitting. With one of my daughters-in-law, I recently tried rock wall climbing and plan to climb even higher next time. 

If you could be any fictional character, who would it be and why?
The 1987 television version of Anne of Green Gables captured my heart when I was a young mother. Anne Shirley's capacity for love and gratitude inspired me then and now. Her authenticity, grit, and pluck, despite all the obstacles in her life, still brings a sentimental tear to my eyes.

Describe yourself in five words.
Faithful, generous, empathetic, diligent, and friendly.

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