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Mel Preimesberger, owner of MP College Chat, is a fixture in college admissions in the Napa Valley community. She has been on both sides of the desk in admissions, and has a long-standing history of community service and helping students succeed and find fit.
When fires raged through Napa Valley last year in the midst of application season, many students that Mel worked with were affected. Her own house was lost in the fire. Despite this, Mel displayed resilience as a community leader, helping students to complete their applications on time. We had the opportunity to connect with Mel to discuss her history and her story in the context of college admissions.
Channel CCR: Mel, thank you for chatting with us. Where did your journey in college admissions begin?
Mel: I started in college admissions in the 80s. I was getting burned out in social work, and a friend recommended that I come back to admissions on campus at USC. I started off sitting in a cubicle calculating transcripts. At that time, they had a team in admissions focused on out-of-state recruitment. That seemed like a lot of fun with travel, so I was promoted and my territory was the Southeast and Texas.
Channel CCR: That was a time of change in admissions - what did it feel like at USC?
Mel: Well, I left to spend more time with family and when I came back in 2000, everything had changed. USC had become more selective, marketing plans were better defined, and I had a chance to be part of that growth. We did a few things that were new at the time, including outreach for middle school students and high school freshmen and sophomores. Eventually I moved onto the area of multicultural recruitment and special programming and events. And this was on top of reading a ton of admissions files and making hundreds of admissions decisions each year.
Following that, I worked as a director of college counseling in a high school setting as a college counselor. After that, I transitioned into independent counseling. I started as a volunteer at my local church in youth group. And it was a continuation of work that I had always done - counseling friends, family, and even other students I came across. It was always a part of what I did.
Channel CCR: Now that you’re in Napa Valley, how do you stay connected?
Mel: In addition to my practice, I’ve been involved in the community. Joining HECA has been my community, and I absolutely fell in love with the people and the leadership. Being in Napa, I feel a little isolated, so it’s good to have friends on both the college side and IEC colleagues. I also joined IECA and I chaired their college committee, and it helped keep me connected with people that do the type of work that I do.
Channel CCR: What are some of the trends and topics you see in the process?
Mel: It’s been interesting to see how selective and competitive this has become over the years. A personal goal I have is to help my students become aware of the 3,200 colleges and universities that are out there. We still need to find fit for students, students still need to own the process.
Channel CCR: What advice do you have for students?
Mel: Self-advocacy. Students need to learn how to advocate for themselves, even after they get into school. Picking classes, picking majors, even getting help. I think the mindset should be to really research the colleges, and not just rely on where your friends have gone. Do the homework. Read the curriculum and imagine what your full four years is going to look like. This process has become so overwhelming for students - students try to do their best work, to the point that they don’t have the time to vet out where they should really be. My advice is “don’t rely on rankings” - instead, think about where you’re interested and delve down into that department.
Channel CCR: You were personally affected by the Napa fires last year. Can you share your story?
Mel: It started off like any other day. I was on my way to a community presentation at a church in Sacramento. I had my laptop and my student files with me because it was October, and the UC applications were live. All of a sudden, I started getting phone calls and text messages asking if I was okay. I had no idea what was going on. All of a sudden, I turned on the news and sure enough, there was a huge fire in my house. I had a friend go over, but the smoke was so thick she couldn’t even get through.
When I finally got a hold of my husband, he told me that everything was on fire around us, and asked me what he should take from the house. He took the basics, only had a few minutes to get out the house, grabbed the dog, and that was it. We lost everything.
Channel CCR: What did you do next?
Mel: We lived in a hotel the next two months. It was like living in a war zone. People were walking around with gas masks on. We had no cell service. No internet. It was difficult to get in touch with our students, and many were evacuated.
Channel CCR: How did this affect your students’ college applications?
Mel: We had college applications due. When things settled down, I told them the mark of someone who is resourceful is that we keep going. We will not use this fire as an excuse, and I told everyone that I expected everyone to keep working on them. Even though college were offering students an opportunity to have an extension on their application, our goal was to get everything done before the winter holiday. So my students all honored their commitments and their deadlines - I was so proud of my students because they did it. It was scary because students were displaced, they were evacuating, and they didn’t always have internet. But they did it.
Channel CCR: How did your community rally around those affected by the fires?
Mel: A colleague of mine, Sharon Harris, lives in New Hampshire. She donated her administrative assistant’s time and helped to organize an outreach initiative. We also gathered the other HECA members in Napa, and we partnered with a local Sylvan learning center to host workshops for students in Napa who needed help that had gotten thrown off track because of the fire. As a community, we were supported, and that’s also how we came together.
Channel CCR: One final note on your service in the community. What are some of the ways you like to make college admissions a community effort?
Mel: I always try to find ways to give back to the community. I spend a lot of time giving presentations at local high schools to share academic rigor and how that plays a role in the admissions process. I’m also about to participate with a gathering of community experts presenting to the members of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Napa Valley.
Mel, thank you so much for taking time to talk with us about your background, your contributions to college admissions, and how the Napa fires affected the college admissions journeys of students in the community.
Mel: Oh, you’re welcome! Thank you so much, and thanks for everything that you do.