Maxine Seya, 28, of Irvine founded Leo College Consulting earlier this year to help families navigate the college application process in the wake of Operation Varsity Blues and a pandemic-prompted shake-up of higher education.
The Northwestern University alumna said her first career steered her toward becoming a foreign intelligence officer or federal agent. In summer 2015, she served as a trainee for the U.S. Dept. of Labor, assisting with investigations into racketeering and fraud.
“I wanted to see other people change for the better because of me,” Seya said.
An interest in uncovering information also led her to a reporting internship at CNN and a reporting fellowship with The Huffington Post. Ultimately, she decided the grind of daily journalism wasn’t for her but still found “there is a way to be brave and dig into things.”
When applying for a job as an SAT/ACT practice exam instructor, the interviewer suggested Seya consider a career as a college admission consultant instead because of her out-of-the-box thinking.
The world of college admissions was rocked by the federal prosecution of Newport Beach consultant William “Rick” Singer and numerous wealthy parents, including Douglas Hodge of Laguna Beach, for bribing officials at prestigious universities for bogus athletic recruitment. Anxiety over getting a coveted acceptance letter was ramped up even further during the pandemic as a growing number of universities scrapped ACT and SAT scores as requirements for college applications.
Seya claims to have helped nearly 100 families get into selective colleges. One of her primary missions is to help families break the breathless chase of college brand, prestige, and scarcity.
“The theme of my work is showing students and parents that college isn’t necessary… [it’s] more than pushing big schools like the Stanfords and Harvards. There are thousands of colleges that would be excited to have you as a student that year,” Seya said.
The Irvine High School alumna claims parents and students often lose sight of who they’re writing for when completing college applications: admission officers. Since 2017, Seya has been trained and volunteered as an admissions interviewer for Northwestern, which selects 6.8% of applicants.
A brief stint with Flex College Prep provided Seya with experience in institutional research, essay consulting, mock admission committees, and college application workshops.
“Every school has different criteria, what I learned from going through that training and interviewing students over the years was what people were missing in their applications,” she said.
It’s this kind of experience that led the Laguna Beach High School PTA to invite Seya to be a keynote speaker at a meeting attended by about 50 parents late last month.
“You could tell she knows her stuff,” LBHS PTA President James Azadian said. “A few parents asked me if I recorded it because they’d like to share it with other parents.”
One of Azadian’s PTA focuses has been to get more college information out to parents of high school students. He saw Seya’s presentation—which explicitly excluded a sales pitch—as an additional approach to what’s already offered by the high school college counseling staff.
“I tell people often that my job is like a therapist,” Seya said. “I have to do mediation between parents and students because they don’t always agree.”
Ultimately, Seya hopes to bring down family members’ blood pressure when it comes to finding and getting into the best college for their child. This may not always require students to register for every AP class, earn an Olympic athletic team slot, discover a cancer cure, and earn 5.0 GPA.
“I noticed that doing all of those things causes so much stress and by the time they reach their first or second year of college they’re burned out,” she said.
Whether a student is procrastinating an internet search of their preferred colleges or chosen to calendar their application deadlines months ahead of time, Seya pledges to turn no family away.
“The students that are the most prepared and the most motivated… those are the students of parents who want to be the most involvement,” she said. “That makes parents think this is the last thing I can do with them before they leave and they want to move involved than ever.”