By: Julian Brenman ’20

The college admission process is a stressful, exciting, and overwhelming stage which almost all juniors and seniors who attend Friends’ Central go through. One of the people who keeps the process rolling smoothly for everybody by encouraging students and serving as a professional advisor and seasoned “sounding board” is Ms. Ryan Coffey Keaton. Ryan joined Friends’ Central over the summer of 2017 as Co-Director of College Counseling. In her new role, she hopes to help students in the midst of submitting applications and writing admission essays “relax” and “enjoy themselves.”

Ryan’s approach to her position is centered around personal connection and experience. She reflects on her own experience attending college: “I went to SUNY Geneseo, which is a state university of New York, at the College of Geneseo, which was a teachers’ college when it was founded. It was incredible. It was bigger than my high school experience. It was about an hour and a half away from home.  I never really envisioned myself moving away from home, but living an hour and a half away was a pretty safe bridge to this new experience. I studied speech, communication, and rhetoric in business, and I loved it. College was the first time I encountered people who were very serious about going to school. It wasn’t just like people were going to a job. I think that can be a big change [in perspective and attitude] when going from high school to college. In college, people seem to know what they’re doing a lot more and are a lot more committed to it for the right reasons. That was the kind of attitude around which I really thrived.”

Though she eventually grew successful and came to embrace her time at university, Ryan shares that she didn’t start “thriving” immediately when she began:  “It took me a little bit of time to get my feet underneath me. I went from being a really top candidate in my high school to quickly confronting that there were some deficits in my education and really struggling my first three semesters of college. It took me three semesters to get back on my feet and to perform at the same level that I was used to performing at in high school. From my conversations here, I think people pretty much think that you’re born into being ready for college, and that wasn’t my experience at all. I knew I wanted to go to college, and I knew I was capable of working hard in different ways, I just had not had to work very hard in high school. When I first transitioned from high school, I think my ego took a little bit of blow, because I was used to performing at a really high level. The victory was so much sweeter because I had struggled and really bounced back, enabling me to learn new things about discipline: when to get up, how I learn best, how to self-advocate.”

While studying at Geneseo, Ryan served as a campus tour guide for visitors. During her senior year, she accepted the call to be a senior admission fellow. In this position, she went to college fairs, evaluated applications, and represented universities that were close to Geneseo. She found this all “very interesting,” and says her involvement as a college student led to her career as a college counselor. Before moving to the high school level, Ryan worked in the admissions office of universities for about a decade. These institutions include Niagara University, Bryn Mawr College, and Swarthmore College. She explains why she moved from working in colleges to working in high schools: “I knew that I liked the relationships that I was developing with students and talking to them. I switched sides of the desk because I did want to work more with students. I appreciate that aspect of my job: the coaching, the encouraging, and seeing my students grow day-by-day. Though I loved reading applications, [counseling high schoolers as they prepare to apply for college] is more fulfilling for me.”

Ryan finally came to Friends’ Central after spending many years in college counseling at Abington Friends’ School. She discusses her experience at Friends’ Central thus far, saying, “I love how open people have been in terms of accepting me into the community. They’re excited to work with me. I feel very, very welcomed here. I love going to concerts, basketball games, and art exhibits.”   

An interesting fact about Ryan is that her husband is also her predecessor at FCS. Before she started in this position, her husband, Mr. Michael  Keaton, worked in the same office. Mr. Keaton left the school to join Drexel University as an associate dean. Ms. Keaton talks of her husband, saying, “Our schedule is like hand-and-glove. When I’m more busy, he spends more time with the kids and vise-versa. In our conversations, we lovingly tease each other about the hard aspects of our jobs, but we don’t really get any work done. We don’t talk about kids getting into schools over the dinner table. I’ve encountered a fair amount of people who don’t know I’m married to Michael. That’s pretty funny and just makes me smile.”

Ryan, a native of Sanborn, New York, loves to read, travel, and use her glorious alto voice. She has two children–seven-year-old Morgan and four-year-old Isaiah–who are Friends’ Central Lower School students. Ryan will be performing in the ensemble of the Narberth Community Theatre upcoming production of Sister Act and makes note of the fact that she recently traveled to Abu Dhabi in the Middle East. She closes with the following words of wisdom: “I think, for the most part, high school students really underestimate themselves. They think they’re boring, they think they haven’t accomplished anything, they think that everyone else is doing a better job. This isn’t at all true. Every person has a really great story and the college search process is about finding a college community where your story fits.”

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