Katie Garrett’s favorite childhood Christmas gift was a chalkboard on an easel. She’d use it to spend hours educating her stuffed animals about what they’d need to know in life.
Now, as the founder of Garrett Educational Consulting, she spends her days helping students figure out their next steps in life. And when a student is knee-deep in college applications, there’s no time for fun and games. Fortunately, Katie’s passion for academics and penchant for personal relationships has helped hundreds of students and families navigate the waters of college counseling, boarding school admissions and more.
“This is one of the first times in these students’ lives that they have had to lay it all out there and allow themselves and their accomplishments to be judged by an unknown admissions officer. The fact that they trust me and allow me to support them while encouraging them to be their best is such a gift,” she says.
Two years ago, she helped form the Carolina Educational & Therapeutic Collaborative, which connects families with educational, psychological and therapeutic resources to help students make important decisions about the future.
For Katie, the personal connections with students and their families are the biggest reward. But her path to success wasn’t always paved with hugs and high fives. Read on to find out how she got here, her plans for the future, and what advice she’d give to other would-be entrepreneurs.
1. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Between deciding whether I was going to be an Olympic athlete in the form of Nadia Comaneci or Dorothy Hamill (and yes, I did actually get the Dorothy Hamill haircut in 2nd grade and it was beyond tragic), I always loved to play school.
My most coveted Christmas gift was a chalkboard on a stand — I would spend hours teaching my Raggedy Ann and stuffed animals how to be good students. I guess in some ways I ended up following that path!
2. What was your first job?
My plan had been to get my MBA at Notre Dame straight from Vanderbilt, however, that plan changed when I was offered a position as a full-time research assistant with one of my psychology professors.
It was an opportunity I could not pass up, so, for an annual salary of $17,492, I oversaw a federal grant from the National Institute of Health to research what causes children to deviate from societal norms. I learned so much about the importance of education and about how circumstances can dramatically impact each child’s future. I’m sure I would not have the valuable perspective I have now had I not taken that path.
3. How did you get into the business you’re in now?
I was fortunate to be able to take time off to be with my own children when they were little, but I knew that I wanted to go back to work as they got older and began school.
My parents are entrepreneurs, so the idea of charting my own course came naturally to me. As I contemplated what I enjoyed doing and how that could fit with the responsibilities of raising a family, it quickly became clear that I wanted to work with students in some way.
My practice initially focused on tutoring and executive functioning support, and just over eight years ago I moved full-time into educational consulting for both boarding school and college.
4. How many years has it taken you to get to where you are today?
Honestly? 50. I just hit that big milestone in February and every single minute of the last fifty years has led me to where I am today. I hope that I don’t ever stop challenging myself to do better and be better.
5. What’s the best advice you ever got?
“Don’t forget the time, effort and investment that went into acquiring the knowledge and experience you have.”
Both my husband and my parents have been so supportive of my career path, and often remind me to value my expertise and the work it took to accumulate it.
6. What advice would YOU give?
“If you want to have an original thought, you have to prepare to be wrong.”
Entrepreneurship is neither linear or exponential; there will be both crests and valleys on the path to success. How you respond to the lows is just as important as how you respond to the highs.
7. What’s one of the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome (or even just walk away from)?
Trust your gut and choose your clients carefully —- the ability to form a meaningful personal connection with each one of my clients is a priority.
8. What’s the number one mistake you think women in business make?
Questioning themselves, their worth, and their expertise.
9. How do you start and/or end your workday every day?
Coffee ALWAYS and wine sometimes… in that order.
10. What’s the highlight of your business?
This is one of the first times in these students’ lives that they have had to lay it all out there and allow themselves and their accomplishments to be judged by an unknown admissions officer. The fact that they trust me and allow me to support them while encouraging them to be their best is such a gift.
The long-term relationships I have established with many of my students and their families makes being an empty-nester much more tolerable. I go to my students’ sporting events, talk them through friendship ups-and-downs, and remind them that their parents love them and want what is best for them (regardless of the fact that they are still grounded next weekend).
11. What’s been the low point of your journey?
The most difficult part of my journey with these kids is being privy to their mental and emotional challenges. That being said, I would not trade that for anything and am so humbled that they feel they can turn to me for support. I often need to remind parents that high school and college is a three-legged stool: academic, emotional, and social. If one of those legs is off-kilter, the integrity of the stool is compromised and the same is true for our kids.
As a society, we need to acknowledge the importance of our kids’ emotional and social well-being in addition to their academic and athletic well-being, as it is just as important to their long-term success.
12. Do you have a 5-year plan for your business?
Two years ago, I made the commitment to partner with Michele Mannering, Ph.D., and Ashley Barbour to form the Carolina Educational and Therapeutic Collaborative. We feel that this partnership is a vital step in serving our community in a more comprehensive manner. I hope that over the next five years we will be able to continue to educate, guide, and support families as they make important decisions regarding each of their children’s futures.
13. Are you able to mentor other women professionally? If so, how?
I have had several of my students work with me for summer and holiday internships after they have completed their own process, which I absolutely love! It has been so amazing to see how they have grown and matured over our years together, while also letting them see this process from the other side. It also gives them a glimpse into what being an entrepreneur truly entails — and it is not all perfect and glamorous.
14. What’s the best (in-person or virtual) local networking option?
Everyone has questions regarding education and admissions, so I try to be accessible and available to answer those even in social situations. I love what I do and am always happy to provide guidance. I do not see it as networking, but more of a commitment to my community and my profession.
15. How can women support one another professionally, either as coworkers or peers in similar positions?
There is room for all of us to find our own success, and we are more successful when we empower others to be better. That is the beauty of being an entrepreneur: you can decide what your own success looks like and then work to achieve it. It can be based on finances, expertise, notoriety, self-worth — whatever is important to you.
Women should recognize and support each other in finding that success, even if their ideas of it manifest differently. It isn’t always easy to be a female self-starter so women should uplift and empower each other to achieve their respective goals, working together even if their paths differ.
16. Where’s your favorite place to go to dinner (and what do you order?)
I love Osteria Luca in Park Road Shopping Center both for dine-in and take-out. I typically start with the Little Gem or Shaved Vegetable Salad and then indulge with the Broccoli Rabe and Sausage Woodfired Pizza on rice-flour crust. Amazing!
17. For workwear: Dress or pants?
I try to dress for my audience. I work with teenagers predominantly, and in case you haven’t spent much time with them recently, they can be a tough crowd. So, if I have a day with mostly teens in my office, I typically choose pants or jeans with a blazer and loafers or sneakers. If I am presenting or have more formal meetings, I love a dress.
18. What’s your daytime drink of choice: coffee, Diet Coke, etc.?
Water, water, water. Everyone knows that I always have at least two sources of water sitting in front of me at all times and half a dozen Essentia water bottles rolling around in my car.
19. (Pre-pandemic or if you had your way!) WFH or head into the office?
I have a dedicated “office” in addition to my WFH office which is great as it gives me a lot of flexibility. Since I work with clients both locally and across the country, my days are often back and forth between in person meetings and Zoom. I anticipate that will continue as I see the value to both. While Zoom is easy and efficient, I think many of my local clients are Zoomed out and eager to meet in person!
20. What else do you want others to know about yourself, your company or your journey?
I am constantly striving to become more knowledgeable in all areas of educational consulting which includes being on more than 300 campuses, attending several conferences a year, becoming a Certified Parenting Coach, and earning the designation as a Certified Educational Planner.
However, my most important professional and personal achievement is definitely being a mother to my two (now adult) children and our fur babies. They have taught me so much along the way and I continue to learn from and be inspired by them on a daily basis. However, it has not always been easy. When they were little and I was having a challenging day, I would often call my mom to vent. In a very reassuring tone, she would respond, “Katie, don’t sweat the small stuff now. You need to save your energy for the big stuff down the road that really matters.”
That being said, I have made many mistakes as a parent — and still do. Turns out their Mimi was right — this parenting thing is no joke!
Carolina Educational & Therapeutic Collaborative specializes in providing educational, psychological, and therapeutic consulting services. Our team works together to design solutions for the families that we serve using a multi-faceted approach.
Contact Carolina Educational & Therapeutic Collaborative here.