Build Your Brand, Build Your Future: Lessons from Stacey Ross Cohen’s Playbook for College and Career Success


Meet Stacey Ross Cohen, CEO, an award-winning brand professional, and CEO of Co-Communications. A TEDX speaker and contributor at prominent media outlets (Entrepreneur, Huff Post, Thrive Global), Stacey has been recognized as PRSA Practitioner of the Year, City & State NY/Power 100, and Forbes Enterprise. She holds an MBA from Fordham University and a Media/Technology certificate from NYU Leonard Stern School of Business.

Stacey’s book Brand Up: The Ultimate Playbook for College & Career Success (Post Hill Press/Simon & Schuster) equips teens with the tools necessary to establish a positive narrative and social media presence that can open doors to desired colleges and coveted first jobs. It’s packed with 190 pages of exercises, tips templates, and invaluable insights collected from more than 40 college admissions officers and educational consultants on how to stand out in our increasingly cluttered and competitive world.


The book has received praise from ABC’s Shark Tank’s Barbara Corcoran from ABC’s Shark Tank, who calls the book a must-read “if you want to excel at networking and entrepreneurship in the classroom and in the boardroom.”

She knows her stuff and has given advice to so many over the years. I am fortunate to call her a friend. I sat down with Stacey to discuss her new book Brand Up and what follows are some gems from an interview:

Why did you write Brand Up? The back story is that when my daughter (who is now in her 20s) was going through the high-anxiety college admission process, I had an epiphany: marketing yourself and standing out is essential to landing on top of the admission officer’s pile. Fast forward; I was a Huffington Post contributor and wrote an article on developing a Personal Brand early and found a high school in Florida that offered a digital leadership class that was mandatory for all 9th graders. The teacher (and Brand Up contributing author), Jason Shaffer reached out to me and invited me to audit his class; I was blown away! I returned to New York and wrote another Huff Post article, which went viral. I knew I had something here, and the book journey began.

What do you hope you will accomplish with the book? I hope to accomplish two things: First, I want to level the playing field and give all teens an edge no matter what their path in life – – not just for kids going to Ivy League schools but those that want to go into trades like hairdressing or carpentry. Second, I hope to make personal branding and digital leadership a part of every high school curriculum.


Why is PB important for teens? Many people have the misconception that personal branding is all about “me, me, me.” Not so. Personal branding is about your value to others. If you want to be on the top of a decision-makers list, you need to answer why they should choose you. Personal branding is no longer a luxury; it is a requirement. College admissions are more than just test scores and essays; in fact, many schools are now test-optional. Most admission officers and job recruiters monitor social media, so what teens post online matters. Google has become the new resume, and teens need to put their best digital foot forward early on to increase their chances of gaining admission to top-choice colleges, scholarships, internships, and jobs.

What tips can you give teens for making their social media work for them while still reflecting on who they are and what they care about? First and foremost, teens (and adults) need to understand that everything they post on social media is permanent and discoverable. I’m not telling kids not to be themselves; instead, they should be intentional and reflect values and character. Before posting, teens should pause and ask themselves if they would want their college admissions officer, future employer, or parents to see their posts. I also recommend teens put content through the PURE test (positive, unbiased, respectful, and ethical) and create a LinkedIn profile by the age of 16. While you should include your involvement in community activities on your application, showing this through social media is another thing. For example, do you have photos of collecting food and supplies for a local homeless shelter? Are you retweeting or reposting interesting articles about climate change?

With college admission rates declining, what tips can you share with teens and parents to help them stand out and get accepted? I interviewed over 40 admission officers and educational consultants for Brand Up, and they provided so many gems. Four of the top tips I heard were:

  1. Showcase your best characteristics (e.g., leadership, collaboration, creativity) at all touchpoints (social media, application, essay, interview, recommendations).
  2. Distinguish yourself from others in a meaningful way. One of the educational consultants said it best: “Be one of ten; don’t be in a pack of nine.”
  3. Perform a strategic social media audit and go back at least two years. Posts should reflect a teen’s values, character, and personality. If a teen was tagged in an inappropriate post, ask to be untagged.
  4. Engaging with target colleges through social media, such as following accounts and connecting with admissions officers, alums, professors, and department heads, can also help teens stand out. Make sure to share pictures from a college tour you took.

You talk about essential life skills needed for college and a career. What are some of those critical skills? Brand Up is about more than just building a solid personal brand and leveraging social media. It teaches many essential skills to succeed in life, school, and business beyond personal branding and leveraging social media. For example, the book covers interviewing, networking, entrepreneurship, and empathy and provides templates (e.g., thank-you letters).

Are any specific “cautionary tales” you can share to reinforce why they SHOULD follow the tips in your book?    Yes! A well-known example is 10 incoming Harvard students who had their admissions revoked in 2017 due to offensive Facebook posts. Harvard’s acceptance rate then was 4.6% and is currently 3.2%. This incident, which I covered in my TEDx talk, shows that even smart kids are not always smart on social media. I don’t want teens to miss out on their dreams because of inappropriate behavior; even text messages can be a screenshot and shared.

Now that you finished your first book, do you have other books in you? Yes, Brand Up is meant to be a series, and the publisher and I are already planning for a second book release in 2024 geared toward college students and early-career individuals. I envision creating books for different stages in life and niches, such as moms reentering the workforce and real estate agents.


Photo Credit: Randi Childs Photography and “Style by Evan