Make Yourself Known

posted by: Lisa Cynamon Mayers, senior admissions consultant

former admission counselor: Washington University in St. Louis, Case Western Reserve University

I can still rattle off the names of my favorite applicants to Washington University where I worked as an admission counselor for three years. Even those students who ultimately decided to attend another college are still marked in my memory. I can recall how we first met-- on campus, at their high schools, in a group meeting-- and I remember with fondness these amazing young people standing at the brink of this great transition. In the midst of application madness, high schoolers and their parents often forget that admission counselors are human-- sensitive, extroverted, friendly, personable folks with feelings. At a deep level admission counselors are sensitive to the rollercoaster of emotions felt by applicants and their families. We are aware of the maelstrom of feelings that the process precipitates. At a large number of colleges, dare I say the majority, applications are individually read, i.e. by a human, not a computer, and decisions are made in a sensitive, sometimes gut-wrenching way. For this reason, particularly at the most selective schools in the country, it can be advantageous for prospective students to develop a relationship, a connection, with an admission point person.

Many colleges and universities divide their admission staff and the world into territories. An admission counselor is responsible for a given region which would include travel, application reading, and territory management. Imagine this, suddenly you’ve switched roles, you are no longer a high school student; you are an admission counselor. Your responsibility is to read thousands of applications from qualified students-- the majority of whom are prepared for your college-- and make admission decisions on these students. Given a group of students with comparable grades, test scores, and extracurricular activities, who would you admit: the student who made a favorable impression on you and interacted with you during the process, or the student you’ve never met who you can’t gauge level of interest or other personal qualities? Ding ding ding. Obviously the right answer is the student who has made a personal connection.

So how do you make this personal connection? The greatest impressions that students made on me happened naturally during an information session, high school visit, college fair, or interview. Some of you might not have direct access to an admission counselor. There may not be visits scheduled in your area and you may not have been able to visit every campus. Not to worry. You can still demonstrate interest and establish a personal connection with an admission counselor through e-mail and the telephone.  It is key to demonstrate your interest in the college and also convey to the admission counselor your unique qualities and personality. At the end of the day you want every interaction you have with the colleges on your short list to be meaningful and to make a positive impression.

The Gap Year

By Sara Cronin, senior admissions consultant

Former admission officer at Providence College and the University of Connecticut

As juniors begin to think about their time after high school many will consider post-secondary college plans.  Students often begin to think about big or small schools, far from home or close by, city or suburban.  One opportunity that some juniors may begin to explore is a gap year.  The idea of a gap year has grown in popularity over the last several years, and now Tufts University and other similar programs are making it an easier possibility.

A gap year is generally defined as an extended break between high school and college.  Often seniors in high school apply to college, get accepted, and then defer their admission for six months to a year.  The gap year experience can take on a number of different possibilities.  The year off after high school can be utilized to volunteer locally or abroad, travel, intern or work in a variety of settings.  Students who take advantage of the gap year experience often find themselves in a very different setting than what they would discover on a college campus. 

According to the American Gap Association, an organization that is an “accreditation and standards-setting organization for gap years that is recognized as such by the US Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission,” interest and enrollment is growing steadily in gap programs.  There are no definitive numbers regarding who is choosing to pursue a gap experience, but the overall trends show a significant growth in students taking time off prior to college.

The reasons that students pursue gap year opportunities vary widely. Some students feel they are not ready for the rigors of a collegiate academic experience.  Other students look to expand their horizons beyond the US borders before embarking on their collegiate careers in the States. While other students are looking to earn both money and experience prior to college.  Although the reasons may vary as to why students choose a gap year, colleges report that those students who take six months to a year before enrolling have a greater maturity towards and appreciation for the university experience.  Studies show that 90 percent of students who took a gap year returned to college within a year (Source: Wall Street Journal).

Tufts University introduced an innovative program a few years ago to give students a gap year opportunity. Tufts offers a fully funded "1+4" program that provides students an opportunity to engage in civic experiences around the globe.  According to Tuft’s website, the University and its Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service offer a bridge-year program, called Tufts 1+4.  This program provides a structured year of full-time national or international service before students begin their four years of undergraduate study.

Another gap year example is at Elon University in North Carolina, which offers a gap semester program available only to enrolling freshman.  This program provides students the opportunity to spend the fall semester in three diverse settings and then return to Elon for the winter term and spring semester.              

There are numerous groups and organizations that provide gap year opportunities.  Costs can vary as widely as the program options, but the overall goal is often the same: to expand one’s horizons, increase self-awareness and challenge one’s comfort zone.  A great place to start is with the American Gap Association which offers an extensive amount of information and accredits gap programs.

Summer is almost here ---- and I haven't figured out my plans yet!!

Summer is right around the corner. What do you do if you don’t have a summer plan yet?  

It’s always nice to organize your schedule around your family’s vacation or reunion plans.  Summer is of course an important time to relax and reconnect, and it is good to keep that as a priority.


In deciding what you do with the rest of your summer, you should just be sure you spend your time thoughtfully and purposefully.


Some high school students choose to do summer academic enrichment – and while it may be too late to sign up for some of the highly selective programs at colleges, there is likely still time to sign up for local summer academic programs if that is something you are looking for. It is a great opportunity to learn something that might not be offered at your high school or to get a jump on a class that you know will be challenging for you in the fall.


My own kids always have summer jobs in the coastal community where their grandparents live. They get plenty of time to spend with family, hang out and play with friends outside, and get all the benefits that come with having a job – including money!  They of course have to figure out how to balance all of this with whatever their pre-season sports schedule and academic fall requirements may be. Sometimes that includes spending time on SAT or ACT prep, or writing college essays.


Recently I saw a State Farm commercial on TV for a powerful new volunteering initiative called Neighborhood of Good. This site is a clearing house for volunteer activities in your area – they can be ongoing opportunities or one day events. I was particularly impressed by how people can search by interest and by location. Finding an opportunity in your area would be a great experience to add to your college resume, but even more importantly, it would be an excellent chance to use your free time to make a meaningful difference.   This is a real game changer.  Check it out! 


Neighborhood of Good

by:  Becky Georgenes 

former Princeton Admission Officer
Senior College Counselor 
Road to College