Part I of 2: Last words from MB Seniors


The end of the academic year is coming, and one office  ritual involves collecting the REQUIRED FINAL TRANSCRIPT REQUEST from each senior. This form confirms the college or university destination (or alternate final plan) in writing; it also confirms any waitlists that are ongoing and enthusiastic.  Our staff is likely  to know all this information, but it is helpful to record everything from the point of view of the student.

David, Jill and I also look forward to two other questions that are embedded in this document.

One is  “Do you feel you were admitted to one of your top three (3) college choices?”  Parties outside our office ask us this question regularly about seniors.  We feel the reply contains more integrity if applicants themselves supply the answer.

The other question we can’t wait to peruse as the forms return is “What did you learn…..or how did you grow/change during the process?”  The responses are fascinating, thoughtful, candid–and truly represent a slice of the student experience in the college process.

Some learn lessons about administration and breaking down a large assignment.  “I learned that the best approach to the application process (especially a long one ) is organization: calm, diligent and patient.”  “Start early,” adds another member of the Class of 2014.  “Good to know when preparing my resume for jobs.

Several seniors emphasized that they improved their expository skills as they completed a range of long and short essays.  “The college process helped me become a better writer,” shared one student who will attend an Ivy institution.

Other seniors discovered insights about their personal philosophies and places in the world.   “Logic is good, but gut feelings are often better,” observed one young woman.  “I had to come to terms with a new set of standards by which to assess myself,” reflected one young man.

Other seniors discovered their approach to the future.  “I would likely be happy wherever I ended up,” confessed one early decision applicant.   “I did learn that I definitely wanted a school where I could practice my faith,” concluded another senior.   Considering her preliminary major and career-related choices, one student offered the following summary:  “I realized passion beats money in life.”

I will post more advice and observations from the Moses Brown Class of 2014 next week.  Members clearly learned and discovered a tremendous amount during their college searches and applications.

by Helen Scotte Gordon


The First Day of May

Wednesday, May 1, is a significant day: the deadline to submit a deposit (or letter of commitment) to hold a place in one freshman class.

On Wednesday of this week, a lengthy, adventuresome chapter closes for most seniors.  (A few will steadfastly carry on with a waitlist pursuit…but relatively few.)

May 1 marks the conclusion of a long sequence for many Moses Brown families.  Most students have worked exceptionally hard in a demanding program for many years–while playing a time-consuming sport or participating in our performing arts or leadership organizations. Supported by their parents, these students have also visited a multitude of colleges, completed applications,and endured multiple Saturdays of college-related testing. At every family holiday gathering, seniors have been asked “where do you want to go to school?”

For those not involved in making a deposit or selecting a college by May 1st, it’s a harder decision than it appears.  In many cases, it requires a good deal of consensus among family members.  Financing, for example, is key.  Many colleges extend generous grant monies per year to candidates they really like and wish to attract to their campus. This is welcome assistance to Moses Brown families who may support another child or two in independent school–or perhaps another child already in college. But what to do if a student’s first or second choice has accepted him or her–but not extended any money (or very little)? By necessity, money impacts many college decisions. We need to be sensitive to  the influence of financing on choice.

Geography also represents a big deal breaker–usually more for parents than students. Seniors are often ready to cross to a different coast, experience a different city, or explore unfamiliar airports. Because the adult has a different role in the family, a parent has to worry about the “B” plan if a MB graduate becomes sick on the west coast without a car, etc. These are important things to consider–but they can be negotiated and figured out.  Ultimately, some people just like to travel and organize trips more than others–and this should be discussed within a family.

Then there is the choice of major or career in terms of choosing a college. We are very impressed with one student in our office. She knew music school (her top choice) might be a hard sell for the family–from price to future job prospects. So she wrote up a “business plan” and presented it to her parents over dinner–identifying the summer she would seek an internship….and how she would find a way to take a number of business courses to add to her music background. Her parents approved and signed the contract!

Senior families need a lot of space and room at this time of year. Rather than pressing them for answers about the “big choice” and how close to May 1 it will be made, it’s better just to acknowledge how tough a decision it is–and how many variables are involved.  It is also important to note that May 1 represents a first formal goodbye within a household; it is the moment the  college plan becomes real and determined.

Seniors and their families are typically tired at this time of year. Let’s remind them it will soon be time to celebrate their accomplishments!

by Helen Scotte Gordon

A visit to one of the Colleges That Change Lives: Centre College



Four former Moses Brown students attend a small college with a distinguished academic tradition in the center of Kentucky.  All four (three young men and one young woman)  play lacrosse competitively.

Centre College is of one of forty plus institutions reviewed in the book Colleges That Change Lives.  (If you are starting a college search and have never skimmed this guide, you really should.  The places featured in this volume provide an outstanding liberal arts education and actively help each student develop his or her true potential.)

The Centre curriculum is rich with international study and travel.  Majors and minors related to other continents and cultures abound here.  Students regularly go abroad during the semester, summer or  January term.  “It is simply the norm here,” summarizes one administrator on campus.  Costs and financial aid packages do not change because of international travel.

The “Centre Commitment” assures that students graduate in four years, that they travel abroad at least once, and that they engage in one or more internships.  Centre believes that tuition-paying families deserve this pledge.


I am endlessly intrigued by campus amenities designed  for the current generation of undergraduates. I love discovering my NSB (“Never Seen Before”) each trip.   At Centre, the new suites built for upperclassmen feature fire pits in the outdoor common areas!


Another “NSB” on this liberal arts college campus is a substantial glass blowing facility.  The art faculty includes a Centre College graduate who is a renowned glass blower.  He is eager to share his passion with both beginners and more advanced students.  One Moses Brown alumnus, Prescott W ’10, even has a portion of a shelf in the glass blowing studio devoted to his creations.  (Prescott is an Economics major at Centre.)



During my visit to Danville, Kentucky last week, I loved the glimpse of early spring, rolling farms and grazing steeds.  I savored homemade biscuits and enjoyed the friendly manners of all I bumped into on and off campus. The towns closest to Centre (Danville and Lexington) have a nice vibe and plenty of activity.  (The Lexington airport is extremely easy to fly in and out of.) I was impressed with the beauty of the Centre campus.  Most importantly, I admired the way faculty and staff are absolutely intent upon providing the best education possible to students–and the way in which they help families finance a top-flight experience.


by Helen Scotte Gordon

Waitlist pursuits: grit, sincerity and a bit of hope required

Call me crazy, but I love a waitlist.

Please, do not misinterpret!   I don’t love the fact that seniors are waitlisted every year.  But these decisions are part of the college application landscape, and we have to negotiate them.  I like the creativity and challenge these quests demand.

Waitlist offers aren’t going away any time soon.  Imagine, for just a brief moment, that you are the director of a college admission office . (David duKor-Jackson: does this raise memories of the recent past for you?)  Your job, as dean of admission, is to enroll a precise number of freshmen in the first-year class by May 1st–also known as Candidates Reply Date.  Do you presume that you will collect  hundreds of enrollments by the specific date without fail–as well as the accompanying deposits of six hundred dollars each?  (…In a fairly harsh economy, no less?)

Most deans who love their jobs would not presume this feat; they therefore depend upon a “Plan B”–that’s the waitlist margin, to use if and as needed.

Seniors  and parents, on the other hand, just want to be done with the application saga.  Most students desire a clear admission decision (accept or deny!) and wish to conclude the long sequence in early April.

That’s where we, the college office, come in with a last blast of energy.  Waitlists are an April reality.  If you look at them on the bright side, a waitlist decision presents a silver lining: one last chance, one last opportunity at X or Y College.  (I love that sense of possibility!)   I say:  let’s do our best to advance the cause! I don’t think we want to look back with a senior at a later date and wish we had utilized the extra inning represented by a waitlist decision.

Sincerity and regularity of contact:  those are the hallmarks of an MB waitlist plan over the course of six or eight weeks in the spring.   (Most colleges let Moses Brown students know what they are going to do with waitlist candidates in late May or before Commencement–rarely later. )

So, I know it’s a lot to ask a senior to forge ahead in the college process after all admission decisions have arrived. We know it’s hard for weary  parents to roll up their sleeves for another inning.  But we have had some nice waitlist successes in recent years (MB students have been admitted from places such as Harvard and Emory), and we would love to help any student who has a genuine desire to pursue a alternate list offer.  We have LOTS of ideas to share.

Pursuing a waitlist requires extra stamina and some hope.  There are, after all, no guarantees that an acceptance will emerge. Most admission deans, during the month of April, don’t have a clue whether they will utilize the waitlist.  That all depends upon the enrollment numbers just before and after May 1!

We also understand that pursuing an alternate list offer can be a a lonely road.  My husband, (an informal observer of the college office and process for a long time), recently noted that some seniors must be very aware that their closest friends are completely done with the college process (and celebrating a liberation from related tasks and deadlines), while their own search marches on.  In the college office, we provide support, resources, advice–and company during the last stretch.

by Helen Scotte Gordon

College Fair Dos and Don’ts


At a time when the seniors have all but concluded their college searches (except for those holding out for a waitlist decision), all the juniors and a number of underclassmen are ramping up the process by poring over printed and online resources, exploring campuses near and far, while adding and removing schools from their respective lists.

Even though the information available in print, whether in conventional ink or electronically, is extensive, it is often difficult to pick up on institutional nuance. Visiting campuses to get a sense of “feel” is absolutely essential, but is it really practical to travel to every campus that you have a passing interest in? So what is the solution? How can you investigate a broad range of institutions, gleaning insights only possible through direct interaction with people who know both campus and community, without leaving the East Side?

Answer: the Providence Independent School College Fair, sponsored by Moses Brown,Wheeler, Providence Country Day, Portsmouth Abbey and Lincoln School.

On Thursday, April 25, representatives from more than 100 institutions from across the country and around the world (France, Italy & Ireland) will descend upon the Wheeler School’s Madden Gymnasium from 4:30 to 6:30 PM to share information about their schools.

With so many colleges and universities available to talk to, fairs like this can sometimes be a bit overwhelming. Knowing what to expect, and having some sense of what you want to accomplish can ensure that you get the most out of the experience.

So what can you expect? It will be crowded, a little hectic and probably even a bit loud. The representatives, while happy to talk about their institutions are present primarily to identify potential admission candidates, with whom they can communicate further, whether to cultivate even more interest or to encourage those less familiar to further investigate and seriously consider their institutions. They will have institutional materials to share and will encourage you to “get on the mailing list” for additional information. Since there is no opportunity for the colleges to conduct presentations, the discussions tend to be driven by student and parent inquiries. For the institutions in which there is the greatest interest, leisurely conversations are hard to come by.

If you are just starting your search, you may simply want to browse at the fair, engaging in more general discussions with a wide variety of schools. You will need to ask questions that help you really differentiate one institution from another, as you begin to identify college attributes and programs that appeal to you. If you have a clearer sense of what you are looking for, it will be easier to focus on specific institutions in pursuit of more detailed information. Either way, the basic goal is the same. You need only determine, whether a school goes or stays on your list, and if you know enough to warrant further exploration and possibly a campus visit.

In order to get the most out of the fair, I offer a few simple dos and don’ts:

• Visit with representatives of colleges that you have never heard of. (It is ok to say, “I’m not familiar with this institution, how would you describe it?”) Even if an institution does not appeal to you, the representative can often be a great source of information and advice.
• Ask questions that elicit perspectives and insight not available online or in publications. (See sample questions at the end…)
• Provide your contact information to learn more about specific institutions that interest you.

• Focus exclusively on admission requirements and the profile of admitted students. Having a sense of how your academic credentials match up can be helpful, but you will be better served exploring questions of institutional match and campus opportunities.
• Grab and run. Picking up materials indiscriminately from each institution is not the most efficient way to refine your list of potential schools.
• Arbitrarily fill out contact cards. See above…
• Allow your illegible handwriting to prevent you from getting additional information from schools that you are interested in. (Pre-printed labels with your name, gender, birthdate, address, email, phone number, school, graduation year and intended major can reduce both the time it takes for you to fill out contact cards, and the time necessary to decipher what you have written.)

As far as questions to ask, you are free to make inquiries about anything that helps you understand what a college offers or is “about.” While questions concerning location, average class sizes, majors offered and the like are certainly valid, these more demographic characteristics can be easily found independently. College reps are unlikely to make qualitative distinctions between their offerings and those of peer institutions, and those that do can hardly be expected to be objective. Similarly, any inquiry that requires a value judgment like “How is your Pre-Med program?” or “How are the dorms?” will generally result in a quite favorable review.

Better questions tend to be the ones that you might ask a friend who is currently enrolled. A few of my favorites are:
• What are the primary reasons that students choose this college?
• How would you characterize the student culture?
• Beyond academics, what qualities make someone a good candidate for admission?
• Are there any featured or distinctive programs that the college is especially proud of?

Obviously, there are others, but hopefully this is enough to get you started.