Advice straight from admission deans

Back in a November post, I promised advice collected from admission deans who visited Moses Brown this fall.   It has taken me a while to share their perspectives, but I think  juniors and parents entering the application process will find them particularly useful.   (I’m including some photos from my College of Charleston tour to provide a hint of  spring.  C of C possesses a handsome campus and versatile curriculum.  As a member of the public system in South Carolina, the College also features a more economical tuition.)


Advice from the Director of Admissions at Kenyon College regarding essays:

If you read most of them in my favorites binder, most of them are about “nothing”–for example, a walk on the beach with Granddad.  You can choose the most mundane topic.  Share a story: the essay is not supposed to be a report or an assignment.


Below are some thoughts from our representative at the University of Southern California regarding the short answer on the Common Application.  The prompt reads as follows: “Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences in the space below.”   (The word limit allows for a very short paragraph; constraints are tight.)

I really think a missed opportunity on the Common Application involves the short answer.  I often see a well-written (central) essay that is thoughtful and mature.  Then the short answer is just straightforward.

Most kids don’t take time to edit the short answer and make it well-rounded.  Students get dry describing what they do–rather than emoting the satisfaction they get out of it.  It’s really exciting when you feel their excitement!


Reflections offered by two admission deans on choosing majors or careers: 

From a member of the staff at Franklin and Marshall:

“Undecided” can be a very mature answer.  We know kids are going to figure it out.  There are new things to learn and you better be ready for it.

The Director of Admission at the College of the Atlantic  offers his view:

Knowing a language is a door opener.

I want you all to read John Dewey.  You learn by doing.  (John Dewey was an influential twentieth century American philosopher and educator.)


Admission officers are keenly aware of the struggle most families face in financing college.   At a breakfast meeting with college advisors and guidance counselors, a  member of the staff at Brown cautioned:

Students need to look really hard at debt–and how debt (specifically, monthly repayments after college) affect career and graduate school.

Finally, our liaison at Vanderbilt offers some family-friendly counsel to students:

Be nice to your parents.  They have to fill out the financial aid forms.


We’re fortunate that so many admission representatives are eager to visit Moses Brown every fall–and interact with our students and parents at the Five Independent School College Fair each April.  These dedicated professionals are incredibly generous with their time and wisdom.

by Helen Scotte Gordon


There’s a set from a television sitcom in the library!

At Emerson College in Boston, this makes perfect sense.  As an institution that is dedicated to communications and the arts, it is common to see stages, scripts, studios and screens across the campus.

At Emerson, students can major in Theatre Studies, Communications, Film, Writing/Literature/Publishing, Political Communications, Journalism, and Interactive Media–among many other possibilities.  I loved the summary provided by our tour guide:  “We think of all of our students at Emerson as storytellers.”

So, back to the lovingly preserved set on display behind glass in the lobby of the Emerson library.  Do you remember the hugely popular series Will & Grace?  The executive producer of the show is an Emerson alum; he donated the iconic apartment set (including living room, kitchen and all contents) to the College for their archives.  There’s a Rhode Island connection: Debra Messing, co-star of Will & Grace, grew up in our state.


a portion of the Will & Grace set

There is much to see and explore at Emerson College.  (The campus is easy to reach via train from Providence.  Simply ride the MBTA to South Station and take the red line to Park, then the green line to Boylston Station.  Emerson overlooks the Boston Common–you can’t miss it!)  More than half of the campus has been renovated or built since 2002; anyone who has not been there for a while will be delightfully surprised by all the changes!

wintry view across Boston Common

wintry view across Boston Common from Piano Row at Emerson

I especially enjoyed our view of the broadcasting studio used by journalism students.  I was intrigued to learn that the multiple cameras aimed at the reporting desk no longer require the direction of human beings.  Instead, the equipment is controlled via computer panel in an adjacent lab.  Technology is changing every industry….

Emerson participates in a unique Professional Arts Consortium with other nearby colleges, including Berklee College of Music, The Boston Conservatory, Boston Architecture College, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts.    Our tour guide mentioned one collaborative course between Emerson and Berklee called Writing the Movie Score.  What an incredible opportunity!

Students spoke with keen enthusiasm about Emerson programs in London, Prague and The Netherlands.  (The Netherlands base is an actual castle with two moats surrounding it!)  Emerson undergraduates also value the 900 internships available to them in communications and the arts.  In 2014, Emerson will open a stunning new facility in Los Angeles that will include studios, classrooms and dorm spaces.

Did I mention Emerson borders the theater district in Boston and students have access to tickets at bargain prices?  Emerson has restored their own historic theater; it is a treat to see.

lobby detail in the Cutler Majestic Theater at Emerson

by Helen Scotte Gordon

Surprise Finds: nap technology, neon carafes, and mega bling

      Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) knows that undergraduates rarely function with enough sleep.  To counteract fatigue, they have thoughtfully installed two “Energy Pods” in the Student Center.


     According to our tour guide, the Pod works in the following way.  First the tired student reclines on the cushioned bed with knees level to the head.   Next, the nap-needy young artist swings the door shut for privacy and selects 20 minutes on an interior timer.  (The creators of the  Energy Pod  have determined that 20 or 25 minutes are ideal for a “power nap”.  Anything longer triggers deeper REM sleep that makes waking difficult.)   At the close of the cycle, the Pod heightens the amount of light, the unit begins to vibrate–and the student exits refreshed for studying and critiques.  (Is anyone else reminded of old Jetsons cartoons?)

Our SCAD guide and a Mom on tour

Our SCAD guide and a Mom on tour

     The two Energy Pods are conveniently placed in opposite corners on the second floor of the student center.  I couldn’t help but note the celestial feeling of the upper level of the building (once an important synagogue in Savannah).  The ceiling surrounding a stained glass skylight is painted a soothing blue.


     I’m not sure the designers of the Pod endorse caffeine post-slumber.  However, I suggest the coffee bar a short walk away in SCAD’s Museum might contribute  to the re-energizing experience.  I have never seen coffee machines quite like these: the exteriors change colors every few seconds!  You can pour your espresso from a neon rose dispenser, or wait a moment and fill your cup with decaf from a lime green tap.

photocoffee     photocoffeelime(

     If microsleeps and rainbow coffee appliances seem a bit unusual, the first floor of the student center sports a good old-fashioned pool table for relaxation–against the backdrop of an abstract painting.


Another unusual sight in nearby Charleston, South Carolina

     I don’t often have the chance to visit military colleges, but I really appreciate the opportunity to do so from time to time.  While ours is a Quaker school and we do not zealously promote institutions with a military mission, our college office strongly respects the “fit” they may represent for an individual student and family.  With that in mind, I was happy to explore The Citadel, a publicly supported campus with a long tradition.

     The big event of the afternoon was a formal parade that involved all 2000 undergraduate cadets marching in historic formations–accompanied by The Citadel band (including wonderful bagpipe players).  It was fascinating to witness exercises that date back to the Civil War; it was also inspiring to sit quietly in the bleachers and admire the stunning campus.


     Visitors to the parade (including this blogger) additionally enjoyed the spectacle of a relatively new addition to the campus: a 6′ by 8′ replica of the class ring that is worn by each graduating cadet.  The much photographed brass signet weighs 3500 pounds!


by Helen Scotte Gordon

Highlights from Junior Class College Day 2013

two juniors, one parent

two juniors and a  parent

From our keynote presenter to seniors who volunteered on the Student Perspective panel, speakers shared a wide range of insight with eleventh graders and their parents. 

For those who could not attend our recent event due to a conflict–or for families in other grades who might enjoy access to some tips, here is a brief summary.

Observations and advice from our keynote speaker, a senior member of the Boston University undergraduate admission office:  


*”Essays are our favorite part of the application!”

*”It’s your five minutes on the stage.”

*”You don’t have to have had a life-altering experience.  There are some amazing gems about simple events.”

*Regarding grandparents as the topic of an essay: “I would not dissuade anyone, but make sure the essay returns to YOU.  (Sometimes we learn so much we want to admit Grandpa!)”

*”If you’re not a naturally funny person, don’t start (in your essay).”


*”I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to spend time on tour and meet all the communities within a college. It’s one of the best ways to decide if a college is a fit.”

*”If we’re admitting students, we want students who know us well.”

*”Let them (the admission office) know you are there. (Maybe not visit when they are closed…)”

*”I recommend an interview if the college offers. They can be a great way to connect with an institution. There is usually no down side. However, not all students are comfortable doing an interview. It may only add to your anxiety.”

two of our guest speakers

two of our guest speakers


*”Set up an email dedicated to college admissions; then materials won’t flood your personal box.”


*”We approach these tests with a great deal of flexibility. They are only one factor in a holistic process. We (at BU) will always take your highest scores.”

*”We pay attention to your work in your curriculum.”


*”Early decision can be a tremendous option.”

*”Consider early decision and early action carefully and rely on the advice of your counselor.”


*”We visit in the fall!”

*”The counselor recommendation allows us to see the person behind the record–for example, the applicant’s character.”

*”Your counselors send us several pages detailing the school curriculum called the school profile. We don’t read (applications) in a vacuum.”


The college you fall in love with a year from now may not be on your list this morning.”

In summary, our speakers focused on the importance of researching and visiting many different possibilities, finding the right match for your needs and goals, discussing affordability as a family early in the process, and allowing the applicant to lead his or her search. “The student is the one who should be driving the bus,” emphasized our guest from Wheaton College. “This is the first signal of independence and ownership.”

by Helen Scotte Gordon