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.

GAP Year Dreamin’

 Since we distributed our GAP year materials to seniors and parents last week, I have been  thinking about transitional opportunities for students after high school graduation–and before beginning college full-time. 

There are books, guides, and websites that offer ideas, and professional consultants who can help seniors design a semester or year-long GAP experience.  I’m particularly impressed when a student digs deeply to formulate his or her own customized plan. 

On our Naviance survey, as students enter the college planning process,  we ask: “What would you dream of doing if you elected to take a GAP (transitional) year after MB?”

I recently came across a very inspiring, insightful and genuine reply.  The student wrote:

Assuming I was already accepted into college for the next year, if I was given a GAP year after MB, I’d probably spend the whole summer as I usually do, working at Camp J.  Because J is an overnight camp, this would probably take up the large majority of my summer. 

After that, with more time, I’d probably pursue my EMT/Emergency Medical Technician certification (if I hadn’t already received it), preferably with an intensive course at Boston Emergency Medical Services.  In my opinion, especially as I am considering med school, having experience and showing your interest in medicine could add to your application.  (In addition, it’s also something I want to do.) 

After finishing the course, I’d probably weigh my options and look into travel.  Obviously, it all depends upon funding–I wouldn’t expect my parents to pay for me to travel for a year without doing something productive.  Traveling and seeing  foreign family, hopefully for longer stays, would make for a great year.  Any time spent at home, I’d probably look into getting a job and working as an EMT, both to gain experience and to save money for college. 

I admire this student’s financial wisdom–as well as the multi-faceted consideration of a GAP year. 

by Helen Scotte Gordon

April 1st musings from one college advisor (no tomfoolery!)

UMiami School of Architecture

UMiami School of Architecture

Last week, from start to finish, LOTS of admission decisions arrived in the on-line accounts and household mailboxes of Moses Brown seniors. More than a few parents said to me, “I don’t know how you do this year after year.”

We (college office members) pursue the application process every year precisely because April 1st always rolls around– and the many small tasks, constant deadlines, and important conversations with students and parents culminate in offers and opportunities.

The last week in March is always intense—but in a rewarding, meaningful way. The long, arduous wait for all involved (students, parents, college staff, and faculty supporters) is largely over.  Happy results are celebrated.  Disappointing pieces of news are managed within an atmosphere of trust and support; our seniors balance sadness with resilience.    There are always some remaining waitlist pursuits.  (I personally love waitlists; they represent a final challenge, an extra “inning” if you will.)  You might think a busy college counseling office might heave a huge sigh of relief and hang a sign on the door that reads “CLOSED FOR A  BRIEF NAP” (hung slightly askew). Yet college advisors feel an ongoing desire to help students reach dreams and sort through maximum options. …So we don’t post the imaginary sign until waitlist pursuits are resolved, final transcripts are sent to colleges, and summer vacations truly arrive!

The week leading to April 1st includes some humorous moments. One senior regaled us with tales of her mother driving around the neighborhood in search of the mail carrier . (As the story goes, the parent also recruited a person working on a household project to scan a few blocks!)

Students also shared perceptive observations. One young woman explained that while she was not accepted at her first choice college, she was delightfully surprised by the allure of other options. We applaud the changes that develop in the thinking of students over the course of senior year.

The solidarity among college advisors near and far is also reassuring to me during this “big” week. On Facebook, one of my experienced southern colleagues asked of no one in particular: “What do the admission gods want???” We basically know the answers, but it’s still amusing to hear someone (probably pacing around a college office) toss out the question. One local independent counselor called at the beginning of the week just to say: “Hey, how’s it going over there at MB?”. I thought the gesture was lovely.

And then there is the inevitable day that most members of the Ivy League release decisions. They tend to post on-line late in the afternoon. This day is a festival of clock-watching and counting down of minutes. At the appointed hour, I tend to do something different every year. Last Thursday, I decided to tidy my office and make various to-do lists (some necessary and some not). For comfort, I stayed in touch with my MB college office colleagues by computer. I chatted back and forth via email with another local college advisor. “I am keeping a vigil at my kitchen counter,” she described. I tried not to indulge in snacks, treats and caffeine all day long. I did allow myself one delicious chocolate milk from Wright’s Farm and a couple of holiday pastries. Fortunately, I did not commit excessive nutritional damage.

I love the candid emails students send as decisions arrive. One young woman simply wrote: I GOT INTO ____!!!!! Nothing more, nothing less. (The caps underscored the enthusiasm.) One young man concluded his email with the following sentiment: “The household is a very happy one.” That warmed my heart.

Above all else, it’s a humbling stretch of time. Most students receive a cross-section of replies they hope for; but some are disheartened because they really, really wanted a specific place. Many students and parents are thrilled with the results—but worry profoundly about the financing of college. (That is a daunting challenge for every  family). Other students summon the strength to carry on with a waitlist or two. Yet others are sorting through the perils and pleasures of Twitter and Facebook. This involves sharing happy news while avoiding immodest public displays. (It’s also tricky to show support for those who post favorable returns without feeling competitive or envious.) Parents: luckily, we did not have to negotiate this complex social labyrinth.

In the end, from a big picture standpoint, the week leading up to April 1st is always a memorable one. I’m deeply proud of the accomplishments of MB seniors and the extraordinary reputation of our school in the college world. I am indebted to my colleagues, Jill and David. I admire parents who are working hard to support and foster the independence of their children; I also commend all the Moms and Dads who strive to provide excellent opportunities for their children. We are all to be congratulated!

By Helen Scotte Gordon