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

Congratulations on your acceptance for JANUARY entrance!

MB Front Circle, spring 2012

MB Front Circle, spring 2012

When I was a senior in high school, I was accepted to my first choice college–but not for enrollment in September.  My letter offered entrance in January for the start of second semester.

Whaaat?  I had never heard of such a thing.  Looking back, I don’t think another student in my class received a mid-year acceptance.  I remember being totally confused.

These days, January offers are much more common.  I don’t want to give the impression that all or most colleges extend this type of acceptance.  But many colleges with which we work at Moses Brown admit for both September and January; we think students and families should be aware that both possibilities exist.

In recent admission cycles, a number of colleges and universities have offered MB seniors winter enrollment.  The list includes Babson, Colby, Middlebury, Northeastern, Brandeis, Skidmore, U. of Maryland, U. of Miami, the University of Southern California and New York University–among others.

Why do some colleges offer mid-year admits? 

Institutions need to balance their number of enrolled students (and accompanying revenues) during first and second semesters.   Managing enrollment on a campus is tricky.  Some students graduate early and leave spaces open in classrooms and residence halls.  Occasionally students must leave college at mid-year (or earlier) for financial, health or family reasons.  Sometimes college just doesn’t work out and students withdraw.

Who tends to be chosen for January entrance versus regular September admission?

I can’t offer an absolutely scientific answer, but I can give a general sense.  Applicants accepted for January typically come close to the standard profile of an admitted student–but not quite.  Admission deans typically like the student being considered for January a lot and do not want to turn him or her away completely. Rather than placing him or her on the waitlist (with highly uncertain prospects for acceptance), deans sometimes prefer to offer a concrete place in the class. Ironically, while most seniors feel a mid-year acceptance is somehow second-rate, admission deans don’t feel that way at all.  They are doing their best to make room for an applicant and attract him or her to the campus.

Our colleague David duKor-Jackson notes that sometimes an admission staff perceives a strong match between the background of a candidate and the opportunities associated with mid-year acceptance programs–especially if the college involved sponsors fall or summer experiences leading to winter entrance.  David encourages students and families to understand the highly positive aspects of January offers.

What should a senior do who has been admitted for January?

First of all, slow down and really contemplate the acceptance–don’t write it off because it seems weird, uncommon, or unusual.  Go see your college advisor right away to seek insight and advice.

Consider your alternatives during the fall semester prior to enrollment. Think creatively.  Dream a bit.  Imagine what half a “gap year” might be like.  Or consider how much money you could earn if you worked for several months.  Many colleges that offer mid-year admission automatically invite candidates to participate in fall travel or internship programs that they sponsor and organize.  Would you like to go abroad during your first semester in college?  Would you be excited to pursue an internship in a political setting?  As our colleague David emphasizes, “All these things offer opportunities to explore a place.”  You might also be able to take courses part-time (or even full-time) at an institution closer to home and begin to accumulate credits.

Ask questions of our liaison at the college that has accepted you for second semester.  Gather their advice; learn all that you can about services and resources for students entering in January.  Ask  whether the college sponsors an orientation–even a brief one–for students joining the freshman class in January.  What kind of housing will be available? Will you likely have a freshman roommate–or live with sophomores or juniors? Would the college accept course credits from another institution during the fall semester?  Can you catch up and graduate “on time” with your college class by taking summer courses?

What you should avoid doing

It’s tempting to call the college that has admitted you for mid-year and try to convince them to revise their offer to September.  It is highly unlikely a change will occur.  A board of admission has spent a lot of time making an appropriate decision about you.  Admission officers work with highly sophisticated predictive models for enrollment; they know how many students they can accommodate for September–and how many they need to fill spaces during second semester.  The overall budget of the college depends upon this proper planning.

In summary, don’t ignore or toss out a winter acceptance.  A number of Moses Brown graduates have had great experiences prior to joining a campus community in January.  Our students have traveled to London and France; they have also worked and taken courses.  The possibilities are substantial; let’s talk about them in College Counseling.

In the words of one  admission officer, “there are different paths through college.”

by Helen Scotte Gordon

PS:  As for me, I did not enroll at the college that offered January entrance.  I commuted to a nearby school for a semester and then moved onto the campus.  I remained there and had a fabulous experience through graduation.  But… I wish I had known more and asked more questions about the opportunities associated with mid-year acceptance.

82 degrees and 119,000 square feet: a spring break highlight

There is a liability associated with being a devoted college advisor.

Whether I am traveling on business for Moses Brown or on personal vacation, I know there is a campus to explore near every airport, convention center or major highway exit. I can’t help myself; I’m always scheming to see a new or different college–or view an interesting addition to a university with which I am already familiar.

Such was the case during our recent March break. I have been on the University of Miami campus many times. (My son is a happy student there.) One year ago, The U had just broken ground on a new student center. Twelve months later, I was thrilled to view the completed shell of the facility. Once all the mechanicals and furnishings are installed, the building will open in the fall of 2013.

As soon as we arrived on the campus in our rental car, I begged my spouse to pull over (in a not so legal spot) so that I could take a few photos from the far side of Lake Osceola.  Then we set out on foot to get as close to the construction site as possible. I was a college advisor on a mission! (Our son, the dear junior, agreed to meet us at the fencing blockade that prevents pedestrians from entering the hard-hat zone. He knows the ways of his Mom.)


Here’s what I learned about the addition to the University of Miami campus:

*a 20 million dollar gift from a foundation launched the project

*the new student activities center is adjacent to the current student union, constructed in 1965. Since the opening of the original union, the number of student clubs and groups at UMiami has more than doubled. The new space will feature abundant offices and meeting areas for undergraduate and graduate organizations.

*a banquet/ballroom will provide seating for more than 800 people

For those who are architecture buffs, the new student activities center is designed by Architectonica. This is an international firm based in Miami, known for their creation of cultural, educational, residential and athletic complexes. While a few campus loyalists worry that the new student center has a prominent presence on Lake Osceola, I like the bold, clean, contemporary lines. Structural change on every campus is hard; overall the enthusiasm for the project is extremely high.  Along with the architects, U Miami is credited for linking the new center with the adjacent existing facility–as well as for connecting the building to a nearby outdoor recreation deck (including a pool). There will also be tiered outdoor seating in front of the center to allow students, faculty and staff to enjoy the natural beauty of The Lake. (In summary, UM is working to create an area on the campus where student life thrives.)


Next visit, I look forward to viewing the finished interior–all four floors and 119,000 square feet in action.

by Helen Scotte Gordon

The Common Application announces the five new essay prompts!

Chalk project in the arts center at Colorado College

Chalk project in the arts center at Colorado College

 A preliminary message from MB College Counseling:

Our staff devotes a tremendous amount of time during the fall to helping seniors with their essays.    We assist with every phase of the process, from explaining the purpose of the essay to brainstorming approaches to the prompts.  (The lengthy questionnaire juniors complete prior to the first family meeting in College Counseling draws out many topics and themes; juniors often generate the perfect opening sentence for the essay on this survey!)

During the fall, we constantly read drafts, offer reactions, and highlight places to improve and strengthen the essay.  Most importantly, David and I help students communicate a unique aspect of their individual life stories and experiences.  We guide them to write in their own voice and language, from their own personal perspective.   Later in the spring, we’ll offer specific suggestions and advice about essay writing in this blog–especially for rising seniors who might like to tackle a draft during summer vacation!

Our program provides active and thorough support during the essay writing phase–while emphasizing the importance of the senior’s integrity as a writer.  We are careful not to engage in heavy proofing and editing; these tasks belong to the student.  (Please see our September 30 post for more about our philosophy in this regard.)

As a group, our seniors generate excellent essays.   Admission officers look forward to reading MB applications every season; they regularly compliment our student writers.

A brief statement from the Common Application: 

The essay demonstrates your ability to write clearly and concisely on a selected topic and helps you distinguish yourself in your own voice.  What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores?

Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response. Remember: 650 words is your limit, not your goal. Use the full range if you need it, but don’t feel obligated to do so. (The application won’t accept a response shorter than 250 words.)

The prompts:

Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?

Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?

Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

by Helen Scotte Gordon