“In my day, with no Internet to do research on schools, we relied heavily on a handful of college guide books,” recalls Peter Gruenberg about his college search. The admissions process today, he notes, has become much more competitive and intense, as students and parents have access to an overwhelming amount of information. To help students prepare for one aspect of the process, the admissions interview, Pete has, for many years, served as a mock interviewer at an annual evening workshop for Newark Academy juniors, hosted by the NA Alumni Board of Governors.
Students who choose to participate in the workshop partake in two half-hour one-on-one interviews. During each interview, the first 20 minutes are spent in conversation, as the alumni volunteer asks questions that allow the student to practice articulating the messages and themes they seek to convey as applicants. The final 10 minutes are devoted to feedback, with the alumni interviewers coaching the students as they polish their speaking and self-advocacy skills and hone their responses. The approach helps students leave the workshop feeling more confident discussing themselves. “The interviewers also aim to help students calm their nerves,” says Pete. Not surprisingly, many students take advantage of the opportunity. Last year, more than a third of the junior class participated.
Last spring, Pete’s daughter Carly participated in the event as an interviewer. “I loved coming back to the school, meeting students, and seeing how Newark Academy has changed,” says Carly, who recently graduated from Hamilton College and worked as a political field organizer for the Phil Murphy campaign for Governor in New Jersey. She was impressed by the juniors she met and found it rewarding to help them improve their interviewing skills.
Carly also enjoyed joining her father as a volunteer, and she plans to continue giving back to Newark Academy. And Pete, who has served on the NA Board of Governors since 2013, is delighted to be volunteering side-by-side with his daughter. “I hope she’s inspired to stay active in the Newark Academy community,” he says, “and to be a catalyst for involving others.”
“The admissions process today has become much more competitive and intense, as students and parents have access to an overwhelming quantity of information.”
– Peter Gruenberg ’81
As a student at Newark Academy, Nicole Curvin valued the ways in which her teachers and coaches cared about her as an individual; in particular, she remembers Joe Borlo and Arlene Jachim helping her become a more confident student, field hockey player and friend. “I was a quieter student most of the six years that I spent at NA,” she recalls. Still, she notes, “I felt seen and valued.”
During her senior year, Nicole sought out a college that would allow her to develop personal relationships with professors, yet she was also eager to join a large, diverse community. She attended Wesleyan University, where she majored in English language and literature, and since then she has spent a career in admissions on college campuses, including the University of Vermont, New York University, Eugene Lang College, Marlboro College and Cornell University. “I love working on a college campus because there is always a new influx of energy and ideas,” she says. This summer, Nicole was appointed Director of Admission at Middlebury College, where she has worked since 2014.
Over her decades-long career, Nicole has seen the field evolve in exciting ways. In particular, she appreciates how the application process has become more efficient; when she applied, each college had its own set of requirements and forms, completed on a typewriter and mailed with a stamp. At the same time, she is concerned by the extent to which admissions has become “a high-stakes endeavor with yearly rankings and constant media focus.” She worries about the stress students and families face in applying for and financing a college education.
Nevertheless, Nicole feels lucky to counsel students during an important transition period in their lives. “Working with students as they decide what they value about an educational and residential experience has proven particularly fulfilling,” Nicole says. When she talks with high school students, she urges them to go beyond the familiar when choosing a college, to keep an open mind about their futures. “You may want to pursue a very different academic or personal path than you are on right now,” she advises. “Look for a place that will push you outside of the realm of what you already know.”
When Amanda Addison was a senior at Newark Academy, she became fascinated by the college admissions process. Because her parents followed non-traditional paths to post-secondary education, Amanda put a lot of trust in the NA college counseling staff, relying heavily on them for their savvy and support. “They quickly became my closest mentors,” recalls Amanda, who attended the University of Pennsylvania and is now an associate director of admissions there. “They helped make the college admissions process a meaningful one for me.”
One of the most worthwhile aspects of the process for Amanda was the opportunity to reflect on her experiences and values. She vividly remembers her application essay, in which she described a family gathering to bake Jamaican black cake for her uncle’s wedding. “The essay detailed how multiple generations of family members gathered in my grandmother’s cramped kitchen to make the cake,” recalls Amanda. “From my great uncle yelling in Patois, to my mom, with her flour-free hands, offering direction while sitting in the corner, to my grandmother running the show, the essay allowed me to give the admissions committee a ‘slice of my life.’” Amanda even brought in some Jamaican black cake for her college counselor to try.
At the same time, Amanda faced challenges during the process. “The pressure that my peers and I felt sometimes came to a head in unfortunate ways,” she notes. In particular, she remembers a handful of hurtful comments that diminished the achievements of her black friends, comments which she wasn’t able to process fully at the time. “While the terms ‘microaggression’ and ‘privilege’ are common nowadays, that language was not yet widely known in high schools when I was a senior,” says Amanda. “It wasn’t until I took a course during my junior year at Penn that I had the language to describe the subtle and not-so-subtle put-downs I received.”
What Amanda learned during her senior year at NA – both about the admissions process and about herself – has played a significant role in her life since. Indeed, the lessons continue to inform her work as an admissions professional. In that role, she advises applicants to be true to themselves throughout the process and to use the application to tell their story. But she also reminds them to maintain perspective. “Please, enjoy high school,” she tells them. “It only happens once, and you don’t want to miss out on your senior year because you got caught up in the college process hysteria.”