The College Search: Facts, Figures, and Feelings

Kate StewartThere’s an endless and oftentimes overwhelming supply of resources out there to help you through your college search. You could camp out in the College Guide aisle at Barnes and Noble for two years and never make it through half the books. You could pull all-nighters clicking through Naviance and scouring every ranking posted by US News & World Report and The Princeton Review until your eyes bug out of your head. You could spend so much time on each college’s website that you know exactly where to find obscure information like how many people the dining hall seats.


And don’t get me wrong, statistics are certainly important. You should figure out what the academic profile of an admitted student looks like in order to predict whether a college is in your “range.” You should calculate a college’s distance from your home and decide how far away you’d be okay moving. You should research the size of the student body and the average classroom size and figure out whether those numbers seem comfortable or intimidating to you.


But ultimately, your college choice is not formulaic. You can’t plug a set of numbers into a magical College Calculator and expect it to spit out your Perfect College. The facts and figures can provide you with a great starting point and help guide your search in the right direction, but they won’t be what convinces you that you can call a college “home” for the next four years of your life.


That’s where the intangibles come in. Nothing beats visiting a campus and getting a feel for it by exploring it and soaking it all in. I’m not saying that you need to get “that special feeling” that a college is “the one and only” for you as soon as you step foot onto the campus; this is not a fairy tale, after all, and you do need to keep some options open. But as a human being, you will naturally have reactions to being in a new environment, and you should pay attention to those. After all, you know yourself better than anyone else.


Go on guided campus tours and attend information sessions, but also find more informal ways to discover the energy, vibe, and identity of a school. Walk through a quad and sense whether students seem excited to go to class. Sit in the campus coffee shop and eavesdrop on students’ conversations with one another (without being too creepy, of course). Take a moment to peek at bulletin boards in the student center to investigate the weekly and weekend goings-on. Take some pictures of the campus to jog your memory later on and maybe even jot down some notes for yourself before all of your many campus visits start to blur together. Finally, consider sharing these thoughts and observations with friends and family who are supporting you through this process. Chances are they’ll be able to either see the sparkle in your eyes or read the lack of enthusiasm in your voice.


Kate Gimourginas

Assistant Director of Admissions

Put the “y-o-u” in Essay

Kate Stewart
By the time you’re ready to actually apply to college, many of the pieces of your college application already are the way they are. You’ve taken the classes you’ve taken, you’ve earned the grades you’ve earned, you’ve been involved in activities that have been important to you, and your counselor and teachers have been reflecting on their relationships with you and starting to write their letters of recommendation. Essentially, your college application has been a work in progress for the past few years and at this point much of it is already– to a certain extent– out of your hands.

Sure, you might take the SATs one more time to see if your scores improve (though we’re test-optional at Holy Cross). You’ll continue working hard through senior year to keep your grades up (because we will see them). And hopefully, you’ve contacted us to set up a personal interview (we HIGHLY recommend this).

But one piece that’s still completely in your control and ready to be molded by you is your college essay.

This is great power, and it’s exciting! Consider the college essay an opportunity, and take full advantage of it. This is your chance to share something unique about yourself and to give us a glimpse into one aspect of your life that we wouldn’t otherwise have been fully privy to. We know you aced AP Calc and we know you’re captain of the soccer team and we know your teachers love you … but such is the case for many of our other applicants, too. So now let’s get personal. What wouldn’t we discover or understand about you just from reading your application? Let us in.

If you keep putting off the writing or are filled with dread every time you think about it, ask yourself why this is. Chances are, if you’re having difficulty getting started or making progress, your topic might not be as meaningful to you as you thought. Don’t write what you think we want to hear, write what matters to you. Start a couple of drafts on different topics, walk away, see which one you look forward to returning to the most, and stick with that one. A great personal essay often comes from a place of passion, pride, pain, amusement, nostalgia, curiosity, confusion, desire, joy, love. Write about what makes you tick, what gets you up in the morning, what brings tears to your eyes. Write about experiences that have changed you, relationships that have bettered you, accomplishments that have truly mattered to you, moments that have stayed with you, challenges you’ve overcome. Write about who you are and who you want to be.

The point is, write about YOU. You’ll notice that all five of the essay prompts on the Common Application direct you to write about yourself. So even though we are looking to evaluate the strength and style of your writing, please don’t send us the English paper you just got an A+ on. Boring! Make sure that the people who know you best would be able to read your essay and know it’s yours. Also make sure that if those people are helping you proofread and edit, don’t let their opinions influence you to the point that you end up losing “you” in the essay.

Finally, help make it easier on us admissions counselors by crafting a piece that’s interesting to read! Inject your voice, your personality, your creativity, and in some cases, your humor. A few comments we often make when we’re reading college essays:

  • “Show, don’t tell!” Illustrate the who, what, when, where, and why with details, examples, anecdotes, even dialogue.
  •  “Too thesaurus-heavy!” Don’t use words that are outside of your normal vocabulary. It will sound forced and unnatural.
  •  “Get rid of the first paragraph!” Don’t feel the need to have a formal introduction and conclusion with three neat topic paragraphs sandwiched in between. You have a limited number of words to use, so please just jump right in there and grab our attention.

Believe me when I say that we here on the admissions staff at Holy Cross love and appreciate the college essay. We look forward to getting to know you.

Did You Go to Holy Cross?

Aside from being asked about the size of the student body here at Holy Cross, what majors and minors we offer, what Worcester is like, and what the admissions committee is looking for in applicants, the next most common question I get from prospective students and their families is, “Did you go to Holy Cross?”

And more often than not, they seem surprised to hear that I did not, in fact, go to Holy Cross. But I get it. It’s a reasonable assumption. Five of the thirteen admissions counselors on our staff graduated from HC, and they carry their Purple Pride with them wherever they go. Who better than loyal alumni to rave about the college they attended and to want to promote it to prospective students? Who better to describe campus traditions, relationships with professors, and student life than people who have experienced all of this firsthand?

So why promote a school with which I have no prior affiliation? First, while I had an unforgettable four years at my alma mater, my experience there was so valuable precisely because it was the right place for ME. Do I think that everyone should go where I went? Nope. Do I think that everyone belongs at Holy Cross? Again, the answer is no. College choice is all about finding the right FIT for a student, and one of the most interesting parts of my job is being a part of that “fit” conversation. Early on in the admissions process, I meet students at high schools, college fairs, and Open Houses, as they’re collecting information about the different colleges they’re considering and trying to get a sense of what schools are in their “range” and where they could potentially picture themselves. Then, when I conduct interviews and read applications, it’s my turn to figure out which students are the best match for Holy Cross. Who will thrive and be successful here? Who will be a unique addition to the student body and make significant contributions to the campus community?

Second, I truly believe in this place and its mission. It’s hard not to be inspired when you see that the Jesuit motto of “men and women for others” is not just a catchphrase here but a way of life. Students at Holy Cross tend to care just as much about trying to make life better for other people as they do about their own education. In all of their pursuits, they are challenged and encouraged to develop themselves not just intellectually, but morally as well. While they are preparing for tremendously successful careers, they are at the same time molding themselves to be good citizens and ethical people. The largest, most popular club at Holy Cross, comprising nearly 25% of our student body, is devoted to weekly outreach and service in the Worcester community. In addition, one out of every ten students spend their Spring Break traveling to places like Kenya to live in solidarity with economically disadvantaged populations and reflect on issues of social justice, or to the Gulf Coast region of the U.S. to help rebuild homes and buildings destroyed by natural disasters. Being surrounded by these passionate and committed individuals, I am constantly reminded to think outside of myself and see the greater picture.

So no, I did not go to Holy Cross. But it doesn’t mean that I’m any less proud to work here than my Crusader colleagues. And I might even, just a tiny little bit, “bleed purple.”

Kate Stewart
Admissions Counselor

Thoughts From a Newbie Application Reader

Embarking on my first season of application reading was somewhat daunting. Initially, I was overwhelmed to think that my colleagues and I would collectively read more than 7,000 freshman applications from cover to cover. I wondered (and worried) whether all of the candidates would eventually blur together in my mind. I’ve realized, though, that when I give each application the thorough read it deserves and immerse myself in each file, it becomes more than just a collection of documents and truly brings to life the unique individual it represents. Each read becomes a chance to get to know a new student, one with the potential to join the vibrant student body here at Holy Cross. Though I’ve never talked to Student A, I’ve read his college essay and can picture him giving the mind-blowing speech that helped him win the election for Class President. I’ve never stepped foot in Student B’s high school, but based on her letters of recommendation I can almost hear the chit-chat in the teachers’ lounge as they talk about how excited they are to have such an intelligent, hardworking, and motivated student in class this year. According to the write-up of my colleague who interviewed Student C, I’ve been able to unpeel another of his layers to discover that in person he is witty, charming, engaging, and mature… not to mention that he speaks fluent Greek. It may sound crazy, but I sincerely look forward to “meeting” all 7,000+ of you!

Kate Stewart

Admissions Counselor

Giving Thanks

I’m thankful, above most else, for my parents. Recently—perhaps due to my newfound work as a college admissions counselor— I’ve been realizing how a portion of this gratitude is for my parents’ belief in higher education and their unwavering encouragement as I’ve pursued my own. My mom was the first person in her family to go to college; she took herself to visit schools and paid her own way at a state university. My dad, on the other hand, grew up with the expectation that he would attend a private college without worrying about the cost. Despite the differing paths they took to get their college degrees, they both came away understanding the value of a college education and even went on to pursue master’s degrees. They worked hard and saved carefully, knowing that one of their most important goals was to be able to provide their own children with the same opportunities. My dad once said that as a parent, he did not want to be the barrier standing in the way of his children’s futures—he dreamed big for us all. Did my sisters and I still need to apply for financial aid? Yes, college can be expensive! Yet what we appreciated even more than the significant financial contribution our parents made was their limitless belief in our potential and their unmistakable pride in our accomplishments.

Thanks, Mom and Dad.

Kate Stewart
Admissions Counselor

Meet New Admissions Counselor Kate Stewart

Hi! I’m Kate Stewart, the lucky thirteenth member of the Holy Cross admissions team. I started working here in early September, only about a week or so after all the students had returned to campus and begun their fall semester. In fact, in the nights leading up to my first day I was having my own “back-to-school” dreams … you know, the ones where you’re running late and show up to class only to realize that either you’re not wearing any pants or there’s a test you haven’t studied for. But as soon as I stepped foot in the door of Fenwick Hall (home of the admissions office), any anxiety I had was assuaged by all of the wonderful—and I mean WONDERFUL—people who work here.

Not only am I excited about being at Holy Cross for the start of the school year, I cannot WAIT to experience fall on this beautiful campus. I’ve lived in New England my whole life and am most proud to call it home when my favorite season arrives. I can already picture the hillside transforming as the leaves change colors and am looking forward to cheering on the Crusaders at some home football games, going apple picking and, most of all, running in the cooler weather. I am currently training for my first half-marathon, which will take place in Vermont in early November! When I’m on the road visiting high schools in Connecticut and Long Island, I will definitely need some suggestions for good running routes in those areas. (Next year I add Atlanta to my travel—is it too hot to run there??)

Having taught preschool for several years before getting my master’s degree in school counseling, I am eager to jump to the other end of the spectrum and interact with high school students. To some extent, the move from high school to college is not all that different from my preschoolers’ transition to kindergarten… there’s the apprehension of entering an unknown environment with unfamiliar faces and new expectations, coupled with the excitement of being a “big kid” with increased independence. But while naptime disappears in kindergarten, I bet a lot of students will tell you that they took it up again in college. You’ll just have to ask some Holy Cross students how they manage to find time for it in between studying, volunteering through Student Programs for Urban Development, participating in the Student Government Association, playing club sports like Ultimate Frisbee, and meeting friends for coffee at Cool Beans.

Kate Stewart

Admissions Counselor