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A Visit to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD)

Our family trip up north this summer offered up the opportunity to spend an afternoon at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). It was a campus visit unlike any other.

The RISD Admissions office had multiple rooms packed with high school students eager to learn more. Isabelle Sanchez, Class of 2015, led my information session and is clearly passionate about her alma mater. She described RISD as an organically collaborative community where you will be surrounded by fellow students who are as passionate and eager to talk about art as you are.

A few of my key take aways from the visit:

  • First year is about experimental and foundation studies – all students take two liberal arts classes per semester and are encouraged to explore (3D, charcoal drawing, spatial dynamics and more).
  • You can receive your Bachelor of Fine Arts in four years or your Bachelor of Architecture in five.
  • First years get first pick of classes during the five-week winter semester which could take you across the world on a study abroad program (perhaps the European Honors Program or RISD in Seoul) or to Los Angeles for an internship.
  • While RISD offers >300 liberal arts courses, you can cross-register to take courses at Brown beginning your second year.
  • Speaking of Brown, you can apply to get a dual degree (BA/BFA) in five years. Getting in is very competitive as you must be separately admitted to both schools and then selected by a committee. Only 15-20 students are offered the opportunity every year.
  • The Nature Lab (the coolest part of the tour!) offers unmediated access to natural history specimens (puffer fish, human bones, coral and so much more) for inspiration.
  • The RISD Library includes a student-curated section.
  • While on a huge hill (the tour was quite the workout in the heat!), the campus is very walkable and in the heart of downtown Providence. With your RISD ID, you’ll have full bus access to the entire state.
  • The MET dining hall is every vegan’s dream.
  • You will apply via the Common App. In addition, you’ll submit a SlideRoom portfolio of 12-20 images of your work and complete the RISD “Assignment” (choose one of three words – Error, Forge, Verify – and create two visual responses and a written reflection). As for your essay, don’t write about art! The school knows you are interested in art and wants to learn something else about you.

Interested in art and design and wondering what else should be on your college list? Besides RISD, consider the following*:

Art Center College of Design

School of the Art Institute of Chicago

California College of the Arts

California Institute of the Arts

The Cooper Union

Kansas City Art Institute

Maryland Institute, College of Art

Massachusetts College of Art

Moore College of Art and Design

School of the Museum of Fine Arts (MA)

North Carolina School of the Arts

Otis Institute of Art and Design

Parsons School of Design

Pratt Institute

Ringling School of Art and Design

San Francisco Art Institute

Savannah College of Art and Design

School of Visual Arts (NY)

*Source: Fiske Guide to Colleges 2018

Top 10 Resume Tips Recruiters Wish They Could Actually Give You

I review hundreds of resumes per week and spend additional time getting my clients’ resumes in tip-top shape for master’s programs and job applications. Here are my 10 recommendations:

  1. Quantify, quantify, quantify. I will sound like a broken record with this one. Numbers make a recruiter or hiring manager stop skimming and pay attention. Numbers provide context and show impact. Speaking of numbers…
  2. Update your resume regularly. Even if you aren’t looking for a job. Do you know how hard it is to remember how many interns you managed in the summer of 2012? Or by what % you increased revenue in FY2014? When you are completing your mid or end-of-year review, copy some of those great stats into your resume. It doesn’t have to be nicely formatted or worded, just get the content (and numbers) down on paper. Your 2019 self will thank you!
  3. So what? You are telling your story in bullet points. Sometimes, I read them and think, “so what?” Yes, you did a thing; but more importantly, did this thing have impact? Don’t forget to include that part. You analyzed something? Great. But what happened as a result? That’s what I really want to know.
  4. 1 page is enough. 15+ years into your career, I’ll cut you some slack. Otherwise, I promise, 1 is enough. If your bullet points are quantified and show impact, you can get all that great content on 1 page. 2 easy cuts?
    • All of those characteristics (team player, driven, strong communication skills) that you list about yourself at the top of your resume. Honestly, I don’t read them. Let those things shine through in the bullet points, cover letter and in your interview. Who’s going to say they have poor communication skills anyway?
    • Eliminate “a, an, the” from your bullet points.
  5. Don’t use 8-point font. My eyes hurt. And there are likely so many words on the page that I can’t figure out which end is up. So, I give up.
  6. Keep it simple people. Unless you are in a creative field, for me, simpler is better. Personally, I’m not a fan of graphics or complicated layouts. Don’t shoot the messenger.
  7. Include months. Otherwise, someone might think you are trying to hide a gap. P.S. Don’t hide a gap. But be prepared to address it.
  8. Frontload your bullets. I know you worked really hard on your resume. I do. But I’ll be honest, recruiters are skimming it. Tailor your first few bullets under each job to speak to the needs outlined in the job description (Wordle can help) and to highlight your greatest accomplishments. The recruiter may not make it to the last one.
  9. What’s in a name? Sometimes, it’s hard to understand what someone has done if they use a lot of industry jargon or if the company at which they worked is not well recognized. Consider adding a line that explains what the company does. If your industry jargon doesn’t translate to the next company or job, dumb it down for us so we can better understand what you did and how that translate to this new job.
  10. Tell me something personal. Especially if you are applying to an MBA program. Let’s be honest, it’s fun to learn about people. That’s why I’m in this business. If you are including a personal section at the bottom, draw me in. Top 3 things I see: cooking, travel and running. I love all of those things so I’m not telling you to find new hobbies. But spice it up. How about: pad thai fanatic, sea kayaking in the Baja, 3 Boston Marathons and counting. WAY more exciting, right?

Most of these are simple fixes that make tons of impact. Do it. Now. Need help? You can find me at

A Visit to George Mason University

Nestled in suburban Fairfax, VA, not far from the heart of DC, George Mason has much to offer a variety of students in the crowded Virginia & DC college and university market. The largest public research university in the state of Virginia, students at GMU take full advantage of its location which affords countless educational, professional and social opportunities.

Internships in the nation’s capital are only 20-30 minutes away by metro which means that 85% of students gain crucial experience and begin building their professional networks before they graduate. Given its Tier 1 research institute status, the National Institute for Health is one of the many prestigious employers who recruit heavily on campus.

GMU has a nationally-recognized engineering program, including the only cybersecurity engineering program in the country. The Nguyen Engineering Building leases office space to many large corporations, offering additional internship opportunities right on campus.

Other notable disciplines include a 5th year accelerated accounting program, an accredited forensic science program, a competitive dance major (only 20 students accepted each year) and a nursing program, which will be housed in the brand-new Health and Human Services building.

An Honors College is available to top students allowing them access to Robinson Faculty (distinguished professors in the liberal arts and sciences) and a Living Learning Community. LLCs, as they are known at GMU, are collaborative partnerships between departments, faculty, housing and residence staff. Students participating in an LLC take one or more classes together and live on campus as a group, in a common dorm. In addition, groups of students in LLCs engage with peers, faculty and staff coordinators through numerous extracurricular projects and activities. The University Scholars Award, George Mason’s largest merit scholarship, covers full tuition and is offered to 10 in-state and 10 out-of-state students.

While it’s only been 40 years since GMU formally separated from the University of Virginia, it is now the second largest residential campus in Virginia. Historically a commuter school (74% live off campus), that status seems to be evolving with options available to those who want the on-campus experience. In addition to Living Learning Communities, GMU offers 350 student clubs, 22 NCAA D1 teams and Greek life, although only a small percentage of men and women go Greek. While campus might not be a hub of activity on the weekends, students are able to take advantage of the benefits of living in the greater DC area.

George Mason should not be overlooked for its growing athletic tradition either. They field more than 20 Division I teams, made up of 458 student athletes. The Patriots made national headlines during the 2005-2006 NCAA tournament when the men’s basketball team shocked the sports world by making it to the Final Four. During their run, George Mason found itself a significant underdog in each game before upsetting Michigan State (who had made the previous year’s Final Four), North Carolina (the defending National Champions) and UConn (the tournament’s #1 seed). The Patriots eventually lost in the National Semi-Final game to the University of Florida, which went on to win the tournament. The season was historic by any measure and is widely considered the best tournament run by a “mid-major” conference team in NCAA history. George Mason, which entered the season predicted to finish 6th in the small Colonial Athletic Association, finished the year as the 8th ranked team in the country.

Melissa Bevacqua, Director of Undergraduate Admissions, described GMU as “authentically diverse”. While 80% of the 36,000 students hail from the state of Virginia, GMU students come from 137 countries and almost all 50 states. The admissions office is focused on growing its international and out-of-state student population. As a result, the school is score optional for out-of-state non-engineering students with a GPA of 3.3 or higher. In addition, the university is proud of its mission of access, reporting that half of the current students started their college career at a two-year institution before transferring and that underrepresented students perform just as well there and after graduation.

All of these characteristics come together to create a unique learning environment and opportunity for the right student. George Mason seems to embrace its underdog status in the crowded landscape of Virginia colleges and universities. And rightly so. Whether you are a student looking to transfer from a two-year institution, or a more traditional applicant who is looking to gain real work experience and benefit from the proximity to DC, George Mason University is a great option. And one that will not be overlooked much longer.

A Visit to Elon University

Despite having approximately 6,000 undergraduates and 700 graduate students, Elon feels like a much smaller liberal arts college. My tour guide, Wil, is currently in his senior year, majoring in finance and accounting. He is a tremendous ambassador for the university and did a great job sharing all that Elon offers. Here’s what I learned…

At the center of Elon’s educational philosophy is the belief that learning happens everywhere. As a result, their signature program, the Elon Experiences, offers a natural extension of the work done in the classroom. Students are required to complete two units of experiential learning which may be done through Study Abroad, Research, Internships, Service and/or Leadership. Based on the numbers, it’s clear that students take advantage of the offerings beyond the basic requirements. Of recent grads, 74% spent at least one term abroad, 92% took part in at least one internship, 24% conducted faculty-mentored undergraduate research outside the classroom, 47% held at least one leadership position and 92% engaged in service. Other highlights of the academic programs:

  • For those interested in pursuing professions in medicine, there are two designated human donor labs for undergrads and a pre-health advising system.
  • Engineering is offered through a 3+2 program which supports students in working toward two degrees: one from Elon and one from an engineering university. The school currently has affiliations with North Carolina State University, Georgia Tech, Pennsylvania State University, Virginia Tech, Columbia University, University of Notre Dame, Washington University in St. Louis, University of South Carolina and North Carolina A&T State University.
  • Through the Mooney School of Education, students spend their first year observing and their last year teaching in a classroom. The school has a dedicated library on the first floor. Outreach to the community can be done through the Village Project which offers the chance to tutor English or Math in the local schools.
  • All students receive an academic advisor on day one of freshman year. A new one is provided once a major is declared.
  • All students are assigned a dedicated librarian. The Belk Library offers space for group work along with writing and tutoring centers.
  • About 20% of students study in the School of Communication and it’s easy to see why. The new building overlooks tiny downtown Elon, NC and includes a state-of-the-art studio donated by Brian Williams of NBC which produces several TV shows staring and produced by Elon students. Strategic Communications is the most popular major on campus.
  • The business school is expanding but classes are relatively small and capped at 33.

I had the opportunity to meet Kate Upton, Assistant Professor of Finance, when we were touring the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business. When I asked her what she liked most about her Elon experience, she said it’s the value that the school places on mentorship. Mentoring students isn’t just encouraged; it’s something on which professors are evaluated.

The student body is 42% Greek but it’s predominately made up of sororities. Wil is not in a fraternity and said that not joining may have impacted the development of his social life initially but he does not feel that not participating in the Greek system has held him back. He did say that not going Greek might be more of an issue for females than males.

College Coffee is a cherished tradition on campus. Every Tuesday morning, the community comes together for conversation over coffee and pastries. Another Elon tradition is the lighting of the luminaries during exam time in the lead up to the holidays. Elon was named after the Hebrew word for oak and two traditions have developed in celebration of these roots. New Student Convocation for first year and transfer students is held “Under the Oaks” behind West Dormitory. Each new student receives their own acorn at the close of the ceremony to symbolize their beginning at Elon. At graduation, each student receives an oak sapling which symbolizes their growth at the university.

Students are required to live on campus and participate in the meal plan for two years. Wil is so fond of both that he is participating all four years. Food must be good! In addition, to offering seven residential neighborhoods, Elon also offers 26 living learning communities to enable groups of people with shared interests and goals to live together. Examples include Gender & Sexuality, Leaders in a Global World, Interfaith House, Creative Arts and World Languages.

Elon offers several need and merit based scholarships. In addition, the university offers six Fellows Programs which include additional scholarship opportunities. To be considered, students must submit an additional Fellows application which will be reviewed by faculty committees. If selected, you will be invited to attend Fellows Weekend during which students participate in a seminar and write a response to the topic discussed, interview with faculty and attend information sessions about the program. From this weekend-long process, Fellows are selected.

According to Wil, diversity is an initiative of major importance to university president, Leo Lambert. The school is proud to have achieved 20% racial and ethnic diversity in the Class of 2020. In the summer 2017 edition of The Magazine of Elon, Lambert says that the school is “now in the early stages of meeting the next great long-term challenge for Elon: building our endowment for the primary purpose of increasing student financial aid”. Earlier this year, Lambert announced that he was stepping down after 18 years. Wil described Lambert as personable, said that he’s done a good job of representing the student body and has helped the school to gain name recognition.  During Lambert’s presidency, applications for undergraduate admission have doubled, enrollment has grown from 4,000 to more than 6,700, and full-time faculty numbers have increased from under 200 to 425. During this period of growth, student academic credentials increased, average class sizes dropped and the student-faculty ratio decreased from 16-to-1 to 12-to-1. In the days following my visit to campus, Elon announced Dr. Connie Ledoux Book as the university’s ninth president.  Dr. Book comes to Elon from The Citadel where she served as Dean & Provost, the first female to hold either title in The Citadel’s 175-year history.

Rankings are an important component of the university’s branding and marketing efforts. Elon has successfully transformed itself from a regional, religious college to a selective, nationally recognized university. It will be interesting to see how the university evolves under the leadership of Dr. Book in the years to come.