In the two decades since Collegiate Gateway was founded, the organization has expanded its client base, geographic reach and services offered. It’s also expanded its staff. Earlier this week, we launched a series of interviews with Collegiate Gateway staff members, beginning with founder and president Julie Raynor Gross. Today, please meet Associate College Counselor Caroline Ferrucci!
When did you begin working for Collegiate Gateway, and what drew you to the company?
I joined Collegiate Gateway in January 2012. I was teaching second grade at an independent school in New York City at the time and was intrigued by the opportunity to get involved in an educational consulting company. The potential to work part-time with older students was also appealing. I spent my days teaching students how to read, write, and add, and my evenings and summers researching colleges and graduate schools. I loved the change of pace!
How has your role at Collegiate Gateway changed over the years?
I started as a Research Assistant in 2012 and spent the next few years learning as much as I could about college admissions. In 2014 I worked directly with clients for the first time in our Common App Bootcamp—now an annual event! Over the years my role evolved into Director of Research and, most recently, Associate College Counselor. I now enjoy working directly with clients on all aspects of the college admissions process, focusing most on their essays, their resumes, mock interviews, and completing the Common App.
How, in your view, has Collegiate Gateway changed since you started working here?
Collegiate Gateway has grown in so many ways in the last ten years. We have really focused on widening our reach when sharing knowledge and resources over the last few years. Our social media presence has grown, and during the pandemic we expanded our series of free presentations on college and graduate school admissions. Although Julie has always been an active member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association, or IECA, we have presented more sessions to our colleagues at the biannual conferences than ever before.
The most obvious change at Collegiate Gateway has been the move to virtual meetings. Julie was actually the first person to introduce me to Zoom years before Covid-19 made it a household name! She was already holding many Zoom meetings each week, but now, 100% of our work is virtual. This has allowed Collegiate Gateway’s client base to expand all over the country and internationally.
And we use technology and systems in our business practices to help our students be as organized and efficient as possible, and make the most informed decisions. Our proprietary systems also allow our staff so much more time to work with our clients on the creative side of the admissions process.
What was your work life like before Collegiate Gateway? What about your previous work experience do you think is most relevant to the work you do now?
Before Collegiate Gateway, I was a teacher in New York City. I taught fourth grade at a public charter school and then second grade at an independent school. I was always an active member of curriculum committees, and I was a grade-level leader in my last six years of teaching. After school and on weekends I enjoyed tutoring students who needed extra academic support and led extracurricular clubs like cooking, math club, and track.
Now, at Collegiate Gateway, I continue to work to help students and families achieve their educational goals. The tools I developed as an educator apply to students I’m working with at any age, whether we’re selecting courses, discussing college preferences, or writing a personal essay.
Going further back, what did you study in college and graduate school? How has that influenced your approach to working with students and their families?
At Lehigh University, I majored in English and minored in both Business and Sociology. The writing and editing skills I developed in my English courses have been useful in both my teaching and the work I do now. When deciding on a major, I knew that strong written communication skills and the ability to analyze pieces of literature would be invaluable in any career, but most of all I loved to read! My business courses were also practical, as they gave me a helpful overview of accounting, finance, and marketing. As a sophomore at Lehigh, I applied to the Five-Year Master’s of Education program and earned my M.Ed. in 2009.
What do you remember about applying to college?
I remember feeling very unsure of where to start with the process. As a high school student, I didn’t have a strong sense of what I wanted to major in or what type of school would be a good fit for me. Then, a friend and I took a bus to Cornell to visit her older sister and everything changed. Just stepping foot on a campus, hearing about her classes, and eating in a dining hall motivated me to engage in the process. My parents and I started visiting colleges and narrowed down a list of schools that would be a good fit for me.
There were many late nights working on essay drafts and filling out applications in between school work, volleyball practices and weekend tournaments. I was ultimately denied at my first-choice school and waitlisted at Lehigh, which was my second choice at the time. I reluctantly decided to attend another school on my list, but felt very disappointed.
A few weeks later, I felt my cell phone buzzing in my backpack during Chemistry class. I excused myself to go to the bathroom, sneaking my cell phone in the pocket of my school uniform skirt, and listened to the voicemail. It was Lehigh’s Admissions Office, telling me I had been accepted off the waitlist. I called them back right away to accept the offer! Looking back, that first-choice school wouldn’t have been the right place for me, and my experience at Lehigh was extraordinary. Everything truly worked out for the best.
What are your most meaningful college memories, and how have they shaped who you are today?
Although the learning that happens inside classrooms is important, what really shaped me into who I am today were my experiences outside of the classroom. Most semesters, I had an internship where I worked with a teacher in one of the public schools right near Lehigh’s campus. I also was a peer educator at the health center, where I led trainings for students around campus. These experiences and the relationships I formed taught me invaluable lessons about working with students, which applies to all the work I do today.
What was your favorite college class, or who was your favorite college professor?
On a whim, I took an Intro to Sociology class as a sophomore at Lehigh. The professor, Heather Johnson, was inspiring in every way. She not only facilitated important conversations about race and class, but she also lived out the concepts in her personal life and shared the stories of her amazing achievements with us. I ended up adding a sociology minor because of that first class with her!
Tell us about your life outside of work. What do you do when you’re away from the computer?
My time away from the computer is always with my family. My husband and I live on Long Island with our three young kids and our Golden Retriever. We love to spend time outside, riding bikes, playing in the snow—whatever the season allows! In my spare time, I love to read; I especially love rereading Jane Austen novels. But I also like to wind down with some entertaining TV, like The Bachelor or the reality shows on Bravo.
What’s one piece of art that you’ve loved recently, and why?
Beneath a Scarlet Sky, by Mark Sullivan, was a real page-turner that I couldn’t put down! Historical fiction always grabs my attention, but this book is based on the true story of a teenage boy during World War II. It’s an incredibly moving story.
What do you most enjoy about your work?
Although I enjoy the research aspect of my job a lot (learning about colleges and grad programs, gathering admissions stats, analyzing trends), I really love working with students directly. Those meetings bring all the research to life and make it meaningful and purposeful.
What one piece of advice would you give to high school students applying to college?
Research, research, research! Learn as much as you can about each school on your college list, and only keep schools on the list that you’d happily attend.