Did you know that it’s been almost 20 years since Julie Raynor Gross founded Collegiate Gateway? Over the past two decades, so much has changed, both in the organization—Collegiate Gateway has expanded its client base, staff, geographic reach and services offered—and in college admissions more broadly. To mark this milestone, here’s a peek at the inner workings of the organization via interviews with Collegiate Gateway’s staff members. First up: Julie Raynor Gross herself!
What prompted you to found Collegiate Gateway nearly 20 years ago?
I had worked in a variety of businesses and organizations for 24 years and wanted to create a business from the ground up that would help young people reach their potential. I had always loved school and considered myself a lifelong learner; I wanted to imbue students with that same passion for learning. College admissions consulting seemed like an ideal way to combine many activities that I greatly enjoyed: interacting with people, understanding and mediating family dynamics, acquiring knowledge about the dynamic field of higher education, traveling to visit colleges, conducting research, writing, and editing.
How has Collegiate Gateway evolved over the past 20 years? How has your role in the organization evolved?
When Collegiate Gateway began, we exclusively provided college admissions consulting, primarily to families on Long Island and New York City. Since then, we’ve grown our client base, geographic reach, and services offered, largely as a result of referrals from clients, colleagues, and related services, such as test prep tutors. We also reach new clients by sharing our knowledge through social media, national presentations at industry conferences, and an active program of publicly available video presentations.
Now, while college advising remains a significant area, almost half of our advising is for graduate school, including medical, law, and business school, as well as Master’s and PhD programs. As part of that expansion, we work with clients all over the United States and internationally.
In turn, the Collegiate Gateway organization has grown, and my own role has broadened to include management and team building. I was a solo practitioner when I began in 2004. I slowly added staff as I saw the value of having additional people help perform various support functions. We now have a wonderful staff who perform a combination of client services, research, analytics, social media, and editing; staff also develop informational tools to increase our clients’ knowledge, productivity, and organization. I am very fortunate to have an extremely talented and devoted team who love helping students and their families!
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 I started Collegiate Gateway, I had three significant work experiences that strengthened my skills and informed what kind of work I enjoyed. After I graduated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, I spent two years working at Harvard University for the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and loved learning about the inner workings of a top university. I provided research support for the Faculty Council; for example, I conducted research that led to the formation of the Women’s Studies department!
After I graduated from Harvard Business School, I pivoted to the profit sector and worked for Newsday, a top newspaper in the New York metropolitan area, as head of the newly formed department of strategic planning. I worked closely with the Publisher, President, and executive team to help plan Newsday’s growth and spearhead initiatives such as “electronic information delivery,” which is now known as the internet! I incorporate a lot of strategic planning in my current work by developing a customized college admissions plan for each individual student.
After that, I spent 18 years at my family business, which was a wholesaler to the beauty salon industry, in order to have a flexible work situation while I was raising my two children. In that capacity, I helped bring the company into the electronic age by establishing a website and converting the printing of the product catalog to a computer-to-plate operation. From this experience, I saw how much I love the combination of helping people and using technology, themes that I continue to incorporate in my work today.
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 Princeton University, I majored in developmental psychology; minored in English; and participated in the Teacher Preparation Program, through which I became certified to teach high school English. I then attended two Master’s level graduate programs, in education and business.
As a developmental psychology major, I studied growth from birth to young adulthood. I feel that the developmental stages of the students I work with – who range from 14 years to 30 years – are critical in one’s life. This is a period of enormous brain development, and in my discussions with students I focus heavily on their intellectual growth, exploring what they’ve learned, what excites them the most about learning, and how they approach academic projects. My education in English exposed me to many phenomenal authors and a variety of writing styles. This strengthened my writing, editing, and critiquing skills, which I apply to helping students brainstorm essays and then editing their essays in a way that preserves their voice. And I am very grateful that I participated in Princeton’s Teacher Preparation Program in my senior year of college, during which I student-taught a senior year class at Princeton High School, and fondly remember spending the entire first class discussing the first line of Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms!
In my graduate studies at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, I took several courses in the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences that have been extremely relevant to my current work, including Counseling, Social Dynamics, and Adult Development. My education at Harvard Business School provided a rigorous and robust framework for creating and growing a business at a high level of professionalism. Several courses that had a significant impact deal with the operations side of a business: modeling and operations flow. I have designed various computer models that enable Collegiate Gateway to help students keep organized; and I use principles of operations flow to maintain an effective timeline to meet their goals.
What do you remember about applying to college?
I remember meeting with my guidance counselor, who suggested that I apply to Princeton, which shocked my parents and me because we were not that that familiar with colleges at the time! None of my grandparents had attended college. My mother went to Brooklyn College and my father went to the City College of New York, and they were very happy with their education. I remember applying to only six colleges (a normal number at the time—not so anymore!). I also remember writing my Personal Essay in the middle of the night, when the house was very quiet.
What are your most meaningful college memories, and how have they shaped who you are today?
My three most meaningful college memories are writing my senior thesis, student-teaching at Princeton High School, and playing bridge incessantly with the suite of boys across the hall! My senior thesis was a developmental study of the impact of gender composition of groups of children on their preference for gendered toys. I drove a bus outfitted with toys that were stereotypically female, male, or neutral, and observed groups of four children of every gender combination choose among the toys. Developing a hypothesis, analyzing the data, and drawing conclusions was thrilling to me. I loved working closely with my mentor, Professor Diane Ruble, and feel that the entire process nurtured my intellectual development enormously. I think this experience played a big role in my enjoyment of working with high school students involved in 3-year research programs, and working with applicants to med school, Master’s and PhD programs, all of whom conduct research as a major component of their candidacy.
What was your favorite college class?
My favorite college class was Romantic Poetry because of the analysis of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “To a Skylark.” It described the complexity and richness of life in such eloquent, poignant terms that resonated with my adolescent philosophical self!
We look before and after,
And pine for what is not:
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.
Tell us about your life outside of work. What do you do when you’re away from the computer?
I love city life and beach life! My favorite cities are Manhattan and London—I love exploring theater, jazz, film, and dining with family and friends. In the summers, I relish the chance to swim, walk along the beach, and hear the sound of ocean waves. I used to play bridge regularly and am now reconnecting with that fascinating pastime!
What’s one piece of art (book, movie, painting, television show) that you’ve loved recently, and why?
I have particularly enjoyed various television series from other countries that feature strong lead characters, (who happen to be women!) These include two Danish series—Rita, about a schoolteacher, and Borgen, about a prime minister—as well as several British crime series, including Broadchurch and Vera, about chief inspectors. All the lead characters bring humanity to their work.
What do you most enjoy about your work?
So many things! I love meeting new people and learning about their unique identity, values, goals, and life experiences. I greatly enjoy helping my students identify genuine areas of interest and then suggesting ways to deepen those interests.
And I very much enjoy working on the Personal Statement—for both college and graduate school. For college admissions, the Personal Statement is intended to be a very creative piece of self-reflective writing about any topic the student chooses. For many high school students, this is the first time they have encountered this kind of writing; helping them develop their creativity and self-awareness is very gratifying.
For grad school applicants, the Personal Statement is their opportunity to connect the dots between past, present, and future: to tell an engaging, authentic story about the unique factors that have led them to their academic and career goals and why they will be successful. Many of my applicants have commented that this process has increased their self-awareness and enabled them to develop a cohesive narrative of their life.
What’s the single most frequent piece of advice you give to the students you work with?
Be yourself but be your best self! Be genuine and authentic but focus on the positive.