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Crafting Your Ideal College List

With over 3500 colleges in the United States to choose from, it’s no surprise that many students struggle to decide which of them to apply to. This blog will provide a step-by-step guide to making this process effective and even fun! We recommend that you explore and visit colleges throughout junior year and finalize your college list in the summer before senior year.

Finding Your “Best-Fit” College Features

The most important aspect of the college admissions process is FIT. Which colleges will be the best fit for you as a unique individual? At which colleges will you be most able to grow academically, socially, and personally?

Start by thinking about your preferences. Here are some features to consider as you build your list of “best-fit” features:

  • Size. A small college (with fewer than 4000 students) tends to offer a more close-knit sense of community, with smaller, discussion-based classes, and closer relationships with professors. On the other hand, a large college (with more than 10,000 students) tends to offer more options of courses, specialized programs, clubs and organizations, and even friends. And a medium-sized college (with about 3,000 – 10,000 students) provides a blend of qualities of a small and large school.
  • Liberal Arts vs Specialized Programs. Smaller colleges tend to offer a “liberal arts” curriculum, with courses in the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities, such as psychology, history, and biology. On the other hand, larger universities often include specialized, pre-professional colleges within the school, and focus on areas such as business, engineering, communication, and architecture. Your academic interests and preferences for a certain size of college will help you decide which type of school is best for you.
  • Academics: Majors and Minors. What subjects interest you the most? Which classes have you most enjoyed? Research academic programs on colleges’ websites. See how many faculty members are in your areas of interest and review the departments’ courses and research opportunities. If you have a few different academic areas of interest, you will likely be able to pursue multiple subjects at college through a double-major or a major and minor. In colleges in the US, typically you can choose any combination of fields for a double-major or major/minor. For example, I have worked with students with a major in engineering and minor in studio art, a major in physics and minor in dance, and a major in Spanish and minor in biology!In addition, colleges are increasingly offering degrees in interdisciplinary areas, such as Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at University of Pennsylvania, biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, and neuroscience at Washington University in St. Louis.  An academic area that has been growing at many universities is STEAM, the combination of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math.
  • Distribution Requirements. In addition to the courses in your academic major, think about whether you have a strong preference for being exposed to a broad-based curriculum, or having the freedom to construct your entire course of study. Most colleges require that you take 8-10 courses (about a third of your total coursework) in a variety of academic areas in order to receive a broad-based education. Colleges range from having no distribution requirements (such as Brown University) to having a prescribed core curriculum (Columbia University). Most colleges fall in between, offering choices of courses in a variety of categories. For example, Princeton University has distribution requirements in the areas of Epistemology and Cognition, Ethical thought and Moral Values, Historical Analysis, Literature and the Arts, Social Analysis, Quantitative Reasoning, and Science and Technology.
  • Study Abroad. Most colleges offer the opportunity to study abroad for a semester or year and provide credit for coursework at other universities. Some colleges, such as New York University, have developed their own programs abroad, staffed by their own faculty. How important is it to you to study abroad? If so, research colleges’ study abroad policies to see how feasible it would be given your intended major, and find out the percent of students who typically do study abroad to determine if it is part of the school’s culture.
  • Internships. Would you like to work for an organization for a semester or more during your college years? This opportunity can be an excellent supplement to your academic coursework and expose you to potential careers. Some colleges build internships into the curriculum by requiring that you participate in one or more “co-op” semesters. Additionally, internships are more available in cities than in remote areas.
  • Extracurricular Activities. Are there clubs and organizations that are very important to you in college? These might include a cappella groups, theater, athletic clubs and intramural teams, religious organizations, or community service opportunities.
  • Location. Do you prefer a certain location in the US or beyond? Do you want to be in or near a city, or do you prefer proximity to nature? Is it important for you to be close to home?
  • Social Life. What is your preference for the social life on campus? How important is it to have strong athletic spirit or the presence of Greek life?

What is your personality like? As you reflect on these features, take into consideration your personality! Are you more extraverted or introverted? Would you prefer meeting a lot of people or spending time with a small group of close friends? Do you prefer a more structured or laid-back environment? Do you like to learn from classroom instruction or do you prefer a more hand-on approach? The more you understand yourself, the better equipped you will be to find a college that is a good fit for you.

Making the Most of Your College Visits

Now that you have identified features that are important to you, what’s next?

Research colleges to decide where to visit:

  • Research colleges online. Look up their websites, and read about their academic programs, extracurricular activities, and college culture.
  • Read college guidebooks, such as The Princeton Review and The Fiske Guide.
  • Speak with college students.
  • Attend local information sessions of colleges.

Plan to visit colleges. Now that you have identified schools that could be a good fit for you, visit their admissions websites to see if you need to register in advance for a tour and information session. Plan to eat in the dining hall so that you can speak with students and get a feel for the culture of the school. Try to arrange meetings with professors in your fields of interest; you can ask them why they chose to teach at the college and how they would describe the student body. You can also meet with staff in specialized offices, such as honors programs or learning centers.

In gathering all this information during your visits, you will begin to discover your college preferences.

Creating Your College List

Now that you have visited colleges and evaluated whether they are a good fit for you, you can develop your college list. Keep evaluating their features to make sure that your colleges suit your needs. The goal is not only to be accepted, but to succeed and thrive at your colleges!

Decide on 10-12 colleges to apply to. We recommend that you end up with 10-12 colleges on your list, with a combination of reach, target, and safe colleges.  Generally speaking, here are your admissions chances at these categories of schools:

  • Safe: more than a 75% chance of acceptance
  • Target: about a 50% chance of being admitted (your profile matches the profile of admitted students)
  • Reach: less than a 25% chance of acceptance

Assess your candidacy!  The most important factors in college admission remain the numbers:

  • Grades, especially in the core curriculum courses of English, history, foreign language, math, and science;
  • Rigor of curriculum, evaluated within the context of what’s offered at your high school;
  • Standardized testing, including the ACT or SAT, Subject Tests, AP exams, and IB grades.

Learn about your high school’s admissions history. Most schools use Naviance, a web-based software program that presents the admissions outcomes of students from your school, based on their GPA and test scores. Compare your academic profile with students from your school who have been accepted to colleges in which you are interested.

Below is a scattergram of students who applied to Emory University from Schreiber High School in Port Washington.  If your GPA and test scores place you in the top right of the scattergram, near all the green squares of accepted students, you have a strong chance of being accepted, if you meet Emory’s other criteria.  If your GPA and test scores place you in the lower left below the icons of accepted students, Emory may be a reach for you, unless you have a strong admissions “hook,” such as being a recruited athlete, legacy, under-represented minority, or first-generation student.

Boost your candidacy through your personal qualities. Although colleges place significant emphasis on your grades and test scores in their evaluation of your candidacy, qualitative factors have increased in importance over the last decade.  Colleges are interested in all the ways that you will contribute to campus life outside the classroom. To that end,  engage in extracurricular activities that genuinely interest you.  These activities can play a positive role in the following aspects of your application:

  • Essays and Interviews: you can discuss your involvement in activities in your Personal Essay, colleges’ supplemental essays, and interviews;
  • Recommendations: you can ask for letters of recommendation from people outside the academic courses, such as research mentors, coaches, clergy, supervisors of employment or internships

Balancing “Reach” With “Realistic”

Keep in mind overall admissions trends. The numbers of students attending college has been increasing and is projected to continue to increase over the next decade. More students are applying to college, and each student is applying to an increasing number of colleges. As a result, admissions rates have declined, and selectivity has increased. It has become increasingly more important to have a realistic list.

Make sure your college list is balanced. In a typical college list of 12 colleges, about 5 should be “target” schools (you have about a 50% chance of being admitted), with about 3-4 each of “safe” schools (more than a 75% chance of acceptance), and “reach” schools (less than a 25% chance of acceptance).

Tailor your list. Each individual’s college list should be suited to their academic and personal needs. If you would like a very challenging academic environment and have a strong academic profile, you could have more reach schools. If you would like a more manageable course load, or are trying to manage learning, emotional, or psychological challenges, you may want to increase the number of safe schools.

The process of deciding which colleges to visit, which to apply to, and which college to attend is complex! If you would like individualized guidance, feel free to contact us at www.collegiategateway.com. As always, we’re happy to help!

Making the Most of Your Summer Break

Spring is fast approaching…which means it’s time to think ahead to summer!  For high school students, summer represents a break from an intense academic schedule, and the opportunity to pursue your own interests. You have an array of options—whether it’s immersing yourself in the culture of another country, taking courses on topics not available at your school, conducting research in a lab, participating in internships, or performing community service.  Whatever you choose, make sure it’s a great fit for your interests and future goals.  Here are a variety of objectives you can fulfill through your summer activities.

Do Your Summer Experiences Really Matter?

From the perspective of college admissions, your choice of summer activity—and what you gain from the experience—can communicate volumes about your potential to enhance the college campus.  But keep in mind that there does not exist one “right” choice of summer activity; the “best” choice for you depends on a variety of factors, based on your interests, needs and goals.

Goals for Your Summer Activities

In planning your summer, it’s best to begin by identifying what you want to accomplish. Would you like to use your time to further develop an existing passion, find a new one, or take time to recharge? Here’s an overview of several different ways to approach these decisions.

Deepen an existing interest

As you make your summer plans, consider the activities you have pursued during your high school academic years and summers.  Have you enjoyed these activities? Would you like to further your involvement? Many students find that the summer enables them to continue to explore an existing interest, deepen their knowledge, and confirm their dedication to this activity.

Example: Natalie conducted science research in organic chemistry at Columbia University, and won a variety of awards at regional science competitions.  Carrying out extensive research, taking summer science courses at Columbia, and shadowing doctors confirmed her interest in pursuing medicine as a career.  She became a pre-med major at Cornell University, and currently attends New York University School of Medicine.

Students can also use the summer to test out academic interests as possible career paths.

Example: Michael loved the business courses he took in sophomore and junior year, especially those in accounting.  During the following summer, he worked at a men’s retail business in London, arranged through the Summer Discovery Program.  His budgeting work confirmed his desire to pursue a career in business, and he is now at Lehigh University’s College of Business and Economics.

It may also be possible to combine a few goals during the summer.

Example: Amanda was passionate about her art.  Her goal was to attend a top art program at a university.  She also wanted to earn spending money for college.  During the summer, she worked at an ice cream shop, took art classes, and created art in a variety of genres to submit as an Art Portfolio with her college applications.  She is now attending the Stamps School of Art and Design at the University of Michigan.

Explore a new interest

Other students, however, use the summer in an opposite, though equally valid, way: they pursue a new interest in order to explore this field as a potential major, minor, or even career.

Example: Adam especially enjoyed his classes in math and drawing, and wondered if architecture would allow him to combine these passions.  He decided to test this out by taking an intensive six-week “Introduction to Architecture” course at Cornell University.  He found that both the subject matter and the intensity of the all-night work sessions appealed to him. He enrolled in the Architecture School at Washington University in St. Louis and won awards for sustainability projects that incorporated his architectural knowledge.

Some students use the summer to plunge into a totally new area.

Example: Steven had excelled in a traditional high school academic curriculum dominated by the five core subjects. He decided to use the summer to branch out and take courses in entirely new areas. At Oxbridge Academic Programs, he took an interdisciplinary course in philosophy, psychology, and economics and began to read voraciously about this relatively new field. He is now committed to studying interdisciplinary areas, and is particularly interested in pursuing the Biological Basis of Behavior, and Philosophy, Politics, and Economics programs at Penn.

At the same time, a summer experience in which you realize that a particular field is not for you can be just as valuable.

Example: Kristen worked in a local retail store during the summer after junior year because she thought she would like to major in business.  While her responsibilities working with customers and helping with purchasing did not appeal to her, she loved writing fashion blogs.  She is now a Psychology major at University of Southern California, and hopes to pursue a career in social media analytics.

Take a break: re-connect and refresh

For other students, the best use of summer is to reconnect with friends socially and enjoy the continuity of deepening ongoing relationships.

Example: Stacey spent the ten months of every school year in anticipation of attending her summer sleep-away camp. Although her parents felt it might be useful for her to vary her summer activities, Stacey’s strong preference to cap off her eight years at summer camp by serving as a counselor after sophomore year prevailed.  That summer was an enormous growth opportunity for her, as she learned how to be responsible for younger campers and serve as a role model. As a result of her experiences, she decided that she wanted to work with children as a career, and is majoring in Psychology and Early Childhood Education at Tulane.

Some students use the summer to refresh themselves by exploring a totally novel environment.

Example: Li Na grew up in a suburb of Shanghai China, and was eager to attend college in the United States.  She had always been adventurous, and wanted a break after her intense junior year.  After evaluating many options of summer programs, she decided to spend a month in Montana as part of Visions Service Adventures, which combined outdoor activities such as white water rafting with community service work helping the elderly.  She was delighted to discover that she had much in common with the other international students. Her travel experience helped her decide to attend a college with a strong commitment to a diverse student body and extensive study abroad programs, and she is now a sophomore at New York University.

Fulfill academic or financial responsibilities

For some students, summer is a time to fulfill obligations. Academic responsibilities mayinclude taking additional coursework to lighten your load during the year or qualify for higher-level courses. Financial obligations vary from being responsible for the care of younger siblings to help your family save on childcare or earning money through summer work.

Rewards of Summer Activities

Summer activities offer many potential rewards, and will help develop your self-awareness in terms of your personality, preferences, strengths, and interests. As you function independently in an environment outside your home, you may have the chance to solve problems, make decisions, develop resilience and responsibility, and learn how to manage your time.  If you work with others, you can also strengthen your skills in collaboration and teamwork.

In addition, stimulating activities help your brain develop, especially through the teen years!  According to Dr. Jay Giedd, researcher at NIH:

“Use it or lose it! If a teen is doing music or sports or academics, those are the cells and connections that will be hardwired. If they’re lying on the couch or playing video games or MTV, those are the cells and connections that are going to survive.”

Finally, your summer activities may also provide you with some powerful admissions essay topics!  Deciding on the best summer activities for you involves juggling many factors.  As always at Collegiate Gateway, we’re here to help!

Making the Most of Your Summer Break

 

Spring is fast approaching…which means it’s time to think ahead to summer!  For high school students, summer represents a break from an intense academic schedule, and the opportunity to engage in a new world. You have an array of options –whether it’s immersing yourself in the culture of another country, taking courses on topics not available at your school, conducting research in a lab, participating in internships, or performing community service.  Whatever you choose, make sure it’s a great fit for your interests and future goals.  Here are a variety of objectives you can fulfill through your summer activities.

Do Your Summer Experiences Really Matter?

From the perspective of college admissions, your choice of summer activity – and what you gain from the experience – can communicate volumes about your potential to enhance the college campus.  But keep in mind that there does not exist one “right” choice of summer activity; the “best” choice for you depends on a variety of factors, based on your interests, needs and goals.

Goals for Your Summer Activities

In planning your summer, it’s best to begin by identifying what you want to accomplish. Would you like to use your time to further develop an existing passion, find a new one, or take time to recharge? Here’s an overview of several different ways to approach these decisions.

Deepen an existing interest

As you make your summer plans, consider the activities you have pursued during your high school academic years and summers.  Have you enjoyed these activities? Would you like to further your involvement? Many students find that the summer enables them to continue to explore an existing interest, deepen their knowledge, and confirm their dedication to this activity.

Example:

Natalie conducted science research in organic chemistry at Columbia University, and won a variety of awards at regional science competitions.   Carrying out this extensive research, taking summer science courses at Columbia, and shadowing doctors confirmed her interest in pursuing medicine as a career.  She became a pre-med major at Cornell University, and currently attends New York University School of Medicine.

Students can also use the summer to test out academic interests as possible career paths.

Example:

Michael loved the business courses he took in sophomore and junior year, especially those in accounting.  During the following summer, he worked at a men’s retail business in London, arranged through the Summer Discovery Program.  His budgeting work confirmed his desire to pursue business, and he is now at Lehigh University’s College of Business and Economics.

It may also be possible to combine a few goals during the summer.

Example:

Amanda was passionate about her art.  Her goal was to attend a top art program at a university.  She also wanted to earn spending money for college.  During the summer, she worked at an ice cream shop, took art classes, and created art in a variety of genres to submit as an Art Portfolio with her college applications.  She is now attending the Stamps School of Art and Design at the University of Michigan.

Explore a new interest

Other students, however, use the summer in the opposite, though equally valid, way: they pursue a new interest in order to explore this field as a potential major, minor, or even career.

Example:

Adam especially enjoyed his classes in math and drawing, and wondered if architecture could be a way to combine these passions.  He decided to test this out by taking an intensive six-week “Introduction to Architecture” course at Cornell University.  He found that both the subject matter and the intensity of the all-night work sessions appealed to him. He enrolled in the Architecture School at Washington University in St. Louis and won awards for sustainability projects that incorporated his architectural knowledge.

Some students use the summer to plunge into a totally new area.

Example:

Steven had excelled in a traditional academic curriculum in high school dominated by the five core subjects. He decided to use the summer to branch out and take courses in entirely new areas. At Oxbridge Academic Programs, he took an interdisciplinary course on Philosophy: Of Mind and Morals that changed his life.  He was exposed to behavioral economics and began to read voraciously about this relatively new field that combined psychology and economics. He is now committed to studying interdisciplinary areas, and is particularly interested in pursuing the Biological Basis of Behavior, and Philosophy, Politics, and Economics programs at Penn.

At the same time, a summer experience in which you realize that a particular field is not for you can be just as valuable.

Example:

Kristen worked in a local retail store during the summer after junior year because she thought she would like to major in business.  While her responsibilities working with customers and helping with purchasing did not appeal to her, she loved writing blogs.  She is now a Psychology major at University of Southern California, and seeks a career in social media analytics.

Take a break: re-connect and refresh

For other students, the best use of summer is to reconnect with friends socially and enjoy the continuity of deepening ongoing relationships.

Example:

Stacey spent the ten months of every school year in anticipation of attending her summer sleep-away camp. Although her parents felt it might be useful for her to vary her summer activities, Stacey’s strong preference to cap off her eight years at summer camp by serving as a counselor after sophomore year prevailed.  That summer was an enormous growth opportunity for her, as she learned how to be responsible for younger campers and serve as a role model. As a result of her experiences, she decided that she wanted to work with children as a career, and is majoring in Psychology and Early Childhood Education at Tulane.

Some students use the summer to refresh themselves by exploring a totally novel environment.

Example:

Li Na grew up in a suburb of Shanghai China, and was eager to attend college in the United States.  She had always been adventurous, and wanted a refreshing break after her intense junior year.  After evaluating many options of summer programs, she decided to spend a month in Montana as part of Visions Service Adventures, which combined outdoor activities such as white water rafting with community service work helping the elderly.  She was delighted to discover that she had much in common with the other international students. Her travel experience helped her decide to attend a college with a strong commitment to a diverse student body and extensive study abroad programs, and is now a sophomore at New York University.

Fulfill academic or financial responsibilities

For some students, summer is a time to fulfill obligations. These can include taking additional coursework to lighten your load during the year or qualify for higher-level courses, being responsible for the care of younger siblings, or earning money.

Rewards of Summer Activities

Summer activities offer many potential rewards, and will help develop your self-awareness in terms of your personality, preferences, strengths, and interests. As you function independently in an environment outside your home, you may have the chance to solve problems, make decisions, develop resilience and responsibility, and learn how to manage your time.  If you work with others, you can also strengthen your skills in collaboration and teamwork. In addition, stimulating activities help your brain develop, especially through the teen years!  According to Dr. Jay Giedd, researcher at NIH:

“Use it or lose it! If a teen is doing music or sports or academics, those are the cells and connections that will be hardwired. If they’re lying on the couch or playing video games or MTV, those are the cells and connections that are going to survive.”

Finally, your summer activities may also provide you with some powerful admissions essay topics!  Deciding on the best summer activities for you involves juggling many factors.  As always, we’re here to help!

 

What Work Experience is Needed for an MBA?

Is my current work experience good enough? How can I get the right experience to make me an ideal applicant? How much do I need to have?

Navigating the MBA application process is complex—especially when it comes to work experience. Unlike a GMAT score or GPA, there is no number that really tells us how much (and what kind) of experience an applicant needs to be successful. In this blog, Collegiate Gateway will help clear the fog and shed some light on this enigmatic aspect of the MBA process.

How much work experience should I have?

While the amount of work experience one should have varies from school to school, students at top business schools typically matriculate with at least two to three years of full-time work experience. According to Harvard Business School, the average time between undergraduate and business school is four years, and at least 30 percent of matriculated students worked for two to three years prior to business school. However, students should be aware that quality matters more than quantity – more work experience does not necessarily equate to better chances at admission. According to Mae Jennifer Shores, Director of Admissions at UCLA/Anderson, “The depth and breadth of work experience are more important than the amount of time or number of years spent working.”

What types of work experience should I have? Do internships count?

Students at top business schools usually have work experience that is in the form of full-time, paid positions. Collegiate Gateway has spoken with top admissions offices from Harvard Business School, Columbia Business School, and the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern, and found that full-time paid training programs, such as apprenticeships or job shadowing, have the same value as other types of paid employment.

For applicants who wish to apply to MBA programs immediately after college, internships can be a great way to show dedication towards a career path or to highlight accomplishments. However, Graham Richmond, graduate and former admissions official at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School notes that “admissions officers do look at [internships] as a part of the applicant’s profile, but given that most applicants also have full-time, paid positions to showcase, they often take a bit of a back seat.”

No matter what their experience, it is important that applicants assess their professional profile and the roles they have taken on. Were you proactive? Did you take on leadership roles? What were your contributions? What was your impact? These are all important questions to ask – a person with less experience, but more responsibilities under their belt may be considered a stronger applicant. Professional experiences are only assets if you are able to emphasize how they are relevant to your career goals.

What field of work makes me the best candidate for an MBA?

MBA applicants come from all different types of background – there is no “correct” profile that one must adopt to be qualified. No specific background is required for the degree – in fact, business schools aim for a well-rounded student body. This often means that those applying from an oversubscribed profession (such as Finance, IT, or Consulting) may have to work even harder to stand out in an applicant pool. In a survey conducted by TopMBA in 2012 on the employment background on candidates, only 16.3% of candidates came from a financial services background and 11.6% from consulting, with the other 72.1% coming from various other fields. 

Most business schools have pre-requisites, so students may be required to take general mathematics, accounting, finance or similar courses before starting their MBA program. Applicants with an undergraduate degree in a business-related field are more likely to have completed pre-requisites for the MBA program and may bypass additional course load. But for those without such a background, these classes will help student learn concepts that will adequately prepare them and ensure that they succeed in the program.

How important is work experience?

MBA admissions are a multi-faceted process, and there is no single factor that will make or break an application. When assessing an applicant, there are many aspects that are considered: GMAT scores, undergraduate GPA, caliber of undergraduate institution, coursework, degrees earned—all these factors play a part. Additionally, candidates are also evaluated based on their leadership, ability to work in teams, emotional intelligence, and other non-quantifiable characteristics. Admissions counselors are looking for a candidate who is well-prepared and ready to master challenging tasks. It is up to you to draw from your experiences and build the credentials that can show that you are ready to take on an MBA program.

Choosing to pursue an MBA is a major career decision, and there are many components of the application process to take into consideration. Collegiate Gateway is always happy to help! Please feel free to contact us.

Career Corner: From School to Scooters, The Path to a Career in Industrial Design


When Katie Powers was considering colleges in 2002, she knew that she loved art, but she also felt strongly that she didn’t want to go to a small arts school.

Rather, she wanted a liberal arts education, aiming to major in English and minor in art. She fell in love with the University of Notre Dame, and she was accepted. During her freshman year, she found that her AP courses from high school gave her the opportunity to opt out of several freshman year requirements. This gave her the flexibility to immediately start taking art courses. She began by taking courses in graphic design.

In her second semester, Katie took a drafting course, her first industrial design class. The last few projects were open-ended, and without thinking she suddenly found herself with a sketchbook filled with rubber ducks and Transformers. She says, “Looking back, I realize now that those were the first toys I ever designed. Once I started drawing things in 3-D versus 2-D, I enjoyed it so much that I decided to change my major from Graphic Design to Industrial Design.”

Notre Dame’s Industrial Design program trained Katie in all fields, from designing Third World water pumps to staplers to personal flotation devices. But whenever she was given the opportunity to create an open-ended project, she always chose to design products for children.

Senior year, Katie volunteered to take a corporate-sponsored class in order to participate in a project with Radio Flyer, a toy company specializing in ride-on vehicles and most famously known for the “little red wagon.” She thought this would be a great networking opportunity, and she valued the chance to work alongside engineering and marketing students to design and present a new tricycle concept to a professional client.

This class helped Katie to secure an interview with Radio Flyer, and she was offered a paid internship in Chicago, beginning the fall after her graduation. “Radio Flyer had many connections to the University of Notre Dame. Many of my colleagues had gone through the same program at Notre Dame, knew the course load and professors that I had known. This made for an easier transition from college to the design industry.”

Katie interned for three months, before accepting a position as a full-time Industrial Designer. She worked at Radio Flyer for four and a half years designing wagons, scooters, and spring horses. She participated in consumer research, product design, prototyping, and structural packaging design. Katie also re-branded the girls’ line to make it more consistent with the heritage of the Radio Flyer brand. Since the department was relatively small when she started, designers were encouraged to take on many different roles, and it was not unusual for Katie to jump from a sewing machine where she was prototyping wagon seat covers, to a computer where she was using SolidWorks to build scooter decks, to the model shop where she could be sculpting a quarter-scale spring horse model out of clay.

“I enjoyed the culture and felt they really supported my growth as a designer. Wearing so many hats sometimes made growing as a designer difficult, because I had to juggle so many different tasks. However, having first-hand experience with every step of the development process is an invaluable tool that still shapes the way I design today.”

Eventually, Katie decided she wanted to move back to the East Coast to be closer to family and seek new opportunities in design. But finding a job proved harder than she had anticipated. She found that companies on the East Coast recruited heavily from well-known East Coast design schools, such as FIT, RISD, Pratt, Parson, and the School of Visual Arts. Not many companies were familiar with the University of Notre Dame’s art program, and her alumni contacts were not what they had been in Chicago.

While Katie was seeking a position in New York, she continued to design for Radio Flyer as a freelancer. She was particularly interested in the company, Skip Hop, known for designing functional and trendy baby and toddler products, and she pursued them for several months before she was finally contacted back. She was given the opportunity to freelance, and she did so for nine months.

Finally, Katie got her big break through a Linked-In connection.  She secured an interview with Fisher-Price Friends, a small satellite office of the Fisher-Price corporation that handles most of the licensed business for the brand. After freelancing for a year, Katie was eager to return to the collaborative environment of an in-house design team.

At Fisher Price, Katie did not get the first position that she interviewed for, but she did get the second one; she was hired as a Senior Designer for the Thomas and Friends team, and she helped launch and develop the Wooden Railway line. After two years of designing wood and motorized train systems, Katie transitioned to the Octonauts’ license where she continues to design vehicles and play sets based on the popular television show and illustrated book series. At Fisher Price, which is twice the size of her previous companies, Katie gained new experience in working with external licensors and dealing with a more aggressive schedule and project load.

While the process of finding an industrial design job on the East Coast may have proved more difficult than initially expected, Katie does not regret her decision not to attend an East Coast arts school. In looking back at her college experience, Katie says, “I wouldn’t change anything about my education. My professors were so focused on helping me to find success. I also like that I was able to take other classes outside of art, like Anthropology and Chinese Philosophy, and I had the opportunity to study abroad in Ireland my junior year.”

This broad education gives Katie the confidence that she could work for any company, designing kitchen goods or motorcycles. Notre Dame purposely did not structure their design classes around instruction of specific software programs like Photoshop or Illustrator, because their philosophy is that the theory of design is most important.

“You need to know what’s a good design and what isn’t and how to communicate your ideas so that they make it from conception to production.” Katie said.

“The biggest struggle in my career,” says Katie, “is continually opening up a blank sketchbook and striving to draw something that no one has thought of before. Half of the battle is often having enough patience with myself to know that the ideas will come, just not always as fast as I’d like. I love being an industrial designer because every day presents a different challenge with a new set of rules and the possibilities for design are limitless.”

Also, her desk is fully stocked with Nerf guns, miniature trains, and glow-in-the-dark slime containers, and her coworkers crash remote controlled flying drones into the light fixtures on a daily basis. It’s never boring.