All posts by Erika Halstead

Welcome to the Senior Program!

Welcome Minds Matter NYC Class of 2019! As you head into the summer, and prepare for your amazing summer programs, we also wanted to remind you that college applications are right around the corner.

Because of that, Senior Program starts about 5 weeks earlier than Sophomore or Junior programs – this year, that’s Saturday, September 8th. Additionally, your college advisors will be reaching out to you over the summer, so check your email and make sure you respond. Don’t hesitate to reach out to them if you have any questions about the upcoming year, college lists, college visits, or anything else about the college application process, or what you can be doing now to prepare.

College Advisors:

  • Colin Thibadeau/Nick Catero (Kathleen’s Team) –,
  • April Daley (Mai’s Team and Jane’s Team) –
  • Katrina Butt (Karly’s Team and Sara’s Team) –
  • Chiraag Kapoor (Stanford’s Team and Mallory’s Team) –
  • Alison Pincus (Stephanie’s Team and Bisma’s Team) –

Before the first session, please email your College Advisor with the following:

  • Your final junior year report card or transcript. Make sure it has final grades for your entire junior year, both semesters, as well as regents scores.
  • Your scores from any SATs or ACTs you have taken – please do not send these to colleges yet. Please share only “real” scores, as opposed to PSAT, PreACT, or diagnostics.

Please also review and complete the following over the summer:

We will be reviewing your college lists over the summer, but in the meantime, you should be thinking about and working on the following:

And here are some resources to help start you off

College Visits

The best way to get to know a college is to visit it! We encourage you to try to visit as many schools on your list as possible.

Many colleges offer a variety of programs that can help you get to campus for a visit. Often, they’ll fly you in for an overnight or weekend stay, or help pay for other forms of transportation to and from campus.

IMPORTANT – these programs can be competitive, and often have application deadlines over the summer

Please follow the link below, for a comprehensive listing of “fly-in” programs and their deadlines. Don’t see a college on the list that you’re interested in? Contact their admissions office to find out what they can do to help!


Demonstrating interest

An increasingly important factor in college admissions decisions is demonstrated interest. Colleges like to know that you’re applying because you actually want to go there, and many colleges track all the ways applicants show they actually want to go there.

Now is the time to start demonstrating interest in colleges on your list

Here is a list of some simple, easy things you can do to start demonstrating interest:

Sign up for the mailing list

Make sure to open and read every email a college sends you. This requires checking your email every day, including your spam folder.

Visit Campus

See above. Colleges keep track of everyone who visits their campus, and if you visit and like it enough to apply, this is a clear indicator that you’d really like to go there.

Take a virtual tour

If you can’t visit, many colleges offer virtual tours on their websites.

Sign up for an interview

Many colleges offer interviews as a part of the application. Make sure to sign up for one. If you can’t make it to campus, ask them if they can arrange an interview via Phone or Computer. When deciding between two similar applicants, they may be more likely to select one who wanted to be interviewed. And don’t forget the thank you note!

Attend a local information session

College Admissions officers travel extensively, and most will be visiting the New York area this fall. Find out where they’ll be, and if they offer a public information session, sign up and attend!

Don’t be afraid to contact admissions offices directly to find out more about ways to visit, their local travel schedules, or any other information. Every bit of contact you have with them counts as demonstrated interest.

Common App Essays

The summer is a great time to start working on your college application essay! The essay is a chance to tell the admissions office all about you – who you are, what’s your story, what makes you someone interesting, that would contribute something to that college’s community.

Below are this year’s Common Application essay prompts. Start brainstorming now! Talk to your mentors and TLs too, they may have some great ideas for topics.

  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
  5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

SAT Registration

You’ve probably already taken the SAT, at least once, and don’t really want to think about it again. But it’s important to take it at least twice. The next two dates are August 25th (register by July 27th), and October 6th (register by September 7th).

SAT Subject Tests:

Make sure to research which of your colleges require SAT Subject Tests. If any do, don’t forget to register for those too. Take tests in your best subjects, and in subjects whose classes you’ve most recently taken.


Last, some students find that they do better on the ACT than the SAT. If you can find the time, sign up and try it out! You don’t have to report the scores, but you may find you do better with the ACT.

Teacher Recommendations

If you haven’t already, start thinking now about which teachers you’ll ask for recommendations in the fall. Ask teachers who you have a good relationship with, who know you, and who can speak to your many talents and your distinct personality. If possible, ask two teachers in different subject areas – maybe one in math or science, and one in English, Social Studies, or Foreign Language.


Questbridge is a highly competitive college match scholarship program, which seeks to connect the highest achieving, under-represented students, with some of the country’s most selective colleges and universities. Winners receive a full scholarship, including room and board. And yes, Minds Matter students have won Questbridge scholarships in the past, including one in three of the last four years.

The application process is very rigorous, and is due in September, not long after we begin Senior program. If you think you meet the profile, you should start working on your application as soon as possible, so you are ready to submit it in the fall. More information below:

How to Apply
Partner Colleges

Other Scholarships

In addition to college applications, we ask all Minds Matter seniors to apply to at least 5 outside scholarships. Some of the best of these scholarships have early deadlines, beginning over the summer, and continuing through the fall. Make sure to start doing research now, and check your email for updates from the Senior Program leaders on upcoming scholarship deadlines.

Some resources for searching for scholarships:

Scholly – Scholly is an app for searching for scholarships. We will give you an access code in the fall, if you do not already have one.

College Greenlight –
Fast Web –
FinAid –
Scholarship Database –
Zinch –
School Soup –

Fee Waivers

College Application and standardized test fees can add up! Fortunately, there are resources out there for getting fee waivers, to help pay for those costs.

Start by talking to your guidance counselors, who can help provide you with fee waivers through your schools, for both SATs and your college applications.

More information here.


Sophomore Lunch (1)

 As a thank you to their incredible group of Team Leaders, Sophomore Program Directors Caroline, Tom, Serena and Max, kicked off 2018 with a Mediterranean lunch in East Harlem. Serena shared: “We often don’t have a chance to connect given eight teams spanning two school sites. This lunch was opportunity for everyone to bond personally and share sessions best practices going forward. We learned fun facts like: Max is a point guard for a sports league, Lenny hosts open night mics, and a spring hike would be a fun upcoming team activity”



Katherine is a Minds Matter alumna and Senior team leader.

Q: How many years have you been with Minds Matter?

Katherine: Ten years, including my time as a mentee and volunteer.

Q: Describe your relationship(s) with the student(s) you work with. 

Katherine:  I have gotten so close to each mentee on my team. Being able to see them grow into young adults is one of the most rewarding parts of my role. Each of my mentees are completely different from each other, but amazing in their own way. I have had genuine conversations with each one of them about their progress, life, and their goals that have allowed us to built a circle of trust and friendship. I truly believe that our relationship will be life-long.

Q: Any favorite Minds Matter memories?

Katherine: Where do I start! I have so many great memories but nothing beats seeing the look on my mentees faces when they get accepted into college.

Q: How have you benefited personally from your experience at Minds Matter?

Katherine: As a mentee, I appreciated Minds Matter and loved coming to sessions but I didn’t understand the full value until later. We were all accepted into a 4-year college and for some of us, we were the first in our families to do that. We came from families who immigrated from all over the world. And sometimes they did not understand what the college process entailed. Minds Matter stepped in and gave us that extra support and guidance to understand the system and put our best foot forward. We also gained a family- mentors, team leaders, writing advisors, directors, and each other. That is for life. I still keep in touch with my beloved mentors even though they are all over the world.  I know I can always reach out to anyone from the program if I ever need guidance.

Q: What would you say to someone who is thinking about volunteering with Minds Matter?

Katherine: Do it! You are spending two hours of your weekend with phenomenal people, who you will learn so much from. I always look forward to spending my Saturdays with my team. Being a part of a bigger team with individuals who are working to guide your mentee creates a supportive environment. Knowing that you are helping them break out of the cycle of poverty and create a better life for themselves and their families is a reward feeling. That is why I have volunteered with Minds Matter for the last three years. I want the future generations to have that same chance and be more than a statistic.

Q: What is a fun fact about yourself?

Katherine: I’ve been to 24 countries and by the end of February it will be 27. I want the number of countries I’ve been to be higher than my age.



Transforming Lives. Transforming Tomorrow.

Help secure the future of Minds Matter. Donate now.

Meet a Minds Matter Student


Courtney is the 2018  Minds Matter Achievement Scholar and a member of Syracuse University’s Class of 2021.

Q: What have you learned from your time with Minds Matter?

Courtney: I have learned how to grow better decision-making skills, especially during big transitional times in my life, such as college. Also, Minds Matter has truly taught me that I am never really alone, and I can always rely on the people around me.

 Q: What has been your favorite Minds Matter moment?

Courtney: My favorite Minds Matter moment has to be graduation. It was bittersweet, but it was so nice to see that all of my peers who had gone through this journey with me were taking another step forward in their lives as well. It was great to celebrate all of our successes together and truly support one another.

Q: If you could give any piece of advice to a sophomore starting at Minds Matter, what would it be?

Courtney: My biggest piece of advice to a sophomore at Minds Matter is to take a chance on every opportunity that is presented to you. You never know the amazing things that you could learn or the great people you could meet. It will also allow you to discover much more about yourself than you would have originally thought.

Q: Where are you going to college and what are you hoping to study?

Courtney: I’m attending Syracuse University in the Whitman Leadership Scholars program and intend to study Marketing.

Q: What are you most looking forward to in college?

Courtney: I’m most looking forward to gaining a sense of independence in college, where I’m finally fully in control of my schedule and am able to be challenged with making decisions.

Support students like Courtney. Donate today!

Volunteer Spotlight: Melissa Sepe-Johnston


Meet Melissa, a long-time volunteer who has helped shape the Minds Matter experience for countless students over the course of eight years.

Name: Melissa Sepe-Johnston
Profession: User experience consultant (I help companies make their websites and software more intuitive)
Current Role: Co-Director of College Advising
Previous role: Mentor and W&CT Adviser
Years in Minds Matter: 8

Question: What are your relationships like with the students you work with?
Melissa: Each year, my teammates and I work with 15-20 seniors apiece. We basically function like guidance counselors. I try to quickly learn about each student’s background and goals so that I can suggest schools that may be a good fit. As the year goes on, I help students understand the admissions process, navigate financial aid options, and make their final college decisions.

Q: What is your favorite part of Minds Matter?
Melissa: I live for graduation. It’s always sad to say goodbye to our amazing seniors, but it’s so much fun to celebrate their accomplishments, meet their families, and send them off to their new adventures in college.

Q: What is your favorite Minds Matter memory?
Melissa: Watching my mentee, Addia, graduate in 2012.

Q: How have you benefited personally from your experience at Minds Matter?
Melissa: I was 24, new to NYC, and just starting my career when I joined as a sophomore mentor, so I’ve literally grown up during my time with Minds Matter. Committing to session every Saturday definitely taught me a lot about discipline and accountability! Over the years I’ve also gone through something like four apartments, five jobs, and gotten married, but Minds Matter has been a constant presence in my life.

Q: What is a fun fact about you?
Melissa: I sing in a choir that only covers pop songs.

Melissa is one of many incredible volunteers who has not only impacted generations of Minds Matter students, but has shaped the culture of our organization through her dedication and passion for our work. Learn more about our amazing volunteers here.

Meet our Minds Matter Student Ambassadors

Playing a crucial role in student recruitment, Minds Matter Student Ambassadors help usher in the next generation of Minds Matter students! By attending monthly leadership meetings, Student Ambassadors are trained in how to support prospective students through the application process and prepare for the interview, thus catalyzing a connection between their school communities and Minds Matter.

Student Ambassadors represent a crucial youth-leadership voice in program feedback and evaluation and work with both volunteers and staff to help shape and create the MM program. Student Ambassadors have also spoken at and attended the Brilliant Minds Benefit, held independent information sessions for students at their schools and welcomed potential students and their families at interview day. We could not do our work without them and we are proud of their leadership!

Meet a Minds Matter Student


Leslie is a hard-working and enthusiastic junior. She talks with us about her passions, overcoming hardships, and her drive to succeed. 

Q: What is your favorite part about Minds Matter?

Leslie: In Minds Matter I am constantly reminded of my capability. The community that has been built for us is a lovely blessing. Volunteers come to work with us and challenge us in order to go beyond our limits. They believe that we are capable of much more than we ourselves think. They are always there for us when we need them. They motivate us to work hard in school and support us in order to be college ready and pursue our dreams. They push us to try new things and hand us the resources we need in order to succeed in our journey.

 Q: What is the hardest thing you’ve had to overcome?

Leslie: The hardest thing I’ve had to overcome is the loss of my mother in her battle with cancer. It happened so quickly that until this day it seems unreal. My mom is my motivation, role model and my strength to move forward and take myself and my dad out of the darkness we live in. When I look into my father’s eyes, all I see is hope and sacrifice. Hope that one day we will achieve the American Dream. Sacrifice because he works every day for long hours to pay the bills that lead to stress and frustration. He inspires me to strive in my education and standout. Both of my parents have built the person that I am today.

Q: What is your favorite subject in school?

Leslie: In school I have gravitated towards the power of math and I have developed a passion for art. This has inspired me to become an architect. I am fascinated by the work that can be done by combining math and art. Opportunities offered to low income students like myself at Minds Matter will benefit me in pursuing a career in architecture.

Q: What is an interesting fact about you?

Leslie: An interesting fact about me is that I have a passion for dancing, especially Salsa.

Support students like Leslie. Donate today!