We’re bringing back our popular series, Meet an Admissions Counselor, where we introduce students and families to a different member of the College Coach admissions team. Drop in to see what we’re reading, where we went to school, and our strategies for beginning the college essay. As you work with us to find an educational consultant who best fits your needs or the needs of your child, we will help you consider the personality and working styles that will bring out the best in you or your student. Today we introduce Jay Bonham.
Where are you from, where have you lived, and where do you live now?
I was born on the East Coast but grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. I returned to the East coast to attend Hamilton College and after college I continued to live in Clinton, NY for almost twenty years. We then moved to Mount Vernon, Ohio, after my wife got a job at her alma mater, Kenyon College. Two years ago, we decided to move to Columbus, Ohio, and have loved the opportunity to experience a new city.
What are you reading, watching, and/or listening to lately?
If I didn’t pursue a career in college admissions, my wife jokes that I would have joined the CIA or become a police detective. I love all sorts of spy novels and movies and probably have watched every episode of Law & Order. I also religiously listen to the NPR news quiz show Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!
What do you do for fun or to relax?
During COVID, I decided to try gardening, so I secured a plot from our local community garden and started a salsa garden. When I’m not digging in the dirt, I love to explore the amazing city park system found in Columbus and the great restaurant scene. While not an athlete myself, I love to watch all kinds of sports, especially college football.
Do you do any volunteer work? If so, what, and are there certain causes that are close to your heart?
Before COVID, my 16-year-old son and I would volunteer at several Columbus-area food pantries. Now that things are improving, we hope to continue our work. Also, after the COVID vaccines were released, I volunteered at a local vaccine clinic in Columbus.
Where did you go to college?
Hamilton College in Clinton, New York
What did you study?
I was a government major and a history minor.
What was your favorite thing about college?
Hamilton College is a residential college so I lived on campus all four years with all of my classmates. I loved the opportunity to interact with students from all across the country and the world.
What about your college experience was different from what you expected?
While I expected my professors to push me academically, I was surprised by how much they wanted me to succeed and how they encouraged me every step of the way. They also cared about how my life was outside of the classroom and, after I graduated, some of them became dear friends.
What would you say to your high school self if you could coach him/her through the research and application process? What would you have done differently?
While I truly believe I ended up at the best school for me, I would have encouraged my high school self to expand my geographic reach. While I was raised in the Midwest, I was born on the East Coast and at some point in high school I decided that I wanted to return to the East Coast for college. However, there are some wonderful schools in the Midwest that still would have been a good match for me, and I wish I had widened my search.
Where did you work in admissions and/or counseling?
During my undergraduate days, I was quite involved with the Hamilton admission office. I started as a tour guide and by my last year I was a senior intern interviewing prospective students. Upon graduation, an admission position opened up and I thought it would be a fun experience for a few years. Little did I know that what I thought would be a two-year experience lasted almost twenty years! After relocating to central Ohio for my wife’s job, I read applications remotely for Dartmouth College, and then worked in the admissions office at Kenyon College for three years. Most recently, I read applications for Bucknell University.
What aspect of the college admissions and/or counseling process do you most enjoy working on?
I loved the opportunity to get to know prospective students and help them with their college search. While I certainly encouraged them to apply to the schools where I worked, I also loved the chance to offer my advice on the college process and assist them with application questions.
How do you encourage students to look beyond the schools they know to find hidden gems?
My first-year college advisor gave me this advice in advance of selecting my first semester courses: “You don’t know what you don’t know, so you should take a full range of courses.” This wise advice can also be applied to the college process. Even if you haven’t heard of a particular school, you shouldn’t disregard it. You should keep an open mind and research the school. You may find that it offers all of the academic and extracurricular interests you are looking for in a college.
What in your mind makes a good college essay?
When I finish the essay, I want to walk away from your essay with a better understanding of who you are. Admission officers are not looking for some type of specific information, so don’t pick a topic based on what you THINK an admission officer wants to read; pick a topic which is unique and could only be written by you!
How would you describe your counseling style?
I like to think of myself as a very approachable person. I know the college process can be a very stressful time, but my role is to help manage that stress. We will work together as a team to help you attain admission to the school that is best for you. As a former college counselor so eloquently stated, “College is a match to be made, not a prize to be won.”