Jill Margaret Shulman is the author of College Admissions Cracked: Saving Your Kid (and Yourself) From the Madness and founder of In Other Words, a college essay coaching and application review service. She has spent nearly a decade shepherding high school students and their parents through the college admissions process and reading and evaluating applications at elite colleges. Jill has also taught writing at The New School and City University of New York and written for The New York Times, Family Circle, Parents, Good Housekeeping, and O, the Oprah Magazine, among others. She lives with her husband and two children (whenever they are home from college) in the higher education mecca of Amherst, Massachusetts.
My life is intertwined with all of the relationships and places that have shaped me, so here we go. Let’s start with my first documented moment as a writer, a poem written for Mrs. Headley’s first grade class. And we’ll continue with my Beaver Cleaver (only Jewish) family, as I was growing up in Dayton, Ohio.
My childhood in Dayton seemed typical—angsty, geeky artist on the inside wearing a cheerleading uniform on the outside. When I arrived at Williams College, everything flipped. I was the angsty, geeky artist on the outside, while my inner cheerleader gave me the chutzpah to hop up on the theater stage.
My first grown-up job, as a paralegal in Boston, lasted exactly 1.5 years (the dark years). Then I moved to New York City, where in my twenties:
- I earned my MA in creative writing at New York University and taught fiction and poetry there.
- The night I met my husband, Mat, he ushered me into a taxi, shut the door, and when I was alone in the cab, the cabbie said, “That is the look of true love. You will be married and have beautiful children together.” I swear on my life, this is true.
- After graduate school, I taught as an adjunct lecturer at The New School, Touro College, Gotham Writer’s Workshop, and Bronx Community College (BCC) of the City University of New York. Then I was hired as a full-time English department faculty member at BCC. I was the one you saw grading papers on the subway.
I doubt Mat and I were ever as cool as we look in this photo.
Any cool we may have accumulated vanished when we sublet our apartment and moved to Iowa City for Mat to attend the Iowa Writers Workshop. Two life-changing events happened in Iowa:
- I ran an at-risk program at a rural high school and learned to listen, really listen, to teenagers—a prelude to my future as a college essay coach.
- A new love-of-my-life, our daughter, Hannah, was born—a prelude to everything else, including my brief reign as President of the West Side YMCA Preschool Parents’ Association, possibly the pinnacle of my parenting achievements.
The third life-changer occurred when we moved back to our New York apartment on the Upper West Side: Ethan was born.
Back in New York, Mat, a talented writer, artist, and early techie, worked as a web designer. He designed and produced this website! I wrote for Bride’s and Scholastic Scope Magazines, among others. I wrote marketing and catalogue copy, grants, in short, whatever anyone would pay me to write as a freelancer. Somehow, we both completed novels (unpublished), secured agents, and juggled all of this while parenting our two little kids.
Picture all four of us stuffed into a small apartment with one tiny bathroom. When I joined the gym down the street for the sole purpose of taking a shower, it was time to move. We chose for our new home a total paradigm shift from Manhattan, the college town of Amherst, Massachusetts, where we still live today.
My bio wouldn’t be complete without a shout-out to Otis, our “bug” (Boston terrier/pug mix) we adopted at an animal shelter the day after we moved to town. To him, “cheese” meant all human food. We lost Otis recently. I’m still bereft whenever I say the word “cheese” and I don’t hear his toenails clicking toward me on the wood floor.
In Amherst, I parented and wrote about it for the New York Times, Family Circle, Good Housekeeping, Family Fun, Parents, Full Grown People, and O the Oprah Magazine, among others. I added college admissions work to the mix and evaluated applications for local colleges. I founded In Other Words and coached hundreds of students writing college essays. Their parents needed help, so I consulted families through the entire college admissions process while shepherding my own daughter through it, as well.
I reached a point where I was turning away far more families than I could help and realized I could serve them all with a book. So I wrote it. Over the thirteen years we’ve lived in our small college town, I have found a special community of compassionate, brilliant friends, who you will meet in the pages of College Admissions Cracked where they generously share advice, stories, and support. I could not have written this book for you without the blessing of all of my beloved communities from Dayton, New York, and Massachusetts.
It’s been quite a ride guiding my son through the college admissions process while writing a book about it. Read “A Sports Mom’s Parable” in the book, and you will know what you need to know about my amazing boy. Perhaps you’ll recognize your child, too, in one or more of my stories. Take it from a bona fide expert that no matter how much you know about the college admissions process or parenting, your child will be the one who guides you through it.
That’s my journey to the present, where I live a small town life with Mat, Ethan (18), and Hannah (20) when she’s home on college breaks.
I would love to meet you! I hope we’ll connect (contact me here with questions or just to say “Hi”), on FACEBOOK, in my CPR NEWSLETTER (Subscribe below), in your city when I visit, in the pages of College Admissions Cracked, or in spirit, where I hope you know I support you no matter what.
Warmly (in my heart but not literally—as I write this, it’s winter in New England),