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WVF Entrepreneur Stories

Janet Stark Advises College Applicants to ‘Play the Piccolo,
Not the Violin.’

The founder of JJS Admissions, Janet Stark, has been providing educational counseling services to teens and young adults for over 20 years. Her client base spans the United States and reaches as far away as China.

At the very core of her mission is to help her young clients to identify not only the schools where they are most likely to be accepted and receive financial aid if needed but also where they will most likely find a fit with the culture—and thrive.

Janet works with high schools students, encouraging them to start early in the college application process; and with college students seeking admission to graduate schools, including highly competitive programs at Harvard, Stanford and Columbia. As a Harvard Business School graduate herself, she knows how tough it is to join the 10-12% of the applicant pool that gains admission to top tier schools.

Her mantra is “Play the piccolo, not the violin”. Janet drives home the importance of standing out among the competition by doing something different, having unique talents or interests and being well-rounded. Don’t be the twentieth violin player in the orchestra; be the only one who plays the piccolo.

Janet knows a thing or two (or three) about marketing, having held senior positions at corporations including Nestle, Kraft and McKinsey & Company; and a leading high school exchange program, AFS.
Janet has always enjoyed mentoring young people and opening their eyes to the world and their place
in it. What better way than to guide them through the college and graduate school application processes. She is also on hand to lend an ear and support to parents who are tired of nagging their teens to get things done.

“High school students are under a lot more pressure these days to participate in extensive extra-curricular activities while taking the most difficult classes; and to achieve resume-building accomplishments during the summers. I tell them to be sure whatever they choose to do, they are doing it for the right reason—
not just to list activities on their applications.  And don’t forget, colleges value old-fashioned work experience. Summer and part-time jobs can help develop your work ethic, skills in communicating with the public, and financial responsibility. When students have a better understanding of what they are good at, it’s easier to figure out the type of college is best for them, making the application process less arduous and frustrating.

Given the demands of high school, I’m a proponent of the gap year, maybe a combination of volunteering, interning and earning some money. My advice doesn’t stop with acceptance letters; I also show them how to be successful at college from day one of freshman year. My clients trust my judgement because I take the time to get to know them well. They stay in touch and come back to me when it’s time to apply for  graduate school.”

Janet works with a diverse client base and is particularly satisfied when, as part of her pro bono work, she can show low-income parents and students that sometimes it can be cheaper to enroll in an expensive private school with generous merit aid instead of a lower-priced state school Often these clients are first-generation college students whose guidance counselors are overworked and family members have no experience with the process. “Very fulfilling indeed,” Janet says of this aspect of her work.
Ms. Stark holds a BA in Psychology from Case Western Reserve University, a MBA from Harvard and MSW from the University of Michigan. She is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and is also a board member of the Epilepsy Foundation. Janet is president of Harvard Business School’s Women’s Association of metro NY. She can be reached at jjs.admissions@gmail.com.