In this Q&A, meet Lily Herman from the Class of 2016.
Q: Lily, what are you majoring in and why did you choose Wesleyan?
A: I’m a junior double majoring in government and sociology, and I hail from the semi-boonies of Jacksonville, Fla. I ended up at Wesleyan after my mom checked it off in a Fiske Guide to Colleges when I was a high school sophomore and I read all about it. After visiting Wes on a clear, sunny September day during my senior year of high school, I was 100 percent sold and applied Early Decision. Despite the fact that no one went to Wesleyan, my entire family now consists of diehard Wes fans, and my dad owns more Wesleyan merchandise than I do.
Q: You are extremely active in the world of online media. How did your interest in writing and digital media develop?
A: I really started getting into writing (blogging, more specifically) during my junior and senior years of high school when I, like every other angsty teenager, started a Tumblr account. It was my first foray into online content and having an audience, and it was really the first time I saw the power and impact that words and images can have.
It wasn’t until I got to campus and joined Wesleying that I started putting the pieces together and researching the digital media sphere. My first semester of Wesleyan was really spent poking around trying to figure out how to write and be a journalist. I hadn’t even considered it as a possible career option in high school. I was convinced I was going to be POTUS [President of the United States], so it was a really enlightening and absolutely terrifying first couple months of college.
Q: In 2013, you co-founded The Prospect, which describes itself as part culture/lifestyle magazine and part resourceful college admissions/college life website (but all parts awesome). Tell us how The Prospect came to be.
A: The inspiration for The Prospect comes from a lot of places. On a personal level, I came into Wesleyan really wanting to make some lasting impact on the world, but like a lot of 18 year olds, I was completely stumped and really intimidated in terms of how to get started. At the same time, I also had an almost absurd knowledge of the college admissions process (thanks to my mom), and I was slowly becoming aware of the fact that the vast majority of kids did not have that same experience at all.
Looking at the bigger picture, I found the stats for high school counseling to be staggering: The average American high school has one college counselor for every 476 students, and that ratio shoots up to one college counselor per 1,000 students in lower-income areas. In other words, there’s pretty much no support system at school, and that only gets harder for students who hope to be first-generation college students or come from homes where their parents or relatives don’t speak English as a native language. After reading a lot about the struggles that students face just to apply to college, I knew it was the education sphere (specifically college access) where I could definitely make an impact.
In terms of how The Prospect came to be, it’s a totally 21st century story: I met my co-founder Steven Gu (a member of Swarthmore College’s class of 2015) online, and we began an email correspondence about a college admissions venture where current college students give the lowdown on the admissions process and college life to high schoolers. It’s been almost two years since that initial conversation, and I actually still have not met Steven in person. I have, however, Skyped with him, so I do know that he is in fact a real human.
Q: How has the site evolved since its founding?
A: It’s definitely evolved in an infinite number of ways! When we first started out, The Prospect was just a tiny blogging operation. We had only four writers, and we were publishing one article per day if we were lucky. We would also get really excited if we reached 50 page views in a 24-hour period.
Now, almost two years later, we have over 140 contributors on our staff (all under the age of 22!), and we’re publishing roughly three to five articles a day. We reached our one-millionth page view in July, and we won’t be stopping any time soon. I think there are two things contribute to the rapid expansion: Our tone and our incredible staff. We’re incredibly pithy and informal on the site and definitely don’t give the appearance of trying to hard to be cool, and our staff since the beginning has been amazing at promoting The Prospect (especially on social media), so we really got the word-of-mouth thing going.
Additionally, our initial organization consisted of just a blog. Today we boast a successful blog, a widely recognized virtual high school internship program, an online magazine, a special admissions club for high school students, a blogger network, and a conference. We also have about half a dozen other projects and pilot programs in the works. That’s pretty darn incredible in my mind.
Even more exciting to me, we’re not only the largest student-run college access organization in the world, but we’re also one of the largest college admissions organizations, period.
Q: What’s your day-to-day involvement in The Prospect?
A: I really have to be a Jane of all trades when it comes to TP! On a daily basis, I spend my time corresponding with various staffers, running all of our social media accounts, chatting with partners and clients on conference calls and Google Hangout, and editing/publishing articles. In between all of that, there’s a great deal of brainstorming, team morale boosting, and more emailing.
There are definitely days where it feels like I’m living a bizarre double life; I’ll go from sitting in a social theory class to sprinting back to my apartment to get on the line with one of our partners 10 minutes later. There are also times when I’ll throw out phrases like “search engine optimization” and “editorial pitch” and know that my friends have absolutely no clue what I’m talking about, though they’re very supportive!.
Q: You recently announced that The Prospect will be hosting a huge college admissions conference in New York City next summer. Who’s going to be there, and why should prospective college students attend?
A: We’re really excited about The Admit Conference next summer! So far, some of the speakers, panelists, and partners include DoSomething, HuffPost Teen, Admittedly, Youth Service America, and Skillshare, with many other speakers and partnerships in the works. We’ll be bringing 150-200 high school students up close and personal with these brands.
Of course, I’m a little biased as to why students should attend, but there are a couple of key reasons: First, there really isn’t another college admissions event quite like this open to the general public. We’re offering students the chance to get a crash course on all things admissions while also getting to think about those big picture questions everyone’s always asking young people: What do you want to do in the future? Where do you hope to go? Why does college matter? We’re going to start unpacking those at The Admit.
On top of that that, the conference is a great opportunity to meet like-minded ambitious and impressive high school students who really care about the future and aren’t afraid to admit that they’re excited for what’s to come. The whole day is going to be jam-packed with opportunities for students, and our team couldn’t be more excited.
Q: You’re also a columnist at USA Today College, an editorial intern at The Daily Muse (a career advice website), a contributing editor for Wesleying, and a national contributing editor for Her Campus. Can you fill us in briefly on your involvement on all these sites?
A: Above all, I love writing and being part of the journalism, editorial, media, and entrepreneurship worlds, so supplementing my work with The Prospect by learning all sorts of other skills out there from other organizations is awesome. Overall, all of these publications give me the chance to learn more about the writing and editing processes, as well as what goes on in terms of the day-to-day operation of successful publications.
Another special side note is that Wesleying, Her Campus, The Daily Muse, and HelloFlo (another organization I work for) are all run by women, which is incredibly inspiring to me. I absolutely love working with female founders, editors, and writers.
Q: Outside of writing, are you involved in any other groups on campus? What do you like to do in your free time?
A: I tend to dabble in a lot of stuff at Wesleyan (much like other students here do). I help out with some of the feminist/women empowerment causes on campus as well as participate in several different things on the entrepreneurship front, like being a peer advisor for the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship and speaking on a variety of panels. In addition, I’m a verbal coach for Let’s Get Ready, a nonprofit that provides free SAT tutoring and college admissions assistance to underserved high school students. Lastly, as mentioned earlier, I’m a contributing editor for Wesleying.
In terms of free time, I watch way too much television, and I spend a great deal of my day tweeting and surfing the web. I’m also trying to write a book, but that’s been a long and drawn-out process.
Q: What’s the plan for after Wesleyan?
A: Oh goodness, the big question! Currently the idea is to work on The Prospect and The GrAdmit (my other website, a blog dedicated to grad school admissions) full-time while also continuing to freelance and pursue all sorts of fun opportunities in media, journalism and entrepreneurship. I’m more about following the opportunities than a traditional career path at this point.
Q: Care to share any predictions on the future of journalism?
A: If you’d asked me this question as a freshman, I probably would’ve said that print is dead and digital media is queen. However, I’m now starting to think that while digital media will become a bigger part of our lives, print journalism will still live on, but our relationship to it will change. How’s that for a very Wesleyan answer?