First year admissions counselor puts her people skills to work

By Zachary Klein

Applications rushed into the Rider University Office of Admissions, and first-year admissions counselor Olivia Orlando got her first taste of the hectic pace expected at this time of year. Her desk cluttered with papers and computer flooded with emails as Orlando felt the stress of her first application cycle.

Orlando, a 2021 arts and entertainment industries management graduate of Rider, was brought on the team full time as an admissions counselor in March 2022 after serving as a tour guide while she was an undergraduate and a graduate assistant upon receiving a degree. The promotion was part of the natural progression for someone who dedicated so much time to the department.

“I had a really good reaction [to getting the job] just because I already knew the staff and felt really comfortable with them,” Orlando said.

Orlando, whose current territory included Atlantic, Cape May and Ocean counties in New Jersey as well as Delaware, also covered all applicants who planned to go through an audition process. This included those applying for musical theater or acting programs. She is responsible for applications from states Rider does not usually receive applications from but might for an audition program.

“Most likely our musical theater and acting applicants are coming from out of state, so we might have a random person from Nebraska apply to Rider… I’m the point person for them,” Orlando said.

A native of Cranford, New Jersey, Orlando came to Rider looking to gain a memorable college experience while also establishing connections that would propel her to where she wanted to go in a career. When she became a graduate assistant, she immediately started to take initiative in several of the areas she worked on with the campus visit team, explained Senior Assistant Director for Undergraduate Admissions Hannah Ford.

“I would describe Olivia as someone who is constantly thinking of new ideas and wanting to push herself,” Ford said.

Ford directly supervised Orlando in all areas as a tour guide, graduate assistant and now as an admissions counselor. The visit team handled elements of prospective students coming to campus. There were many aspects to planning these types of events, but Orlando was responsible for group tours, “Bronc for a Day” and “Explore the Arts Day,” which are events for potential incoming student to explore campus and the specific programs offered.

“Explore the Arts Day is the day where students can just come and explore the arts at Rider,” she remarked. “They could sit in on a class with the faculty and even do a master class with the faculty or some sort of presentation will be held.”

Besides planning and hosting events on-campus with the visit team, Orlando and all the admissions counselors also traveled off-campus to high schools and college fairs in the areas they cover. Orlando recently visited Delaware where she met students at up to four high schools per day and at larger college fairs at night. She also conducted Zoom interviews for those who were unable to come to her events or those who live in a state where Rider will not travel. These one-on-one meetings with students picked up recently as the Common Application opened on Aug. 1.

Orlando loved connecting with her prospective students and talking to people about Rider in general. As someone who graduated in three years but decided to stay and obtain a master’s degree, she loved the school and campus and wanted to share her passion with those looking to attend Rider.

“I really do like to establish connections with students earlier on, even set up Zoom appointments with them if they’re from out of state and want to talk about it further,” Orlando said.

Even though she’s only been an admissions counselor for seven months, Orlando has been convincing students to attend Rider long before she started working in this field. Senior arts and entertainment industries management major and current lead tour guide for the admissions office Maddie Caccavale has known Orlando since they performed in a summer theater production in their hometown of Cranford in 2016. She said Orlando had a large impact when she was looking at colleges not only school-wise but also which major she would pursue.

“I was scrolling through Instagram one day and saw Olivia just committed to Rider for that major,” Caccavale said. “So, I texted her and asked her a bunch of questions and ultimately ended up committing to Rider.”

Ford and Caccavale both consistently highlighted Orlando’s character and skills being the secret to why she has done so well and so much in such a short period of time. An admissions counselor would not be described as an easy job as there was significant human interaction with a difficult group of people – teenagers and their parents.

But Orlando planned events as an arts and entertainment industries major at Rider and the skills she learned in the classroom were effectively translating into ones she had planned for admissions. Ford wanted to make sure that she was doing whatever she could to help Orlando achieve her goals.

However, it was not just the professional relationships that define Orlando’s character. Her outgoing personality allowed her to have great personal relationships with the people she works with. Orlando was a member of the admissions office book club and attended a conference with Ford and other counselors over the summer in Orlando, Florida. She also maintained relationships with many of the tour guides, including Caccavale, who continued to use Orlando as a great resource.

“She’s such a go-getter, and she’s so friendly, like she will never make you feel dumb,” Caccavale said. “She is the most kind and compassionate person and so easily approachable.”

For Orlando, her favorite part of the job was knowing that some of the students she had met on the road and at admissions events would come to Rider and make it the same place she loved for all these years. She found this part incredibly rewarding and hoped to see students she interviewed on campus.

“The most rewarding part for me is simply knowing I was able to impact the students so much to the point where they’re coming to the university,” Orlando said.

And that was her number one goal.

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