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26th June 2013

Exonian invited to White House in recognition of university access work

Susanna Cerasuolo (2012, Literature and Arts) is reading a part-time interdisciplinary Masters through the Department of Continuing Education. She set up to help guide prospective university students through the application process. It has been such a success that in 2012 she was asked to present the service at the White House. Here she talks about the website and what inspires her to improve university access.

Susanna outside the White House


I am a first generation college graduate who went on to become a high school literature teacher and then a guidance counsellor. In my work as a counsellor I was often asked to do volunteer speaking at local children’s organisations, which I was always very happy to do. As the requests increased, I realised I needed a website to serve all of the students who needed my help, so I asked the Computer Science Department at the University of Washington in Seattle, where I live, if any students needed a project and they connected me with a group who built for their capstone graduation project.

The site was an instant success with students, parents and mentors, and quickly spread to every state and 30 countries. During Michaelmas term I was invited to the White House to present CollegeMapper, at an event sponsored by the Department of Education. I was the only guidance counsellor at the event, and was very honoured to be invited. The event focused on using free government data to increase access to higher education.

As a first generation college graduate, I am very passionate about increasing access to higher education. I believe it is the most direct way to break the poverty cycle. I originally built to serve students at the Boys and Girls Club, and now am also working with the College Success Foundation, Youth Force, the Dream Project, Big Brothers Big Sisters, World Vision and many school districts.

The site guides students, via a personalised plan, to prepare for, select and apply to college. Guidance counsellors volunteer to answer students’ questions in our Forum. There are over 100 video clips explaining tasks and giving guidance on every aspect of college admissions, and I approach everything assuming zero background knowledge and explaining everything to students and parents from the ground up.

My goal via this site is to make sure that every child has access to quality guidance counselling so that they can pursue a path of higher education that will allow them to achieve their dreams and improve their quality of life. Despite the debates that rage over the value of a university degree, the fact stands that (in the US) college graduates have a 4% unemployment rate while those with no degrees face 8% unemployment rates. Additionally, numerous studies show that over the course of their lifetime college graduates earn $1m more than those without a degree.

To this end, I am working tirelessly to inspire and inform students about the importance of pursuing their education. And I practise what I preach; I am currently working toward a third Master’s degree here at Oxford, just because I really love learning!

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