Surreal is how Cara McCollum sums up her first days on the job as the newest Miss New Jersey.

McCollum, a student at Princeton University, won the title June 15 at the 80th annual Miss New Jersey pageant. Since then, she has been adjusting to her new role.

"I have a business manager now," McCollum said about one of the many changes in her life.

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"I don't think it has sunk in yet. I keep pinching myself. It's like I'm in a dream," she said.

McCollum met Tuesday with the pageant's business manager, Mary Lou Cake, and co-director Lou Barthold to discuss what's next.

Next, includes the Miss America Competition Sept. 15 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

"It's a quick turn," she said of the two competitions, which are exactly three months apart.

McCollum played "White Water Chopsticks" on the piano for the talent portion of the Miss New Jersey competition and will play a piano piece at Miss America. The only question is what piece she'll play.

"I've been playing since kindergarten, when I was 5 years old," she said.

Trips to the gym are on her agenda. "I had a couple of cheat days after Miss New Jersey, but not many," McCollum said.

While she prepares, the well-wishes by phone, emails, texts and Facebook comments have been pouring in from friends, college professors and fans.

"There have been overwhelming amounts of support," she said. "I'm still trying to respond to everyone."

She and the Miss New Jersey volunteer staff are busy readying Miss America paperwork, such as questionnaires about her background, which she said means "a lot of soul searching."

She'll also be putting together her wardrobe and visiting the many sponsors who provide Miss New Jersey with some of her clothing and accessories.

McCollum plans to write blog posts at

site, and is active on Twitter and Facebook.

Her major is English with a concentration in journalism, so the prospect of writing a regular blog is exciting to her. "I want to be a writer," she said.

McCollum said she recently did a radio interview in which the host asked about her interest in journalism, calling the field a dying profession.

But McCollum said simply, "It's my passion."

Her first official appearance will be this week, when she takes part in two parades, in Smithville, Galloway Township, and in Philadelphia.

"I haven't been in a ton of parades," she joked.

Cake said her appearance schedule will be posted to the Miss New Jersey website.

The parades will be the start of a hectic few months as Miss America edges closer.

"I am so excited for the journey to begin," she said.

Contact Trudi Gilfillian:


Miss N.J.'s blog

To keep up with Miss New Jersey Cara McCollum, visit her blog at

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