Q&A: Dean of admissions

Joanne Lee

What is the most important thing you look at in a student when deciding admissions?
University of Notre Dame — Notre Dame, Ind.: “We view everything holistically: the rigor of coursework, test scores, GPA, letter of recommendation, personal essay.”
University of Missouri, Columbia — Columbia, Mo.: “Each school is going to look at different things. Here at Mizzou we only really look at your high school classes, ACT/SAT scores and GPA. As long as you have the correct combination of each, students will be admitted. We do not require any essays, resumes or personal statements. ”
Pomona College — Claremont, Calif.:The most important part of a student’s application is the transcript.  The transcript gives us a long lens through which to view a student’s academic performance and contains information about his or her achievement (the grades) as well as the strength of the program in which those grades were earned. The transcript itself, however, does not often make our decisions for us. Because there is not much variance academically in our applicant pool, the qualitative portions of the application become very important.  Each student brings his or her unique talents, gifts and perspectives, and that is what we find most interesting in the review process.  Perhaps I can best sum up by saying this:  having a strong academic record is crucial for Pomona, but because most applicants have a strong academic record we have the luxury of looking beyond the numbers to identify who might be the best fit for the College.”
Amherst College — Amherst, Mass.: “This is a poor question because it assumes that there is one thing that is most important. We look at students holistically, trying to gauge if they are capable of success at Amherst.”
St. Louis University — St. Louis, Mo.: “We use a holistic admission process, reviewing the entire application for each student. We look at the student’s grades, ACT or SAT score, involvement throughout high school, essay and letters of recommendation. We also consider the strength and rigor of the courses that the student has taken at his or her high school.”
What sorts of essays stand out?
Pomona College — Claremont, Calif.: “I have found that the most effective essays are those that contain the student’s genuine voice.  Students typically write stronger and more interesting essays regarding topics about which they feel very strongly.  Those essays tend to tell us a little more about the student’s personality and thoughtfulness.  We are looking for a certain level of writing, but the most effective essays aren’t necessarily the best written essays.  Ideally, those two would coincide but that isn’t always the case.  Some students can write very effective essays about mundane topics that are somehow elevated in such a way that allows us to learn a great deal about the author.  Not everyone can pull that off though, so I think each student needs to find a topic and a style that best fits his or her personality and writing ability.  Some students use the essay to try to become someone they feel colleges want them to be; this is rarely an effective strategy.  Students really just need to be themselves and present their own voice honestly.”
Amherst College — Amherst, Mass.: “Great question! Essay stand out when they are passionate, well written, thought provoking, and well organized. We love to read a well-written essay.”
St. Louis University — St. Louis, Mo.: “We really enjoying reading essays that are unique or different! I’ve read essays about sandwiches, chewing gum, Harry Potter, the end of the world, and a civil war in another country. As long as it’s well-written and makes sense, it’ll be a great essay. Don’t be afraid to pick a topic that seems different! Always have at least two adults read it. Normally I recommend and English teacher and a parent.”
 Any last tips?
University of Missouri, Columbia — Columbia, Mo.: “The best advice for someone looking at college to get out and see a variety of schools. Look at a big school and a small, public versus private. After you have done that they you can really get an understanding of the type of schools you want to look for. Contact those schools and see exactly what their admission and application process are.”
Pomona College — Claremont, Calif.: “ Be yourself and have fun with the college search!  Our role in the admissions office is to identify those students who might be the best fit for the College.  The college search itself, though, belongs to the student.  I think the student’s responsibility is to identify those colleges which might be the best fit for him or her.  It is easy to view the college search strictly in terms of being admitted or not being admitted.  While ultimately the goal is to be admitted into college, I think students should also be concerned about being admitted into the right college.”
Amherst College — Amherst, Mass.: “Relax! It doesn’t need to be as stressful as you make it at times. Try your best, and who can be disappointed with that?”
St. Louis University — St. Louis, Mo.: “My tip is to get started early! During first semester of your junior year, start attending college fairs and going to visits with counselors if they come to your school. Attend an open house, and go for some visits in the fall and spring. Then, over the summer, work on your essay. Narrow down your choices from 8-10 schools to 5 or 6. This will make it easier when you fill out applications. Apply early in the fall. You should be down to 2 or 3 schools! The earlier you get started, the less stressful the process would be. Always have a dream/reach school, some schools that are a great fit for you, and at least two safety schools.”
Janet Rapelye, Dean of Admissions, Princeton University — Princeton, N.J.
R. Christopher Perkins, Assistant Director, University of Notre Dame — Notre Dame, Ind.
David Brunk, Associate Dean of Admissions, Pomona College — Claremont, Calif.
Leykia D. Brill, Associate Dean of Admission, Amherst College — Amherst, Mass.
Laura Kleinschmidt, Admissions Counselor, St. Louis University — St. Louis, Mo.
Patrick Elmore, Admissions Representative, University of Missouri, Columbia — Columbia, Mo.
By Joanne Lee