12 July 2012

College Dean on Admissions Process with Tips

A special thanks to Dean Lisa Meyer, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Lewis and Clark College, for participating in our Admissions Spotlight Series  Joseph Fernandez from Parliament Tutors conducted this interview.

As the Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, what are your day-to-day responsibilities?
One of the things I most enjoy about my profession is that my responsibilities greatly vary from day to day and month to month.  On a macro level, fall is devoted to getting the word out about the College.  My staff and I are visiting high schools, interviewing students, attending college fairs, and generally communicating with as many interested students as possible.  December through March is devoted to reading admissions applications and creating financial aid awards.  In April, admissions decisions are sent, and the campus hosts visitors who are making their college choices.  Summer allows a little time for planning, and then we start all over again.

What do you consider the most significant parts of an application, the parts which applicants should prepare the most carefully?
The student's transcript is the most significant factor in an application. This is not something that can be "prepared" as the student is filing the application, but what appears on the transcript is certainly driven by student choices.  Many students think that the Admissions Committee only cares about the grade point average.  While a GPA is certainly calculated, the committee looks closely at the rigor of courses the student took and the trends in grades (do they steadily go up over the years, or is this student record on the decline?).  One common mistake on the part of students is to take a very light load during the senior year.  This is the year that will prepare them for their first year in college.  The Admissions Committee wants to know that students will be ready to do college level work upon their arrival.

Is there anything you frequently see on an application that you hope to never see again?
Typos.  In a time when Spell Check is as easy as the push of a button, I see no reason for typos.

What common pitfalls should applicants be careful to avoid?

Don't try to complete applications at the last minute.  This means writing the college essay in advance, asking someone to proof it, and revising it as you would an important classroom essay.  It also means thoughtfully answering the application questions, giving your recommenders enough notice to write something meaningful about you, and completing the application without errors or omissions.

Are there any myths about the application process which you would like to dispel?
There is no one perfect application that if submitted would guarantee admission to every college.  The admissions process is about finding a good fit between a student and a college.  A student can be a wonderful person and a great student, but not the right fit for a particular college or university.  Likewise, a college can offer terrific educational opportunities for many, but not be the right choice for a particular student.

What advice would you give to an applicant with below-average test scores but significant extra-curricular experience?
Not everyone will have the "average" test scores for an institution.  By definition, some scores will fall above the average and others below it.  If your scores are within the range of scores found at that institution, it will be your job to make a case to the Admissions Committee as to why you should be admitted.  Remember, the Committee is putting a community together, and they are looking for people who will bring positive influences to the college.  Your strengths might lie in your extra-curricular experiences.  Make certain to outline these experiences in your application.  You may choose to write about one or more of them in your application so the Admissions Committee will understand how they have prepared you to be a positive contributor to college life.  Your application is your opportunity to share who you are and what you bring to the college.  Make the effort to make your case.

Do you frequently have to turn away applicants whom you wish you could admit? If so, what could those applicants do to be admitted?
Nobody enjoys denying admission to an applicant, but that is certainly part of the job.  Most often, the students I have to turn away are those who have not prepared themselves for the rigors of my college.  This is demonstrated in the courses in which they enrolled, their grades, their writing samples, and myriad other factors.  As I stated above, really good people are not always a really good match for every college.  Take the time in your application to present yourself in the best light and allow the admissions process to unfold.  Even if you are not admitted to one particular college, chances are good you will find another match.

How much faith do you have in the ability of the SAT to predict success at in college?
The SAT is only one of many factors considered in an admissions application.  It is a measure that can be used to compare students who are applying from very different high schools from across the country.  When I look at a student's SAT score, I look for a score that makes sense given the other pieces of the application.  Does this score seem congruent with the grades this student has received?  Is this score in accordance with the kinds of scores produced by this high school?  If the SAT score seems reasonable given these other factors, I'll move on to looking at other elements of the application.  If the scores seem discordant, I am likely to look for more information.  That information may come from a counselor recommendation, a note from the student, or a comment by a teacher.  Remember, the test score is not the sole factor used in making admissions decisions.  It was not designed for this purpose, and it would not be wise to expect any one score to predict college success.

What do you look for in a recommendation letter?
The recommendation gives the Admissions Committee insight into the intellectual development and character of a student.  Recommendations often help us to understand how a student has developed over the years, what ways he or she contributes to the classroom experience, and how he or she adds to the intellectual and community environment at the school.  Letters of recommendation are an important tool in better understanding the applicant's strengths and challenges.

Joseph Fernandez is a private tutor with Parliament Tutors.