“Movin’ On Up”

Maybe I’ve watched too much 70s-era TV but the theme song from “The Jeffersons” is ringing in my ears as I close out this blog at Word Press and move my own little corner of the blogosphere to http://tuftsblogs.com/dean/.  What’s the etiquette of this kind of move?  Should I throw a “blog-warming”?  

I hope you’ll keep reading at my new locale.

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Pomp and Circumstance

It’s mid-June, and “Pomp & Circumstance” (it’s such an odd name, isn’t it?) is in the air as high schools release their senior classes from their halls and homerooms.  The conclusion to another academic year is an obvious moment to segue from one emotion-packed admissions cycle to the next, so let’s lower the curtain and reset the stage.

Farewell, Class of 2014, your amazing race is finished.  And welcome to the long and winding road, ‘15ers.  We’ll be seeing a lot of each other.

In the short interim between one admission process and the next, the Admissions Office is uncommonly quiet.  The phones don’t ring.  The lobby is mostly empty, except on Fridays.  My in-box has fewer than a dozen messages in it.  While there’s no tumbleweed blowing across the quad, we do miss the company. 

But the quiet moment is short-lived.  The Fourth of July brings more than fireworks and parades to a college campus: SUVs and minivans full of visitors will reappear in our parking lots soon enough.  The tour guides walking backwards in flip flops (try it—it’s not easy) will have lots of ground to cover.

As the soon-to-be or recently-graduated seniors can attest, the college search does end.  The endless visits and deadlines and questions about “next year” do produce a destination.  And, happily, much of the anxiety about “first choices” and Early Decision and “safety schools” and waiting lists fades quickly.  Once a search produces a college (and hopefully it’s a college of choice) that place suddenly feels like the obvious selection, the one that was staring you in the face for months but you didn’t see it.

Dear rising (I’ve always loved that vampire-like modifying adjective, but maybe I’ve been watching too many episodes of “True Blood”…) seniors: as you escape the end-of-junior-year crush of AP exams and proms and senior portraits for the yearbook, take a moment and enjoy the summer.  I kid you not.  Here’s a hall pass, signed by the dean.

Don’t fill the precious weeks of July and August with more stress and new deadlines and an endless list of things “to do.”  Go for a swim.  Play some games or plant a garden full of flowers or tomatoes.  Sleep a little longer.  Eat a Popsicle.  Spend some quality time with your grandmother or little brother. You’re only 17 once (unless you’re a teen vampire…) and, while it’s been a long time since I could claim that number as my own, I remember it fondly. 

In short, give yourself permission to be a kid for a little bit longer.  Junior year was hard, as it’s supposed to be. Rest up for your senior year, when there really will be a degree of stress, new deadlines to meet and a robust list of things “to do.”  Remember, schools call it “summer vacation” for a reason.

See you in September.  (Yes, I think I just gave myself a blogging vacation!)

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Gut Check

So, dear seniors, the end is nigh, as someone might say if this blog were part of your British Literature course.  (And it surely isn’t, but maybe I can add a “merrily” or “indeed” just to strike a pose as a British author…)

In a few days (sooner than later, I hope) your college search will end as the Candidate’s Reply Date comes and goes.  It feels like I just pressed the “send” button on March 31, sending thousands of decisions into cyberspace.  But here we are, almost a month later, and we’re smiling at one another in a coy dating dance as the hourglass empties. 

I hate to be a party pooper but it’s time to decide.  If this were a game of musical chairs, the music is about to stop and it’s time to grab a seat. 

April has been a busy month for all of us.  We talked, virtually and in person, as you mulled your enrollment choice. You read all the blogs and reread the viewbook. Facebook kept you “connected” and preoccupied for a few weeks as you checked out the other accepted students and asked yourself, “Do these kids seem cool?  Do I want to spend four years with this crowd?” You hopped in the car or on a plane and took a second look at your options. 

We planned an Open House (three of them, actually) and many hundreds of you (plus a parent or two, although most were clearly instructed to “keep quiet” as you took charge) visited campus one last time.  It was mostly sunny here in Medford and the quirkiness of Tufts was on full display as the Academic Quad sprang to life in a carnival-like atmosphere.  Panels and tours and overnight stays in the dorms were on the menu.

Some of you headed home with bulky shopping bags from the campus bookstore (always a good sign) while others were still scratching their heads as the program ended.  “It’s down to two!” one girl told me, relieved that she had already eliminated six other suitors. 

We’re staring at the finish line, tired and excited to see this marathon end.  To date, 890 students have joined our Class of ’14 and 385 seats are left to be claimed over the next week.   The final decision is imminent and that makes your stomach drop just a bit, doesn’t it?

For those of you still sitting on the fence as you compare and contrast Tufts and University X or College Z, here’s my last bit of advice: follow your gut.  Most of you know, deep down, where you want to go but you wrestle with an understandable need to document your decision with facts.  It’s what we do.  It’s geometry redux: you’re working on a proof.

But there’s the impasse: analytical reasoning overlooks your emotions.  You’re a smart kid with proven analytical skills, so I know it feels funny to let your heart guide you on this one.  Your head wants a piece of the action, too.  It says “make a list, weigh the evidence, assess some info!”  But here’s the thing: you already did that.  You identified a set of schools that fit your academic and personal parameters.  You did the analysis.  You weighed the merits.  And you applied to a particular group that matched your interests and aspirations.  If you’re like most of the students we accept each year, you have impressive options.  That’s the straightforward part.

Now it’s time to honor a more personal impulse: which one feels like home?  I can’t offer you any data that will answer that question for you.  Your tastes and reactions are unique.  It’d be like asking someone at Baskin Robbins, “What’s your best flavor?”  “Best” depends on the tongue.

Don’t over-think your decision.  Listen to what your gut is whispering in your ear.  It won’t lie to you.  (And I hope it’s whispering “Tufts!”)

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The First 14 for ’14

For added poetic symmetry, I suppose I should post this blog tomorrow (that would be the 14th) but I’m trying to pick up the pace on my blogging velocity (my web team sounds like my mother checking on my homework, if you catch my drift…) so here it is, a day “early.”  If I need a 14 to make this work, it is 14 days since we released decisions.  (Is that called rationalization?)

So far, 75 students have deposited since we released Regular Decision outcomes and the pace is quickening as mid-April approaches.  I was a history major but I like numbers, and the sometimes unexpected stories they tell, so I thought it would be interesting to take a peek at the first 14 enrollees this spring. 

I’m not sure if it means anything but here’s what I discovered:

  • The first new (potential) Jumbo joined our Facebook group four minutes after we released decisions at 3 p.m. on March 31 (so fast!), and the very first deposit arrived on April 1. (We’re assuming it was not an April Fools prank.)
  • The first nine enrollees are women; three are named Sarah.  Remember, that’s the 2nd-most popular name among accepted students so the crowd of gals named Sarah shows early signs of making a run at the top spot in the enrolled class.  The Michaels better get a move on, as they say, if they hope to retain their top perch.
  • Five are Americans of color and two are international students (from Hong Kong and Nigeria, in case you’re curious). 
  • Six live in Massachusetts.
  • All 14 joined the School of Arts & Sciences.  The first engineer was #15 (so close!).  The group includes three pre-meds, two pairs of bio and econ majors, and single shots at architectural studies, psychology, classics, anthropology, peace & justice studies, Russian and chemistry.  That’s a nice academic rainbow. 
  • Twelve submitted an optional essay as part of their Supplement but none were You Tubers. 
  • Three posted an 800 on the SAT-Writing, one aced the Critical Reading section and another achieved perfection on the Math portion.  (So did the engineer but I can’t talk about #15 until next year so forget I mentioned him.)
  • Two are recruited athletes (sailing and field hockey, both women).

Only 698 to go and the Class of 2014 will be filled!

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Fourteen Facts About ’14

Tomorrow is D Day.  That would be “D” as in “Decision.”

Tufts will release admission decisions tomorrow afternoon and, with that click of a button, our next freshman class will be 30 days away from completion.   Tufts received 15,437 applications for the 1,275 spots in the Class of 2014, and 24.5 percent of them will receive happy news tomorrow.  (For what it’s worth, that represents our lowest acceptance rate since 2001.) 

As we close out another admissions cycle, here are 14 fun stats about ’14:

1,767 > Number of high schools (from all 50 states, DC, Puerto Rico and 63 countries) represented in the accepted class

431 > Number of accepted students for whom English is a second language

1,821 > Number of applications received on January 1, 2010 (such procrastination…)

22,585 > Percentage increase since 1997 (you were 5…) in the number of applicants with an e-mail address

250 > Percentage increase from last year in the number of applicants from Zimbabwe

9,223,320 > Cumulative SAT-Math score for the applicant pool

1, 2, 3 > Rank order of Michael, Sarah & Alexander as the most common first names among applicants

 56 > Percentage of admitted students who attend a public high school

 144 > Number of applicants from the Southern Hemisphere

 1, 2, 3 > Rank order of Lee, Kim and Chen as the most common last names in the applicant pool

475 > Number of accepted students from California

352 > Number of accepted students who will be the first in their families to attend college

41 > Number of accepted students from China

15 > Number of days the Admissions Committee was in session during March.  Pounds of snacks consumed during those 15 days?  Too many to admit…

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Missing in Action

If there’s anyone out there who follows this blog, I’m sure you’re disappointed by the long gaps between my verbal visits to cyberspace.  I guess it’s safe to say that I am, quite literally, “missing in action.”  I am “missing” from the blogosphere because I am reading until my eyeballs hurt, which seems like a form of “action,” doesn’t it?

Let me be clear: this is not a complaint.  On the contrary, reading season—yes, admissions folk enjoy five seasons per year—is my favorite part of the admissions cycle.  As a former colleague once said, it’s the work of the work.  And I love it.

Reading Season is the time when all the planning and talking and traveling and recruiting come to fruition.  Each file on my desk represents a story to be told, a new person to meet.  And I like people so I like this part of the job, even if the “people” are paper-based (for now).  Of course, Tufts offered a “video essay” option this year (you can check them out on You Tube) so every once in a while the paper yields to a real kid who’s dancing or chatting or juggling on my computer screen, and that’s been an unexpected treat.  But mostly I read. 

My 19 colleagues and I are reading our way through 15,435 applications, the third-largest pool in Tufts’ history.  So pardon us, or at least me, if a blog or two slips out of date.  Our fingers are busy documenting each file and assessing its merits.  We’ll be missing in action for several more weeks: our friends and family will miss us, our eye doctors will scold us, and paper cuts will torment us.  (And I hope you’ve never experienced the searing pain of a paper cut inflicted by a manila-folder!)

If you’re not an admission officer, there’s nothing quite like Reading Season, although I suppose an accountant feels a similar, endless sprint as April 15 approaches.  Reading Season can best be described as 12 straight weeks of final exams. (Why did you groan?)  And as the Class of 2014 takes shape, we’re MIA. 

Stay tuned.  See you in April?

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A Peek Inside the Admissions Committee

Way back when (and I really do mean “way back…”), when I was a brand new, 20-something admission officer, the part of my new job that intrigued me the most was the chance to serve on the selection committee or, as we say in the ‘biz, “committee.”

The idea that I would have a seat in the mysterious room where the decisions were made was so exciting.  It felt like I had a pass to a secret place.  And, like everyone else who’s on the outside looking into the admissions process, the rookie version of today’s dean was curious to see and feel the process up close.  My appointment as an assistant director of admissions at a highly selective college gave me that opportunity and I was not disappointed as the Big Day arrived.

Flash forward 20 years.  I chair the selection committee at Tufts.  I am (pick your favorite metaphor) the ringleader or referee or chief justice of a smart, unruly, opinionated, high energy gang of officers who care passionately about their “kids” and want to steer as many of them as possible into the Class of 2014. 

I am the gatekeeper.  Think of me as the troll at the end of the bridge (a la Monty Python) who says “not so fast” or “let’s think about this” or “that feels like a harsh (or soft) reading of the file.”  It’s my job to be judicious and stay dispassionate—which is much, much easier said than done—as our multifaceted pool of applicants works its way through the selection process.  I must focus on “the big picture,” remember the critical elements of the University’s enrollment plan, be practical when my colleagues grow emotionally attached.  Like I said, that’s easier said than done. 

The room itself is just a room, not very fancy.  There’s a large table with ten chairs around it (two committees work simultaneously) and the room is either unbearably hot or too chilly.  (We need a Goldilocks thermostat so we can be “just right.”)  There are baked goods and chocolate-covered espresso beans (the dean’s fave) and assorted snacks to keep us fueled as we march from school to school and consider the candidates.  We read and think and argue and laugh (more than you might expect).   

To gain a seat in the class, an applicant needs a yes vote from two-thirds of the committee, so seven is the magic number.  Happily, most applicants muster a unanimous decision but some do engender divided outcomes, and those are tricky.  Like Congress or “Survivor,” success requires an ability to count votes and see how things are headed before a vote is called.  Sometimes there’s a surprise.  After a heated debate last Thursday, the committee voted 3-7 to defer a student; as the conversation unfolded, I was guessing it was 5-5 or 6-4.  I was wrong.  My swing votes swung the wrong way.  (Yes, I was one of the three votes to admit, which just shows that the dean doesn’t always get what he wants.)

Other cases seem split but suddenly emerge unanimous.  And, after the territory manager made a strong appeal, another applicant stalled one vote shy of the two-thirds majority.  A pen or a piece of popcorn might have been thrown. Yes, Virginia, there’s drama in the committee room.

Committee is a messy, inefficient process but, at Tufts at least, it’s the vital heart of our admissions effort.  It’s where the class gets shaped and develops a voice.  It’s the moment when we can see the new class emerging from the more anonymous applicant pool as stories and perspectives take hold.  And it’s a slice of quasi-democracy in action as 10 officers wrestle with facts and impressions and institutional priorities as we complete our work.

In a few days, this round will be finished and the first seats in the Class of 2014 will be offered.  The committee will retreat to our separate corners for more reading and evaluating before our next session convenes in late January, when we’ll meet a new set of applicants and a new table-full of baked goods…

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