It’s Time to Read

So, we’re reading again.  How did this happen so soon?  It doesn’t feel like it’s been seven months since I packed away my laptop and stored my tote bag.  But here I am with a pile of blue folders on my desk and a deadline staring me down.  So many people to “meet” and summarize, so little time…

Bendetson Hall (the Undergraduate Admissions Office) feels like a library during finals.  It’s eerily quiet—save for the occasional shriek from down the hall when an essay tickles my colleague Jen Simons—as we read, and type, and think.  We’re all swimming in the deep end of the Early Decision pool.  (Sorry, bad pun…)

People often ask me, “What stands out as you read?”  Not surprisingly, I suppose, a good essay is invaluable.  A strong voice and a compelling personal narrative go a long way toward advancing a file from “applicant” to “accepted” status.  I read one this morning, a response to our alternate history prompt, and said to myself, “She’s so damned smart.”  I voted to admit her.  We’ll see if the second reader shares my enthusiasm.  Another made me scratch my chin and say “huh?”  That one has a less rosy fate, I suspect.

Reading is my favorite part of the admissions process, “the work of the work” as a former colleague liked to say.  It is.  It’s the moment when all the talking and recruiting and touring gels into an application, and it’s time to consider the file on its merits.  With a pot of green tea next to my pile of files, I dig into the task at hand.  I jiggle my leg while I read; I bite my lip and pull my earlobe.  It’s like I never left 2nd grade. 

Okay, back to work…  These folders don’t read themselves


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Myths, Viral Rumors and Old Wives’ Tales

The Monday after Halloween seems like as good a moment as any to swat away some of the myths, rumors and mischief that swirl around the college admission process as the deadlines draw near (or “nigh,” if this were a Shakespearean blog).  These misimpressions fester in real places like high school cafeterias and cyber spots like “College Confidential” and Facebook, among others, so let me use my own corner of the internet to clear the air.  (Think of this blog as air freshener after your grandmother boils some cabbage.)

So, where do I start?  There are so many possibilities I feel dizzy (and it’s not because I’ve eaten too many Reese’s Peanut Butter cups in the last 48 hours, although I suppose that is a possibility).  In random order, I’ll offer a few naughties and just let it rip:


Myth #1: “Optional” really means “Required.”

Truth: “Optional” sections of an application (like our “infamous Supplement,” as one girl referred to it last month) are not covert opportunities to trip you up.  I kid you not.  If an essay or standardized test or interview is labeled “optional,” there is truth to that blessed adjective.  The college has given you a choice.  Use it or dispose of it as you see fit.  Don’t over-analyze it.  It’s not a trick question, and you won’t be “penalized” if you skip it.  That’s why it’s “optional.”  (It really is a lovely word.)


Myth #2: “Too many people are applying from my high school and we will knock each other out because the college has a quota from my school.”

Truth: While there are usually limits to the number of acceptances a college can extend, especially in the most selective pools, we do not pre-determine a quota for each high school and stick to it.  If the pool from a school is deep and compelling then multiple candidates will be invited into the class.  If it’s not, then the number of acceptances will be low.  These are case by case decisions, not a herd approach.  Similarly, there are no quotas for international students, or people of color, or kids from New Jersey.


Myth #3: “Colleges check Facebook pages.”

Truth: No, we don’t.  Seriously, we don’t look and we don’t want to look.  If this type of inspection would be useful to our decision-making, we would ask you to send us a link to your Facebook page so we could evaluate it; maybe it would be “optional.” But there are enough things for us to study and, frankly, there are some things we should not see.  Facebook is one of them.  (Having said that let me add that Facebook is a public space and, well, sometimes a reflective pause before you post is prudent.)


Myth #4: “The college said it will use my highest test scores but they asked for all my scores so those will secretly be used against me.”

Truth:  Everybody wins when we use your highest scores.  Our computer picks the best individual score on the critical reading, math and writing sections of the SAT, or the respective subjects on the ACT, and those become the scores we see when we read your file.  End of story.


Myth #5: “A coach called me so that means I am a recruited athlete.”

Truth: The coach called you. That means you are someone he or she wants to get to know and you might become a “recruited athlete.”  Proceed carefully and don’t get your hopes up too quickly. A phone call, e-mail or letter of interest from a coach does not mean you are “being recruited.”


Myth #6: “I have to fill in all the lines on the extracurricular section of the Common Application.”

Truth:  Fill in as many lines as necessary to illustrate your involvement outside the classroom.  “More” is not “better” if your participation is light. If you attended a single meeting of the Quidditch Club in 10th grade, you don’t really need to tell us about it (unless you figured out a way to fly on a broom). Highlight the good stuff; show us where your passion lies.  But don’t feel the need to add random things to the list or embellish a minor club just to fill the space.


Myth #7: “I need financial aid so I can’t (or shouldn’t) apply ED.”

Truth: If a financial aid applicant applies early, he/she does surrender the chance to compare packages in the spring, and that is an important element to consider.  However, at least at Tufts, applying ED does not compromise your eligibility for need-based aid or the amount of the award we will offer you.  In other words, the financial aid award from Tufts will be the same no matter when you apply.  In the (highly) unlikely event that our award does not meet your definition of “need,” you can ask for a reconsideration of the award and we will release you from the binding enrollment agreement if we can not agree on a package.

Since 7 is considered a lucky number, I’ll stop here.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

“Road Rules”

Last week I was on the road, my second recruiting trip in the last three weeks.  With my new I-phone and its awesome map app in hand, I logged over 700 miles as my rental car meandered up and down the highways and back roads of Fairfield County, Connecticut.  My quest: I was searching for Tufts’ Class of 2014.  Think Simon Cowell (I’m nicer) and the American Idol judges as they traipse across the country during their annual audition circuit: another day, another city, more singers (seniors) to meet (although no one gets cut when I come to town).

 I visited 12 high schools in two days and 21 over a four-day window.  (I slept really well each night…) I met more than 300 students, mostly seniors in the last leg of the college search but a fair share of juniors popped up as well, early birds getting ready for the journey ahead.

I got lost twice.  I discovered 103.5FM from New York City and “Evacuate the Dance Floor” by Cascada emerged as the anthem of my travel season.  I shook dozens of hands (and bathed myself in Purell because good hygiene is important this year).  CLIF bars powered me through a few itineraries that seemed realistic when I scheduled the appointments but, silly me, I forgot to schedule a time to each lunch… (One day I went five-hours without a pit stop… Do the math.)  As always, my trek through Fairfield County reinforced my deep appreciation for teachers and their ability to offer five periods of lessons each day as well as traveling salespeople who work out of a car. 

In college admissions, “fall” and “travel” are synonymous.  It’s what we do. It’s one of our “seasons.” We hit the road. We disappear from our campuses, say farewell to loved ones, and spread the word. This week, for example, Tufts admission officers are visiting schools in Atlanta, Orange County, Toronto, Baltimore, Hartford, London, Detroit, Phoenix, Miami and Chicago. One is making her way through Bulgaria (Tufts’ first-ever visit!) and Turkey.  That’s a lot of frequent flier miles for a staff of 20 but it’s a key part of the cycle we coordinate: we travel to points near and far to talk about Tufts.  We are road runners, quite literally. 

School visits are our chance to connect (and reconnect) with kids.  Ideally, my stop in the Career Center or guidance office is a chance to make a closing argument, a final opportunity to amplify the ideas and ideals of Tufts to students who have done their homework, visited campus and are mulling their options as the deadline inches closer.  And, sometimes, I introduce the place to students who recently discovered Tufts as an option.  Either way, it’s a valuable opportunity to put a name with a face.  When I read applications from these schools (at Tufts, we travel where we read) it helps me remember the person behind the paper.  Personalities emerged.  I know who they are.  I’m human; I remember.

School visits give travelling admission officers a chance to strengthen our understanding of local factors (perhaps a high school dropped its AP curriculum due to budget cuts, for example), to renew partnerships with guidance and college counselors, and to see an applicant where she lives.  I experienced some lovely campuses and passed through metal detectors on my way into a few schools; those impressions add context to the way I recruit and the way I read. 

And maybe most importantly, school visits are a chance to talk with kids without any adult supervision (guidance counselors notwithstanding), an unfiltered conversation that puts students and their interests or concerns at center stage.  I’ll drive 700 miles to do that.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Back to School!

Minivans, mini-refrigerators and decidedly not-mini crates of adolescent flotsam clutter the driveways and sidewalks across campus today as a new class claims its place in our undergraduate community.  An army of orientation leaders in blue t-shirts, RAs, frat members, younger siblings and assorted other helpers are everywhere.  Overnight, the campus has sprung back to life.

Matriculation Day has always been the highlight of my admission year.  Each “Move-In Day,” as we call it, bubbles with energy. I like to stroll across campus, a lone man walking, as families negotiate this right of passage. 

Some have more success than others.  I watch from afar, like a nature lover who spots a fawn in a meadow, as each student, mother and father—or some modern-day version of that idea—negotiates the bittersweet choreography of delivering a child to college and letting go.  There are roommates to meet, beds to choose, boxes to unpack and books to buy. 

On this first day of school there is electricity in the air (and it’s not a late summer thunderstorm firing in the humid New England atmosphere). Today, in Boston, it is crisp and cool with a brilliant blue sky.  The very first tinges of red grace the branches of maples. Parents are proud and, perhaps, a touch relieved. Students are excited about the freedom at hand. While Facebook accommodated lively electronic “introductions” over the last few months, Matriculation Day is the Real World.  The chatting bloggers are now present and accountable.

The emotional charge is acute. Flairs of nerves are common, like the outbursts on Christmas morning when a tired father, nee Santa, realizes he forgot to buy batteries for the assorted toys. 

A father and son negotiate a steep set of dormitory steps, balancing a Pisa-like stack of milk crates and boxes while an eager residential assistant, probably a sophomore, holds open the door.  “What’s in this box?” the father asks.  “I can’t remember,” the son snaps.

Tension brims as a daughter realizes her prized, hand-me-down loveseat does not fit up the old dormitory’s narrow stairs to her double occupancy room.  “We can buy another one,” her father suggests.  “No, I want this one!” Today, everyone’s guard is down. 

In an academic community, September offers a fresh start.  The first day of school is an almost mythic moment.  New beginnings are powerful.  It’s what drives thousands to congregate in Times Square each December 31 in the bitter cold, and millions more to watch on TV, to witness a crystal ball slide down the equivalent of a flagpole.  On a college campus, Matriculation Day is New Year’s Eve and the Quad is Times Square.  (We have a flagpole but we’re missing the crystal ball…) 

Of course, no one cries on New Year’s Eve.  Today, everyone worries about The Goodbye that awaits them a few hours hence.  I won’t lie: it’s hard.  When I negotiated this moment almost 30 years ago, the oldest child of non-college parents, I sobbed like a toddler as my parents pulled away in the family station wagon. (It feels like yesterday…) My teary mother waved from the passenger seat as my father stoically bit his lip.  I stood in the parking lot, a swarm of butterflies roaring in my stomach, and waved until their taillights were out of sight. For the first time in my life, I was on my own. I was alone. 

But here’s the good news: the nerves passed, the mood lightened and my new community pulled me into it with an elaborate orientation program that distracted and, yes, reoriented me. 

Orientation is underway. Each year, Tufts welcomes its new class with a formal matriculation ceremony—something like reverse commencement—on the main Quad.  The pomp and pageantry of the moment impresses new parents as much as it awes the freshmen, who often gape in wonder as the faculty parades onto the Quad in Alice in Wonderland-style academic regalia.  We are not your high school teachers, the medieval garb proclaims.  President Bacow presides over a platform party of campus dignitaries, a Who’s Who of campus life.  

As I sit on the stage in the brilliant sunshine this afternoon, an administrative bridge between the college search and the freshman year, I have a birds’ eye view of the crowd.   I can survey the 1,313 faces that stare back at me.  These are my peeps.  I’ve spent the last 18 months or so with them.

I like to watch as they check each other out.  Their furtive glances ask, “Who are these other kids who got accepted to Tufts?”  Of course, there is also the unasked, if essential, question: “How do I stack up?”  It is a reasonable query. It is part of the fun and magic of this first day of school.   

The college admission journey for the Class of 2013 has reached the end zone.  Touchdown! A college ID is firmly in hand.   My work is done. I’m like the Wicked Witch without her ruby slippers; my power is gone.

And yet, as the ceremony ends this afternoon and the newcomers are absorbed into the community, I will wrestle, as I always do, with a sobering truth. The cycle continues. Another crop of applicants is waiting in the wings, ready to be wooed and evaluated and introduced to Tufts.

In less than 60 days, the first deadline for the Class of 2014 will be at hand…


Filed under Uncategorized

Summertime and the Livin’ Is Easy

Everyone asks me the same question. “So what do you do during the summer?”, as if the admissions cycle goes on hiatus as soon as the sun gets high in the sky. 

Actually, things do slow down in Admissions in June and July but it’s like the eye of a hurricane: there’s a false impression of calm before the next wall of wind hits.  One admission cycle is finished (if you’re a member of the incoming Class of ’13, stop reading, move on!) while the next is on temporary pause as juniors become, like bread, “rising” seniors. 

Campus is quiet.  The landscape is lush (a silver lining after a really wet June).   My in-box is more or less empty.  I even escaped to Croatia for a two-week bike trip up its hills and mountains (more of the latter than the former).  Wherever you are, I hope you are lying low and enjoying the respite from school and deadlines and “searching.” Embrace being a kid for one last summer.  (Wear sunscreen.)

Some of you (okay, lots of you…) will appear on campus for summer tours and info sessions.  You’ll drive from campus to campus with a parent or two in tow and maybe even a younger sibling who was too young to leave behind.  You’ll bicker a bit as the miles and verbiage adds up. 

This morning, as I was lingering in the lobby before presenting an info session, I overheard a boy snap at his mother. “Go sit down!” he barked.  “I can fill out the card without you reading it over my shoulder.”  Good times!  (For the record, the mom was unfazed.  She simply slid over to the receptionist and asked for a campus map.)

Summer visits are important, often your only chance to see a campus before senior year arrives.  And maybe you’ve taken a peek at the supplemental essays.  But there’s a reason the old-timers referred to “the lazy, hazy days of summer” and others use the word “summer” as a verb.  Summer is special whether you are 17 or 47 or 87.  Don’t let your college search ruin the moment.  September will be here soon enough and it will be time for us to talk. 

Summer demands a mellow approach; c’mon, you’re wearing shorts! Visit campus and follow the tour guide who has mastered the art of walking backwards in flip flops.  Take some notes as people like me explain why each campus is “special.”  Read a blog or two.  Play Scrabble. 

Most importantly, listen to yourself. Ask yourself a key question: “Am I lingering on one school more than the others?” Did one campus give me a zing in the stomach when I stepped on its quad?  Maybe a favorite is emerging?  Don’t confess your inkling just yet. Make a mental note and recheck your impulse on Labor Day.  Things change.

Enjoy this (hopefully sunny) eye of the admissions storm.  The winds will return soon enough and it will be time to get serious.  But not now, not yet; it’s still light outside at 8:30 (at least where I live).

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Sitting, Waiting, Wishing…

Jack Johnson was onto something when he sang about sitting, waiting, wishing: a lot of accepted students are doing just that.  With 48 hours to go before the Candidate’s Reply Date, a whopping 63 percent of the kids we accepted to Tufts have yet to make a decision!  That’s a gigantic traffic jam. 

A bunch of you have called and e-mailed this week as the deadline inches closer.  Some ask for an extension (we can’t do it) while others are just, well, fretting about the choice.  I repeat my advice from my last blog: follow your gut.  Don’t over-think it.

It’s like a multi-character game of musical chairs.  The music will stop on Friday and everyone needs to grab a seat.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Decision Time!

Four days.  In four days, a mere 96 hours, your college “search” will be finished (if you just screamed “ahhhh,” was it relief or stress that prompted you to reenact the Edward Munch painting?).  At long last, you will have an answer to the question that has dogged you for the last 18 months of your life (if not longer): “So where are you going to college?”


Of course, I am not an impartial observer and I hope your answer is a resounding “Tufts!”  But I wasn’t born yesterday.  I know that most of you (I’m speaking to our accepted students) have a few, if not several, offers from some fine institutions that you are entertaining and sorting and weighing.  But like too many invitations to the prom, too many offers of admission muddy the decision-making. 


Maybe that’s the way it ought to be. Making your final choice is important:  your alma mater becomes part of your identity.  It will occupy some prime real estate on your resume.  You will meet many of your dearest friends, if not your spouse or partner, at this place.  (Sorry, that was another Munch moment, wasn’t it?) The decision is not irreversible but it does have consequences. (Damn, you’re thinking, this dean is making my blood pressure spike!)


Relax. I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years (an ugly truth on my end—I’m old–which explains why I had no idea why people were so excited that Ludacris was the featured artist at Saturday’s Spring Fling). I’ve seen nearly a generation of college seniors successfully negotiate the emotional rapids that block the finish line to your college search.  So here’s my “official” wisdom about how you should make your pick:  follow your gut.


I know.  After the marathon that is the college search that advice sounds too easy, almost illegitimate.  Follow my gut?  Yes.  Ignore the rankings and guidebooks and blogs and cafeteria buzz and sea of college sweatshirts that grace the senior lounge (if you have one) at your high school.  This is your choice.  No one else can make it for you.


Here’s why your “gut” counts at this final moment.  You have already done your homework; the analytical dimension of your search narrowed your list to the group of schools to which you filed an application.  And more analytical work on the college end (translation: lots of reading and debating all winter) sorted your list into the sub-group (or, if you’re lucky, the full group) that offered you admission a few weeks ago.  If you are like most students who get accepted to Tufts—and there’s no reason to think you are not—you were admitted to an average of five to seven places.  I’d bet those places are wonderful colleges, albeit with different personalities and characteristics, so your gut instinct counts as much as your analytical assessment at this point.


Don’t worry if you can’t explain it to the rest of us.  At our Open House for accepted students last Friday, one boy told me he was “mesmerized” by Tufts.  (That verb is as strong as it gets in college decision-making.)  His father asked him to explain it but he just shrugged.  “It’s just a feeling.”  It’s an important feeling and one that’s worth honoring.  Curiously, a week later, he’s yet to enroll.  Which leads me to my second point: Don’t over-think it.  Your inner voice is whispering in your ear if you stop and listen to it.


Tufts,” it says.  (Hey, you can’t blame a dean for trying to influence the outcome…)



Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized