Thursday, September 24, 2009

Hanover moment

I asked Dan (one of our directors) what he did last weekend, and he told me that he did some running. As it turns out, by "some running" he meant that he competed in the Reach the Beach Relay.

Reach the Beach is the longest relay race in the United States - it spans over 200 miles.


Does that hundredth of a GPA point matter?

While traveling in the Southeast last week, I hosted a program for Seconday School Counselors to share information with them about Dartmouth and provide some insights into selective admissions that would hopefully be useful as they counsel anxious students through this vexing college application process. I spend a lot of time talking to students and families about admissions, but students only experience the admissions process once (parents might experience it several times). The program was nice chance to talk at length with colleagues who have been doing this work for a long time and can speak to the trends and questions that emerge over a longer period of time.

One counselor raised a point about working with very good students whose anxiety about admission to the most selective colleges and universities leads them to obsess over very small factors affecting their class rank and GPA. Perhaps these students chose not to take a particular elective they find interesting, or consider dropping an extracurricular endeavor that requires them to take a class without honors weighting, because they fear these choices would lower their GPA and negatively impact their candidacies for highly selective schools. This is regrettable, but it is also why we have started this blog - to give insight on the admissions process, create more transparency, and hopefully counter these sorts of misconceptions.

As other posts on this blog have suggested, our process of holistic review is designed so that our admissions decisions do not rely on negligible differences in GPA, rank, or standardized testing to distinguish between highly qualified candidates. Two points jump to mind:

1) In admissions processes as selective at Dartmouth, there is not some combination of tangible academic credentials and extracurricular accomplishments that will assure you of admission. Regardless of whether you have a 97.01 or a 97.02 GPA, you need to prepare an application that illuminates your tangible accomplishments as well as the intangible intellectual and personal qualities that would make you a compelling addition to the Dartmouth community. To not do so is to risk seeming like many others.

2) A GPA at a certain level - or class rank, if your school reports it - is NOT an intrinsic reason that you will be a compelling candidate. It can be an indicator of qualities that we find appealing - that you have been a serious student, taken rigorous courses, and performed well. Sometimes a GPA and rank do a poor job of showing this - if your school's GPA and ranking system do not reward academic rigor and treats all grades the same, for instance. We're going to be thorough in our evaluation of your academic achievement, and this should be good news for you regardless of whether you are the student with tangible academic accomplishments in the highest range, or a student who has not always been at the very top but whose candidacy is strong in other areas (see point #1).

I hope this helps start a conversation, either internally or with your parents/counselor/friends, about how you hope to be measured as a candidate to Dartmouth or any other school. I would guess you consider many of your qualities to be more important than that hundredth of a GPA point.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Passion and Practicality - Dartmouth and the Liberating Arts

This is one of my favorite sections from President Kim's Inaugural Address - see the full link here.

"Since I joined the College, I’ve learned a lot about what makes this place so special. Certainly the setting is uniquely beautiful. The faculty and academic programs – both undergraduate and graduate – are superb. The history and tradition of the College animate every aspect of life here. But I don’t think any of those alone captures what truly makes Dartmouth what it is.

The writer Jack Beatty, who taught in the English Department last fall, was one of many who shared with me their insights on Dartmouth. In an email to me this summer, he wrote:

“I taught a senior writing class here last fall. I stress ‘senior’ because all the students had had four years of Dartmouth socialization. The class was built around collective critiques of student short stories. The students all wrote well, a few wonderfully. But what impressed me more than their talent was their decency. I feared hurt feelings, bruised egos, too-critical critiques. Instead, they managed the social miracle of being at once honest and empathic in their comments. They cushioned criticism in respect, even affection. I told them how humanly rare that kind of communication was. I checked my experience against that of a friend who teaches political science here. In over forty years of teaching in a half dozen universities both here and abroad, he told me, he had never had students who treated each other so well. That speaks volumes of good about the Dartmouth experience.”

Jack Beatty’s fine observation recalls how President Ernest Martin Hopkins, more than a half-century before, expressed his own understanding of what makes Dartmouth unique. At the inauguration of President Dickey, President Hopkins, then stepping down after 29 years at the helm of the College, said “I have become impressed more and more with the sweetness that attached to the relationship between one and another which constituted this great family which we call Dartmouth”...

The sweetness of Dartmouth.

The sense of color and proportion as you stand in the center of the Green, taking in Dartmouth Row, Webster Hall, Baker Library. The men and women who for almost two-and-a-half centuries have loved this place...

By inviting me to serve you as the seventeenth president of Dartmouth College, you’ve given me the highest honor of my life. In return, I offer you this promise, backed by both passion and practicality to the fullest measure of which I am capable: I will do all I can to enable Dartmouth to continue delivering the treasury of its centuries-old dream safely into the hands of those who will shape the future. To send a legion of young people out into the world so inspired by this place that there is no challenge from which they will shrink—all the while remaining true to the abiding sweetness of the College on the Hill."

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Dartmouth's 17th President

Dr. Jim Yong Kim was inaugurated at 11:00 am this morning, and the festivities are still going on outside on the green. For those of you who couldn't be in Hanover for the event, his inaugural address was inspiring. He has a clear mission for the College, but he also articulated what makes this place special in such a perfect way. I'll put up a link to his speech once it becomes available.

In the meantime, check out the "Arts at Dartmouth" video from the pre-Inauguration events - the opening scene by Pilobolus is definitely worth watching.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Economic Diversity @ Dartmouth

US News recently released its economic diversity rankings based upon the percentage of Pell Grant recipients at colleges and universities. Among top-ranked national universities, Dartmouth ranks 6th - you can see the full list here.

In other news, the '13s are on campus (today is their move-in day!), and they are awesome. I ran into a group of them on my way home from work on Friday, and when I pointed out President Kim leaving Parkhurst one of them literally screamed in excitement. It will be fun to see the Mountains Beyond Mountains panel discussion tomorrow evening (they are broadcasting it for non-'13s), and I can't think of a better introduction to Dartmouth. Welcome home, '13s - we like your enthusiasm :)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Dartmouth obsession of the week....

Colleen just sent us the link to the Thayer School's new Panoramic Virtual Tour...very cool. I also love the nighttime aerial shot of the campus in slide six of the "Thayer Throughout the Seasons" slideshow.

Back to travel planning....

Thursday, September 3, 2009

“There are many ways to be smart.”

“What has been your greatest life lesson?” My aunt proposed this question during a recent family dinner. Kind of a tough question for a light-hearted dinner, I thought. While I pondered, my mom piped up without hesitation, “There are many ways to be smart.”

This has been my mom’s mantra as long as I can remember. Mom, an elementary school librarian, consistently reminds us that everyone has an incredible set of strengths and talents, but they come in varied forms.

I have been hearing this axiom--“Now remember, Colleen, there are many ways to be smart”--since age 6. This time, however, it carried new meaning. I realized this phrase is not only at the core of my family’s values, but also at the core of the principles we embrace in the holistic admissions.

When reviewing an application, I am constantly thinking about the myriad of ways that a student shows their “smarts”: through how they interact with others; in the way they balance competing priorities; on the sports field; during a research project; in how they handle difficult family situations; through artistic expression; via intellectual discussions (in & out of the classroom); though writing; by inspirational leadership or building bridges in their communities… there are so many ways to be smart.

So how do standardized measures of achievement fit into this picture? I see them as a practicality necessitated by the volume of applications in the college admissions process today. The number of places in each class at Dartmouth is finite, yet the number of applicants and the diverse array of talents they bring seem boundless. As we struggle with the inherent difficulties of this conundrum, conventional methods of assessing achievement (eg. transcripts or testing) can serve as one grounded metric. But one among many.

I believe the core of our process relies on understanding the multiple ways students display their smarts--in the broadest sense of the word. For me, discovering those diverse expressions of intelligence is the joy in reading each application, and in building each class of Dartmouth students.

"How can I improve my chance of admission?"

A reflection on this common question

In case you have not yet picked up on my style of post, you will likely not find an answer below to the question "How can I improve my chances?" Instead, I hope the perspective I share will help you consider how YOU can answer this question for yourself.

When people ask me, "How can I improve my chance of admission?" I have to take a deep breath, compose myself, and think about what I can do to practically help the inquiring applicant (typically in a short email or the 30 seconds I have with him or her). For some reason this question reminds me of the joke, "How do I get to Carnegie Hall?" (A: "Practice, practice, practice.") I have a hunch the questioner wants me to give explicit directions on how to get into Dartmouth College. Instead, I can typically only answer in broad strokes.

Thankfully, today most applicants and students know there's no "formula" for admission, but yet somehow a notion persists that there are particular things applicants should all do to get in. Unfortunately, the list of particular things applicants should do really doesn't get them in, it only ensures they're at least a realistic applicant. Such things would include getting good grades, being active in and/or out of school, taking rigorous courses, making a difference through your endeavors, and challenging yourself in and out of the classroom. This answer seems akin to saying "Practice, practice, practice."

So how do we move beyond this trite answer? Well, I like to think of an applicant on three levels.
1. The authentic person
2. The person who does things to get into college
3. The person we meet through the application

About Level 1: The authentic person

The first level is the ideal. When I read an application, what I really care about is the real person with all their strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures, talents and curiosities, pursuits and frustrations, personal qualities and quirks. We work very hard to recruit and admit the authentic students who will add to Dartmouth in diverse ways and have already demonstrated an ability to make a positive difference in their communities--whether on the field or on the stage; in a class or in an organization.

About Level 2: The person who does things to get into college

I hope that the second layer of an applicant becomes a part of the authentic person. The things a person does to get into college should be done out of a natural love of learning and passion for his or her pursuits. Speaking personally, I remember when I was in high school I was motivated in some part by the college admissions process, but the things I chose to do were authentically me. Although I had people in my life who said I should run track because the admissions office wants to see that; or I should take AP Physics because the admissions office wants to see that--I followed my own interests (and I never ran track and I never took AP Physics). I was myself and Dartmouth admitted me for being myself.

The things you should do to "improve your chances" are the things YOU WANT to do for yourself--and that can be anything! If you want to play football, that's what you should do to "improve your chances"; if you want to act in plays, that's what you should do to "improve your chances"; if you want to join the military, that's what you should do to "improve your chances"; or if you want to design and program a website to help your mom with her job, that's what you should do to "improve your chances." If you find some of your motivation for doing these things in the college admission process, that's fine--but do the things that are authentically you. Never choose to do something because someone says that's what Dartmouth is looking for. When I read an application, I'm looking for the genuine you.

About Level 3: The person we meet through the application

You need to complete your application in a way that reveals the primary layer, "The authentic person." In short, make sure your application reflects the breadth and depth of who you are. Understand that everything you fill out means something in this process. For instance, when you complete the background information section about your family, academic programs you have attended, and other info, you may think you're simply filling in blanks--but the words you fill in truly mean something because your family and your schools have influenced who you are. Furthermore, if you think something in your family history or background needs a little more explanation, give us a few sentences about that under additional information. It's these details that make you a unique human being.

Similarly, take advantage of the extracurricular section and make sure it shows more than names, titles, and awards--it must show commitment, so share with us in a brief sentence exactly what you're doing in your extracurriculars! Show us how you've been committed to your extracurricular pursuits, how you've made a difference, and how you've pushed yourself beyond the classroom. The extracurricular section should show us what you do with your time beyond academics--whatever that may be. Then there's the personal statement. In short--Make it PERSONAL! Tell us what we need to know to understand the authentic person behind the application. Reflect on who you are, the family and community you live in, and the opportunities and challenges you've had. Write well, make it interesting, and most importantly, make it personal.

As for the academic record, testing, recommendations, and everything else--well, I'll leave all that to another post.

For now, my advice for "How can I improve my chances?" is to ask yourself, "Who am I?" and consider how to make sure your application answers this question.

This isn't the whole of my advice--but start here: Who are you?