Over the weekend I was in New England at an outstanding independent school for an admissions Case Studies program. Myself and eight admissions deans/directors – many of whom have become friends over the years – worked with parents of high school juniors on “mock” applications. This is a fun exercise because whenever and wherever I have facilitated these, the decision of each committee is often different. That’s the point of the exercise – to share with people the intricacies of the decision making process. It’s hardly as black and white as most would expect.
Something unusual happened this weekend. All nine mock admissions committees selected the same student! It was both comforting and troubling. You see, a parent thought the consistency was a good thing and as a parent myself, I can understand his rationale. The reality is different however. Decisions are not made without considerable thought about the student’s ability to be academically successful. We also consider what each candidate for admission can bring to our community. The driving decision maker for any admissions decision is, and should be, academic. Often however, there are institutional priorities that help determine if a student will be offered a seat in a class. These “priorities” range from academic program of interest to diversity to recruited talent. Admissions offices are charged with selecting candidates who will contribute. This doesn’t mean that those who are not offered admission wouldn’t contribute; it’s simply a function of having a large and strong applicant pool and a limited number of seats in a class.
Interestingly enough, the student each committee selected during the mock admissions program was selected for similar yet different reasons. One of the reasons my committee of parents selected “Abby” was the way she told her story – and what her experiences did to result in the person she presented in her application. You see, “Abby” was an excellent student from a public high school in Nevada. She was applying for admission to a fictitious college somewhere in New York. Abby was stricken with cancer at the age of nine. During her years of treatment, her parents – neither of whom had a four year degree – divorced. Abby took her experience and used it to help others – by volunteering at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, among other things. Her story was one of resilience and excellence – in spite of the challenges she had faced. These characteristics really appealed to the parents in each mock committee – in spite of the fact that the other two student applicants – her competition for the lone offer of admission – each attended prestigious New England prep schools.
After parent representatives reported on candidate selection, each dean or director was asked to share with the audience who we believed would have been selected at our own schools. I offered that Abby’s illness, while compelling, was not the reason we would admit her. I believe, as did the parents, that Abby represented much of what we are trying to do in higher education today. That is, transforming lives. Abby’s background, recommendations and overall application, presented an intelligent, thoughtful and valuable perspective on a life few people ever experience. I was quick to point out that Abby is the kind of student for whom our Endowed Scholarships are targeted.
You see, Elon’s endowed opportunities, whether they are Watson, Eure, Hall, Mac Mahon, Susan or Georgeo, all offer students who may not be able to attend Elon, an opportunity to do so. Documented financial need is significant. A first generation student may very likely have a greater need than some other applicants. These awards recognize students who have faced real adversity in life and have overcome some of the obstacles in their way. They bring a valuable and important perspective to the classroom and residence hall. They are often some of our greatest contributors to the campus (I’m thinking of some extraordinary students right now) who remind us all each and every day how blessed we are to learn and grow together on a 21st century university campus.
I am most grateful for the generosity of those who have endowed scholarships at Elon. You are helping us change lives. I cannot imagine any greater satisfaction.