Monday, November 30, 2009

Let the reading begin!



Welcome back from a nice, long Thanksgiving weekend! I hope this message finds you all well-rested and ready to make the last push during this application season. Here in the Office of Admission we're about to begin reading Early Decision applications. The process for reading season goes something like this: After you submit your application, we "build your file." Literally, we're compiling all of the components of your application into a file folder that includes all your essays, letters of recommendation, transcripts, interview notes, supplemental materials, test scores etc. Once your file is built, we assign applications to the Admission team, and we start reading!

As part of our holistic approach to admission, each application is read at least twice. The "first reader" is likely the Admission official responsible for your geographic region. In many cases this person has visited your school in the past and may know your guidance/college counselor. This helps us to keep students "in context," by allowing us to review your application with more knowledge about where you're coming from. The "second reader" is simply another member of the Admission team. All of our reading decisions are confirmed in "committee," when the entire team gets together around a table to discuss the applicant pool as a whole. Early Decision notification letters will be mailed by December 22.

Once we're done with Early Decision, we repeat the same process with our Regular Decision applicants. It's a long reading season, folks! Please be patient with us while we build your files. Regarding the completeness of your application, no news is good news. If you do hear from us regarding a missing document in your application, don't panic. We know that sometimes things get lost. We appreciate your patience and cooperation if we have to ask you to re-submit a piece of your application. We also may not know if your application is complete immediately following the deadline. Check out these pictures below of what a small batch of mail looks like around here! We'll get some pictures of this year's mail coming in so you can follow your application through the office as we build your file.



So what are we looking for when we read these applications?

Good question! Taking a holistic approach to admission means that we want to know more about our applicants than traditional, quantitative analysis usually provides. Pitzer was one of the first colleges in the country to become "testing optional," no longer requiring standardized test scores from applicants. This decision reflects years of research as well as our own institutional experience that, quite simply, standardized test scores are not consistent predictors of student success at Pitzer College. Some students test well, others don't. For that reason, we welcome test scores from anyone who chooses to submit them, but we don't require them. Further, even for students who do choose to submit test scores, they will only comprise one portion of your overall application.

We want to see that students have challenged themselves academically in high school. If your high school offers dozens of Honors and AP courses, we're going to expect our applicants to have taken some. This is one of the reasons why we "read by region," so that we have a better chance of knowing the environment that you're coming from. Once students choose to challenge themselves, we want to know how they've faired. We don't necessarily expect a spotless transcript; but we do expect that students who have struggled academically can point to an "upward trend" of success. If you have a story to tell, tell it!

Beyond academic variables, we want to see that students are a good match for Pitzer College. Do your values resonate with ours, and vice versa? If yes, have you demonstrated so throughout high school? Have you articulated why you believe that you're a good fit with the Pitzer community at every stage your application? Have you shown a committed interest in Pitzer by researching our school, taking the time to interview in person or over the phone, or submitting a MyCollegei video-interview? These are just some of the things that we think about when making these difficult decisions.

But you have some decisions to make, too! How do you know if you're a good "match" for a particular school?

It's impossible to find the right college if you don't know yourself. I asked a couple of college counselors to describe some of the questions they ask of their students to assist in the college search process. Below is a list of questions that you might use to reflect on the kind of person and student that you are. The results of this self-reflection process might be surprising. I encourage you to be honest and creative. Scribble furious notes if you must! Your answers to these questions should produce an interesting composite of your interests and goals, against which you can compare the offerings of different schools.

Many thanks to Stuart Oremus (Director of College Counseling at the Wellington School in Columbus, OH), Moira McKinnon (Director of College Counseling at Berwick Academy in South Berwick, ME), and Maureen Ferrell (Director of College Counseling at The Summit Country Day School in Cincinnati, OH) for taking the time to share your valuable experience and insights.

Thinking about high school...

  • Which course or courses have you enjoyed the most? Why?
  • Which course or courses have you enjoyed the least? Why?
  • What do you choose to learn when you learn on your own? Consider interests pursued beyond class assignments: topics you choose to study for projects, independent reading, jobs or volunteer work, activity period choices, etc. What do your choices say about your interests and learning styles?
  • Have you worked up to your potential in high school? Is your transcript as it stands now an accurate reflection of your abilities and intellect? If not, why not? And if not, what is the best measure of your potential success in college?
  • How have you changed and grown throughout high school? What would you change about your high school years thus far? What do see as goals left to accomplish before graduation?

Thinking about your other interests...

  • What activities do you enjoy most outside the academic day?
  • How would describe your role in your community and school? What do you consider your most important contribution?
  • Has any summer experience, work, travel, study, etc. been of special significance to you? Have you lived in other places? How did these experiences effect you? Is traveling abroad a "must" for your college experience?

Thinking about your world...

  • What do your parents expect of you? Have they expressed any ambitions/goals/plans for you? Are they realistic? How have their expectations influenced your goals and standards for yourself?
  • What two or three issues in the world concern you the most? Are you actively involved in dealing with these issues?
  • What qualities do you admire most in the adults with whom you relate?
Thinking about college...
  • How do you want college to be different from high school?
  • How do you want it to be the same?
  • Are there things you never had the opportunity to do in high school that you're looking forward to doing in college (sports, writing for the newspaper, Greek life, art, etc)?

Questions to ask of colleges...
  • What are you most proud of about your school?
  • What is the best/your favorite part of your college?
  • How does your college embrace diversity?
  • What makes your college’s community unique?
  • What is the social life like at your school?
  • At the completion of a 4-year degree program at your school, what do you do to aid your graduating students?
  • What traditions do you have at your school?
  • Please describe the relationships between faculty and students.
  • What three/four adjectives best describe your institution?
  • What are the most well-known majors at your college?
  • What is you school's philosophy?
  • What is the main focus of your school's educational system? Is it predominantly undergraduate, graduate, or post-graduate?
  • Please describe the school spirit at your college. How is the school spirit manifested on campus?
  • What stands out/is distinctive to you about an admissions application when you are reading it?
  • What are the advantages of attending a private/independent high school before college?
  • What is your retention rate following freshman year?
  • At your college, do the majority of students live on campus? Do most students stay on campus on the weekends?
  • Is there a large city near your school and do many students take advantage of this while in college?
  • Who are some of your distinguished alumni?
  • What safety precautions are taken at your school?
  • In general, how would you describe the student body?
  • Please describe the relationships between students and their advisors.
  • What financial aid is available at your school? Is money given predominantly through grants, loans, or work study programs?
So in the days and weeks ahead, we hope that the enthusiasm, anxiety, and perspiration that you put into the college application process will yield a diversity of results. Not only in the form of thick and thin envelopes, but in terms of your own personal growth. Be honest with yourself. Be enthusiastic! Forget about brand names and rankings. You will always be pleasantly surprised if you remain open to the adventures that you haven't imagined yet. Let the reading begin!

1 comment:

flora said...

I followed the link to this blog from an email titled "A Little Nudge From a Pitzer Student." I'm really glad I did, this was very helpful. Thanks!