An Ivy Dean Demystifies the College Search and Application Process

On the Admissions Beat, veteran dean of admissions Lee Coffin from Dartmouth College provides high school juniors, seniors, and parents, as well as their counselors and other mentors, with "news you can use" at each step on the pathway to college. With a welcoming, reassuring perspective and an approach intended to build confidence in prospective applicants, Dean Coffin offers credible information, insights, and guidance -- from the earliest days of the college search, to applications, decision-making, and arrival on campus. He does so by drawing on nearly 30 years of experience as an admissions leader at some of the nation's most prestigious institutions. In Season 3, premiering Jan. 24, 2023, with new episodes dropping weekly throughout the winter and spring, Dean Coffin and his guests provide juniors and their families with a comprehensive introduction and overview. The season begins with a recommendation that prospective applicants look inward (to better understand what they are seeking from their college experience) and continues with tips on building a college list, embarking on a college tour, and understanding financial aid, among other subjects. As winter yields to spring, the focus shifts to high school seniors, as they sort the colleges' admissions decisions and financial aid packages, and weigh final decisions of their own.

S3 EPISODE 1

Overture: Your College Search Begins

In the opening episode of the third season of "Admissions Beat," host Lee Coffin of Dartmouth College turns his attention to high school juniors and those who support them in a college search. And just as the opening bars of an overture herald the beginning of a Broadway musical, Dean Coffin encourages students to start the college search on a note of self discovery. To look within, at what they value and prioritize, before looking outward and assembling a list of colleges that might fit the bill. It's a process he likens to taking an "existential selfie," adding: "You need to focus on you, before you focus on us." Dean Coffin is joined by Meredith Reynolds, a former admissions officer at Tufts University and currently the Associate Director of College Guidance at the Roxbury Latin School in Massachusetts, and Jacques Steinberg, co-author of The College Conversation: A Practical Companion for Parents to Guide Their Children Along the Path to Higher Education.

Overture: Your College Search Begins

 

S2 EPISODE 11

Final Tips for Seniors, Part 2: Making Sense of Early Decisions

In the second part of our two-part season finale, Admissions Beat lays out the decisions that applicants will soon receive in response to early applications they submitted this fall — admit, decline or defer — as well as various strategies they might consider employing in response. Whether you are a high school senior who applied under a binding program (such as early decision) or non-binding (early action) — or the parent of someone who did so — host Lee Coffin of Dartmouth runs through a series of scenarios, including those where financial aid could be a determining factor. Dean Coffin also shares plenty of "news you can use" for applicants considering applying in the upcoming, early decision II rounds at some colleges. And he and his guests provide words of reassurance for those who chose not to submit early applications. Joining Dean Coffin are two veteran counselors with high school and college experience: Sherri Geller, the co-director of college counseling at Gann Academy in Waltham, Mass., and a former admissions officer at Brandeis and Northeastern, and Ronnie McKnight, associate director of college counseling at Paideia School in Atlanta, and a former admissions officer at Emory and Presbyterian College in South Carolina.

Final Tips for Seniors, Part 2: Making Sense of Early Decisions

A transcript is available for this episode

S2 EPISODE 10

Final Tips for Seniors, Part 1

With most applicants entering the final weeks of the college application season, Dean Lee Coffin of Dartmouth has assembled a "home stretch" toolkit of advice for high school seniors and their parents. In Part 1 of the two-part Admissions Beat season finale, the action items include: putting the last touches on a balanced college list; assembling the remaining pieces of an application; monitoring deadlines, and being sure that students register, typically via email, for the application portals that colleges use to request and convey time-sensitive information. But the most timely advice may be for those applicants who find themselves cornered  at their Thanksgiving tables by well-intentioned relatives seeking to pepper them (as opposed to the mashed potatoes) with rapid-fire questions about their college admissions process. Joining Dean Coffin are two seasoned counselors with experience on both the high school and college sides of the admissions equation: Sherri Geller, the co-director of college counseling at Gann Academy in Waltham, Mass., and a former admissions officer at Brandeis and Northeastern, and Ronnie McKnight, associate director of college counseling at Paideia School in Atlanta, and a former admissions officer at Emory and Presbyterian College in South Carolina.

Final Tips for Seniors, Part 1

A transcript is available for this episode

S2 EPISODE 9

Decoding Transcripts

How do admissions officers read and interpret high school transcripts, the official academic record of the courses an applicant has taken in high school and the grades received? And what role do "school profiles" play? They are the narrative descriptions that high school counselors prepare for admissions offices, chock full of context on a school's student body as a whole, and the wider community the school serves, among other details critical to assessing an applicant and application. In this encore episode of Admissions Beat, from November 2021, host Lee Coffin of Dartmouth explains that transcripts are so much more than "numbers," and that those primary source documents reveal not only how an applicant has performed in the classroom thus far, but their potential to soar in a university setting. Dean Coffin is joined by Calvin Wise, director of recruitment at Johns Hopkins University, along with two experienced college counselors: Darryl Tiggle of the Friends School of Baltimore, a Quaker school, and Candice Mackey of the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies, a large public high school.

Decoding Transcripts

A transcript is available for this episode

S2: EPISODE 8

What We Wish We Knew: Advice for Today's College Applicants from Three College Students

This week on Admissions Beat, host Lee Coffin goes deep in conversation with three Dartmouth students to elicit their perspective on the college admissions process, as well as their advice for current high school seniors in particular. In a frank and wide-ranging conversation, the three undergrads touch on the emotional stress of their admissions process, as well as steps to mitigate it. (Each said they wished they had "chilled out" more.) They provide advice on telling your story with authenticity (and without straining to imagine what an admissions officer might want to hear). They share ways to research and consider options for financial aid at various institutions. And they emphasize the importance of being open to self-discovery and exploration. They also reflect on those aspects of the admissions process that are within an applicant's control, including the unique attributes that each student brings to it. Or, as one of the panelists says: if the admissions process is a puzzle, "you are your own individual puzzle piece." Dean Coffin's guests are: Emma Johnson, a junior from Omaha, Nebraska, majoring in quantitative social sciences with an emphasis on theater as a double major; Gavin Fry, a sophomore from Hornersville, Missouri, currently studying earth science, and Daniel Hernandez, a first-year student from Los Angeles interested in studying government and Mandarin language. 

What We Wish We Knew: Advice for Today's College Applicants from Three College Students

A transcript is available for this episode

S2: BONUS EPISODE

'One Factor Among Many'

On Oct. 31, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in cases challenging the long-standing use of race as "one factor among many" in the undergraduate admissions processes of Harvard University and the University of North Carolina. While the Justices' eventual decision is not expected to affect the selection of the Class of 2027, it could have a seismic effect on the processes that admissions offices will use to choose future classes. In this special episode of Admissions Beat, host Lee Coffin, the dean of admissions at Dartmouth College, is joined by James Washington Jr., Dartmouth's director of admissions for strategic initiatives and the former director of admissions at the University of New Hampshire. Together, they explain how, for a half century, admissions offices have been legally permitted to consider an applicant's race and ethnicity as one component in an application — along with grades, teacher recommendations, essays, academic interests and activities, among other elements — as well as the many reasons why. The two veteran admissions officers also take a few moments to gaze into the future, especially if, as is widely expected, the Court rules that the use of race as one factor among many is unconstitutional.

'One Factor Among Many'

A transcript is available for this episode.

S2: EPISODE 7

Dollars and Sense: A Financial Aid Primer

For many families, the cost of a college education — as well as considering the various options for paying for it, and understanding how to apply for financial aid — is among the most stressful aspects of the college search. This week on  Admissions Beat, host Lee Coffin, dean of admissions and financial aid at Dartmouth, is joined by Gordon "Dino" Koff, Dartmouth's director of financial aid. Together, they break down and explain each step on the path to making a college education affordable. Along the way, they provide definitions of key terms and a checklist of questions about financial aid that applicants and their parents can use to assess the affordability of each institution on their list. This week's discussion is moderated by former New York Times journalist Jacques Steinberg, co-author of The College Conversation: A Practical Companion for Parents to Guide Their Children Along the Path to Higher Education.

Dollars and Sense: A Financial Aid Primer

A transcript is available for this episode.

S2: EPISODE 6

Finding Your Place

For would-be college applicants, questions about "place" are crucial to the discovery and search process. Place may mean the geographic setting and physical attributes of a campus, and whether students can envision themselves there. But it can also encompass dorms and classrooms, and whether classes are primarily taught by faculty or assistants; the quality of support services, whether academic or social-emotional; and climate, not just the average temperature but also how welcoming and inclusive a college community is. This week on the Admissions Beat, in an encore episode of its predecessor broadcast, The Search, from April 2021, host Lee Coffin of Dartmouth walks students through the many dimensions and definitions of place, and ways they can take the measure of it as they finalize their application plans as the deadlines approach.  He's joined by two guests, both from Duke University: Mary Pat McMahon, vice provost and vice president of student affairs, and Gary Bennett, a professor of psychology and neuroscience who is vice provost for undergraduate education.

Finding Your Place

There is a transcript available for this episode.

S2: EPISODE 5

The Pull of Prestige

As high school seniors seek to narrow the lists of colleges to which they are considering applying, they might size up the potential finalists against a rubric that Dean Lee Coffin of Dartmouth calls "The Four P's." They are: program, people, place and price. But to what extent should a fifth "P" — an institution's relative prestige, or reputation — factor into the decision-making process? And what about a key driver of reputation — an institution's standing in the rankings assembled by U.S. News and other entities? In this episode of Admissions Beat, Dean Coffin and his guests explain — and provide perspective on — each of these elements of the college search process, and others, too. He does so in conversation with three veteran college counselors: Kate Ramsdale of the Noble and Greenough School in Dedham, Mass.; Steve Soud of the Isador Newman School in New Orleans; and Geanine Thompson of a Los Angeles-based firm called the College Guru, which provides independent college advising services to families. Dean Coffin and his guests also acknowledge and address the role of emotions in the assembly of a college list — those of students, as well as of their parents and the other adults providing them guidance.

The Pull of Prestige

A transcript is available for this episode.

S2: EPISODE 4

Telling Your Story

Dean Lee Coffin of Dartmouth says that "any application to any college is the union of two things: data and voice." In this encore episode of Admissions Beat, first aired in July 2020 on its predecessor podcast, The Search, Dean Coffin turns to the storytelling and narrative elements (and opportunities) of an application. Along with guest Meredith Reynolds, a former Tufts admissions officer who is the associate director of college guidance of Roxbury Latin School in Boston, Dean Coffin provides practical advice and perspective on the two main writing sections of most college applications: the personal statement, as well as the short, supplemental questions that are specific to particular colleges. They are also joined by two college applicants — Rashad Brown Mitchell and Maya Newell — who read excerpts from their college application essays, with Ms. Reynolds and Dean Coffin providing analysis in real-time. As Ms. Reynolds puts it: "Admissions officers are just humans who love a good story."

Telling Your Story

A transcript is available for this episode.

S2: EPISODE 3

A Road Map through the Testing Landscape

For high school seniors, the standardized testing landscape is more of a maze than usual these days. In this episode of "Admissions Beat," host Lee Coffin of Dartmouth provides tips on navigating the complex topography of testing. He is joined by two guests: Stu Schmill, Dean of Admissions and Student Financial Services at MIT, and Leigh Weisenburger, Vice President for Enrollment and Dean of Admission and Financial Aid at Bates College. Together, they explain the various approaches to the ACT and SAT in the admissions offices of the nation's more than 2,000 four-year colleges and universities, including those that are test-optional, test-blind, test-flexible, or test-required. Dean Coffin and his guests also provide advice on whether applicants should choose to take such tests when not required to do so, and, if so, how they might decide whether to submit their scores as an element of an application. The deans then take listeners into their respective offices, as they describe how they and their colleagues use SAT and ACT scores as one component among many in the broader admissions process (spoiler alert: context, including as drawn from an applicant's background, matters).

A Road Map through the Testing Landscape

A transcript is available for this episode.

S2: EPISODE 2

A High School Senior Interviews the Dean

This week on "The Admissions Beat," the tables are turned on our host, Dartmouth Dean of Admissions Lee Coffin, as he's interviewed by high school senior Aidan ElDifrawi and his father, Ash, on the most recent episode of their podcast, "Hold Me Back," nominated for a People's Choice Award.  Their conversation, which we're pleased to cross-post on the "Admissions Beat" channel, ranged widely. Over the course of the discussion, Dean Coffin shared questions that every prospective college applicant should ask themselves. (What is it that makes you happy? Why did this particular institution land on your list?) He provided reminders of the urgency of this moment on the admissions calendar. (The Common App is live. It is time to start typing.)   And he underscored the need to keep the college admissions process in perspective, including for those who aspire to attend the nation's most highly selective institutions. (Give yourself space to enjoy your senior year. Make room for joy.)

A High School Senior Interviews the Dean

A transcript is available for this episode.

S2 EPISODE 1

Welcome to Senior Fall: It's College Application Season!

In the Season 2 premiere of the Admissions Beat, host Lee Coffin, Dartmouth College's dean of admissions and financial aid, provides a detailed overview of this fall's college search and application process—with a goal of ensuring high school seniors across the U.S. and around the world, and the parents and other adults who are supporting them, are ready for the tasks, decisions and deadlines in the weeks and months ahead. On today's episode, Dean Coffin is joined by New York Times Best-Selling author Jacques Steinberg, co-author of The College Conversation: A Practical Companion for Parents to Guide Their Children Along the Path to Higher Education, published in paperback by Penguin Random House last year.

Welcome to Senior Fall: It's College Application Season!

A transcript is available for this episode.

S1 EPISODE 17

Decisions Are Out!

It's finally here, the end of this year's admissions cycle (and soon, the beginning of a new one). Applicants are on edge as they wait for the long-awaited email or letter to arrive, letting them know which colleges or universities are inviting them to join the class of 2026. Lee Coffin and producer Charlotte Albright talk candidly and practically about how to process that news, and how to sift through the forthcoming avalanche of media reports touting, in many selective schools, historically low acceptance rates.  

Decisions Are Out!

A transcript is available for this episode.

S1 EPISODE 16

Marching Forward

For high school juniors, March opens the starting gate to a yearlong marathon. It's time to begin the journey toward colleges or universities that offer what they need, what they want, and what they can afford. After a fact-filled news roundup, host Lee Coffin and producer Charlotte Albright devote an entire episode to answering questions that often arise when college admissions officers visit secondary schools. Whether or not you've attended one of these "kickoffs," listen here for advice that will make your college search less stressful and more successful.   

Marching Forward

A transcript is available for this episode.

S1 EPISODE 15

Let's Hear It for the Humanities

"What are you going to do with that?" It's a question many an English or history major hears from parents who are concerned that they may not find meaningful, gainful employment after graduation. But data show that humanities students are employed at rates comparable to other majors, earn good salaries, and do increasingly well over the course of their careers. Scott Muir, project director for Study the Humanities, an initiative of the National Humanities Alliance Foundation, joins Barbara Will, Dartmouth's A. and R. Newbury Professor of English, for an eye-opening conversation with host Lee Coffin and producer Charlotte Albright about the benefits of a solid grounding in the humanities.

Let's Hear It for the Humanities

A transcript is available for this episode.

S1 EPISODE 14

Junior Kickoff Part 2

In this Junior Kickoff sequel, Lee Coffin asks his guests, Matt Hyde, assistant vice president and dean of admissions at Lafayette College, in Easton, Pa., and Kate Ramsdell, director of college counseling at Noble and Greenough School in Dedham, Mass., to help high school juniors and their parents get a sure-footed start on applying to college. Step one: know thyself. Step two: understand that the best school for you may be one you've never even heard of yet.

Junior Kickoff Part 2

A transcript is available for this episode.

S1: EPISODE 13

Junior Kickoff Part 1

This is the time of year when college admissions officers are invited to high schools for "junior kickoff" events, helping 11th graders get a sure-footed start on discovering, choosing, and applying to college. Consider this two-part episode a virtual kickoff, beginning with a roundup of news stories on the admissions beat, and followed, next week, by practical suggestions about how to begin your search. Lee Coffin's guests are Matt Hyde, assistant vice president and dean of admission at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., and Kate Ramsdell, director of college counseling at Noble and Greenough School in Dedham, Mass.

Junior Kickoff Part 1

A transcript is available for this episode.

S1 EPISODE 12

Playbook for Athletic Recruitment

As eight Dartmouth athletes compete in the 2022 Winter Olympics, Lee Coffin asks Interim Athletic Director Peter Roby for game plans that could help high school sports stars gain admission to the colleges of their choice. And in the Admissions Beat Newsroom, there's fact-filled discussion about what a recent Supreme Court ruling may mean for college athletes.

Playbook for Athletic Recruitment

A transcript is available for this episode.

S1: EPISODE 11

Family Reunion

College admissions officers typically form close working relationships that stretch across campuses and decades. In this episode, Lee Coffin catches up with Claire Matthews, the dean who gave him his first job, at Connecticut College, in 1990. Matthews also hired Jim Bock, who is now the vice president of admissions and financial aid at Swarthmore College. The threesome re-unites for a lively conversation about mentorship and about the enduring rewards of a career that has broadened their own horizons as they have helped expand access to higher education around the globe.

Family Reunion

A transcript of this episode is available.

S1: EPISODE 10

Expanding Global Access

Making its own news this week, Dartmouth expands its longstanding need-blind admissions policy to include international students. Lee Coffin explores the far-reaching impact of this change with Greg Manne, who oversaw international admissions for Dartmouth before taking a new job as manager of selection and outreach for Rise, an initiative of Schmidt Futures and the Rhodes Trust, which provides lifelong benefits, including scholarships and mentorships, to promising young people working to solve pressing problems around the world.

Expanding Global Access

A transcript of this episode is available.

S1: EPISODE 9

The College Conversation With Jacques Steinberg

For over two decades, journalist Jacques Steinberg has been demystifying the college admissions process, in his articles and blogs for The New York Times, in his groundbreaking book, The Gatekeepers, and now, by co-authoring with Eric Furda, a former Ivy League dean of admissions, The College Conversation: A Practical Companion for Parents to Guide Their Children Along the Path to Higher Education. Lee Coffin and Charlotte Albright, in their own conversation with Steinberg, find out what every parent of college-bound children needs to know about how to navigate—without nagging—the search and selection process.

The College Conversation With Jacques Steinberg

A transcript of this episode is available.

S1: EPISODE 8

'Twas Two Weeks Till the Deadline

As 2021 draws to a close, college application deadlines loom. Lee Coffin shops for tips for getting to the finish line from a high school counselor, and learns to handle stress from his own fitness trainer. Does "optional" really means what it says on a college application form? Yes, says Dean Coffin, who ends the year with a poem of his own. 

'Twas Two Weeks Till the Deadline

A transcript is available for this episode.

S1: EPISODE 7

Today in College Counseling Land

Lee Coffin invites Sherri Geller, co-director of college counseling at Gann Academy in Waltham, and the author of a popular blog, to share her poignant, humorous posts about the pleasures and pitfalls of giving empathetic, realistic advice to students and parents. They are joined by Ronnie McKnight, the associate director of college counseling at Paideia School in Atlanta, for a candid conversation that brings levity as well as enlightenment to families navigating the emotionally charged world of college admission.  

Today in College Counseling Land

A transcript is available for this episode.

S1: EPISODE 6

Decoding Transcripts and School Profiles

Lee Coffin reunites panelists from a College Board colloquium to discuss the interdependence of transcripts and school profiles. Detailed descriptions of the high schools from which applications flow allow admissions readers to put transcripts in context, with an understanding that not all students come to college with equal advantages or access to advanced high school courses and academic support. In the newsroom, Coffin and his producer, Charlotte Albright, clarify misleading news stories relating to international admissions. Coffin also responds to reports about a movement to change what is shown on transcripts, by adding narrative to numbers.   

Decoding Transcripts and School Profiles

A transcript of this episode is available.

S1: EPISODE 5

Expanding Access

More and more selective colleges are seeking ways to open their doors more widely to populations that used to find it difficult to be admitted, or to afford tuition. For example, Amherst College recently announced it would no longer give so-called "legacy" preference to applicants whose parents attended the school. Lee Coffin talks with Amherst's dean of admissions and financial aid, Matt McGann, about that and other initiatives that are removing barriers for students from many backgrounds and ethnicities.

Expanding Access

A transcript is available for this episode.

S1: EPISODE 4

The Common App

The Common Application, known as the Common App, started in 1975 as a paper form accepted by about a dozen institutions—mostly liberal arts colleges. The aim was to streamline the application process, thereby opening the doors of higher education to a larger, more diverse population. Today, over 900 colleges and universities across the globe accept the Common App, which, as it harnesses technology, continues to expand access for millions of students. Lee Coffin talks with Jenny Rickard, President and CEO of the organization, about changes in form and content that she hopes will make the college application process less daunting and more equitable.

The Common App

A transcript is available for this episode.

S1: EPISODE 3

So Many Questions

Wherever they go, college admissions deans and counselors are invariably grilled by parents eager to get their children into the top schools on their wish lists. Host Lee Coffin and his guest, Jennifer Simons, who advises families for Bright Horizons College Coach, address some of their most pressing and common concerns. And, as always, Coffin and producer Charlotte Albright will review admissions topics and trends making headlines.

So Many Questions

A transcript is available for this episode.

S1: EPISODE 2

Once a Dean

Once an admissions officer, always an admissions officer. Even when deans of admission retire or take other jobs, they often remain committed to higher education, and their collective wisdom is valuable. In this episode, Lee Coffin talks with colleagues who, having left their former posts, speak candidly about pressing issues affecting applicants to college.

Once a Dean

A transcript is available for this episode.

S1: EPISODE 1

What's Next?

It's been almost two years since COVID-19 upended the way colleges recruit and admit students. On most campuses, things are slowly returning to normal, but it's a new normal. Some virtual programming that expanded outreach is staying in place as admissions offices continue to grapple with changing realities. What does the future hold? In "What's Next," the inaugural episode of a new series, Admissions Beat, Lee Coffin and producer Charlotte Albright tackle hot topics in admissions news. Then Coffin and his guests, Emily Roper-Doten, dean of admission and financial aid at Olin College of Engineering, and Diane Scott, co-director of college placement at Boston's Academy of the Pacific Rim, look forward as they ponder the lessons of the pandemic.

What's Next

A transcript is available for this episode.