Admissions Beat S1E1 Transcript

Season 1: Episode 1 Transcript
"What's Next"

 

Lee Coffin:
Dateline at a campus near you. Read all about it. Press releases, articles, blogs, news feeds, rankings, books, tweets, post, podcasts. The head spins and swims in admissions updates news, spin lists, commentary gossip. So much buzz, too much info. So many opinions. I'm here to help.  When the beat is loud, I'll turn down the volume. I'm Lee Coffin, Dartmouth's dean of admissions. Welcome to  Admissions Beat, the pod for news, conversation, and advice on all things college admissions.

It's been almost two years since COVID-19 upended the way colleges recruit and admit students. On most of our campuses, things are slowly returning to normal, but it's a new normal. Some virtual programming that expanded outreach over the past 18 months is staying in place. And we're starting to welcome students back to campus for tours. What does the future hold? This week we're going to ask what's next? How can we hold on to the innovative virtual programming that improved college access for many home-bound, high schoolers during lockdown? How can we safely bring back campus visits to help students figure out what's important to them? How do they assess fit on the ground? What colleges are the best for them? And should we expect college applications to keep skyrocketing? That's later. First, let's get to the Newsroom.

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Lee Coffin:
Welcome back to the Admissions Beat Newsroom. Charlotte Albright, my producer and a journalist in her own right joins me to think about this week's headlines on the Admission Beat. Charlotte, it's exciting to have you in the newsroom with me. What's on your news radar this week?

Charlotte Albright:
Well Lee, thanks. It is great to be with you doing this because you and I are both newshounds. And I think we both agree that sometimes admissions news can be hard to come by for the general audience. So we're going to kind of tease these out. But one of the biggest stories that did hit in late September came out in the Boston Globe and it has to do with what are known as legacy applicants. Students who apply to colleges, hoping that if their parents, aunts, or uncles have been alumni, that somehow they get preferential treatment. Now you and I both know that that is not necessarily true, but in the Boston Globe piece, there is person who applied to Brown. He worried that because he was not the child or the relative of anybody else who had gone to Brown in the past, he really didn't have a level playing field for his application. It turns out that he did get into the Brown class of 2017, but nevertheless, this is now I think becoming a topic of hot debate. Should it be?

Lee Coffin:
It's always been a topic of hot debate. You know, I've been an admission officer at four different places. And this question of legacy has been part of the admission conversation all the way through. I think, where it gets more pronounced in the current environment is selectivity has become so tight that every seat in the class seems more precious. The scarcity of this opportunity heightens the question of well, who gets the seat and why? So on the legacy piece for most private institutions, the connection between the college and the alums is this ongoing relationship and uniquely in higher ed. It's a relationship between graduates and the campus that continues beyond the undergraduate moment. Some of that is philanthropic. Alums generate resources for our campuses. And as somebody who received financial aid myself, I always think about the alums at my college who donated scholarships that I ended up receiving and it opened the door for me to be able to go to the college that I couldn't afford.

Sometimes it's more of an emotional connection. People come back for homecoming and reunions and football games, and they do alumni interviewing and they have an ongoing connection to the place, just like people support hospitals and museums and the arts. And that volunteerism is part of what makes the place run. And this all gets added up into this key question: if your child applies, does the college acknowledge that? And that's legacy. That's looking at the file and saying among the many factors we consider does Mom's background as somebody who attended this place count to some degree? And I think the argument is it shouldn't count at all. And the argument for it is it should count to a degree just like we consider other types of criteria in the way we make decisions. So that's legacy. And it typically is something that applies to the child of a graduate, not an aunt, uncle, or a grandparent or a brother, sister. It varies from place to place, but that's the most common answer.

Charlotte Albright:
Well, interestingly, the fellow in the Boston Globe piece went on to be student body president. He is a member of the Brown board of trustees. He's a grad student at Harvard Kennedy school and he is still leading this national grassroots campaign to end admissions preferences for alumni children at a lot of schools. Clearly, he's used his education in what some people would say is a really productive way. I mean, he's very active. So it'll be interesting to watch.

Lee Coffin:
I think it's a fair topic to bring forward campus by campus. I don't think you can make a blanket policy across all campuses. Some places will value this alumni connection more than others. And I also don't think there's something nefarious about it. I think for places that have an eye towards legacy access, however, it's defined and however it is implemented, that's an institutional prerogative. And the degree to which that happens is something that should and could be discussed on each campus. But I also don't personally see it being abused in the places where I've worked. I think it's one factor among many. And what I've said in different alumni programs is it counts more than an outsider might hope and it counts less than the alums hope it will. So yeah, this is, this legacy policy is something that's clearly in the news. And you know, maybe a future episode we'll come back to this have a round table. What else, what other headlines are you seeing Charlotte?

Charlotte Albright:
There's a story that I believe National Public Radio ran. And I think I heard it on Marketplace earlier in the summer, and has to do with FAFSA

Lee Coffin:
FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It's a required document that any student applying to college needs to complete, goes to the department of education. And it gets shared with the colleges to which a student has applied as a standardized set of data, kind of like your income taxes that helps us calculate a student's projected need.

Charlotte Albright:
So apparently there's been a decline in the number of applicants, college applicants who apply through FAFSA for financial aid. And of course, if you want financial aid, you have to use the FAFSA document, I believe. So, what does that tell you?

Lee Coffin:
Tells me that during the pandemic, the remoteness of many school rules is creating some structural barriers to counseling. And you know, when you're in person, a counselor in an aid-dependent high school can grab students out of class and say, Hey, we need to work on this together. A little harder to do virtually. And I've heard that worry expressed by public school and particular counselors who just have less access to students and families to help them navigate this part of the work.

Lee Coffin:
It's a worry because you know, if you are a low-income student for whom aid is the non-negotiable part of your college outcomes, FAFSA is just as important as the common application. Like you have to complete it and you have to complete it every year as a way of renewing your eligibility for need-based financial aid. So it's really important to anyone listening, who knows that financial aid is going to be an essential ingredient to college admissions. It's online, download it, fill it out, submit it. It's free. It's something that has to be submitted for someone to be eligible for financial aid, but the worry that it generates when you see these numbers dropping is that access to college will be curtailed. If fewer students submit the document that leads to the scholarship that leads to enrollment.

Charlotte Albright:
So there'd be some variability there. So I guess the takeaway is even if you are in school in a remote format, your guidance counselor is probably still there and would be able to hear from you. So don't give up on FAFSA, right?

Lee Coffin:
Don't give up on FAFSA. And there are organizations that help students navigate the financial aid process. So that's the newsroom for this week. And as usual in the back-to-school moment, lots of headlines coming through mainstream media, social media, and listservs, and Charlotte and I will keep our eyes peeled for topics going forward. When we come back, it's the admission round table where two colleagues will join me for a conversation about what comes next as college admissions reopens, as the pandemic, God willing, recedes. See you in a minute,

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Lee Coffin:
Welcome back and excited to have our first admissions round table. Emily Roper-Doten is the dean of admission and financial aid at Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Massachusetts. And Diane Scott is the co-director of college placement at Academy of the Pacific Rim in Hyde Park, Massachusetts. And she also has a second gig, because she doesn't want to rest, as a college counselor at Crimson Academy, which is at Harvard during the summer for low-income, high-achieving students as kind of a summer enrichment opportunity.

So Diane and Emily, great to see you both again, even though we're still in zoom land.

Diane:
Excited to be back.

Lee Coffin:
And so we're, this round table's called what comes next? What comes next around the lingering pandemic we're partially reopened. Some of us are fully reopened. We're kind of tip-toeing forward. And I thought it'd be helpful to start this series with kind of a conversation about where are we, what did we learn? Where are we going? The pandemic and our journey through those admission offices and counselors took a framework that was largely built after World War II and that we all followed. We have innovations here and there, but generally, the admission process circa 2019 was very similar to the one I navigated in the early eighties. And that people in the sixties and seventies did too. You know, whether you're doing a high school visit, a fair, you took an SAT, you write an essay, you do an interview. COVID erased the 20th-century admission process. And the 21st-century process is still forming. That's okay. There's creativity afoot, I guess is what I'm saying. I'm wondering first, are admission officers reappearing at your school. Diane, do you want us to reappear at your school? How's that part of the infrastructure reestablishing itself or not?

Diane Scott:
Well, absolutely. We are delighted to be welcoming admissions officers almost every day, all fall. In fact, we had a great zoom session with Dartmouth. That one was remote, but Olin is coming in soon in a few weeks. So we're really, really excited because one of the biggest things for our students is underexposure.

Lee Coffin:
Yeah.

Diane:
The, I mean, it's hard anyway, right? For our students to get around to different colleges, but we are usually able to have our own fair to kick off the year. You probably remember that one.

Lee Coffin:
Yeah.

Diane:
We haven't been able to have fairs. We haven't been able to have the visits in and the pandemic hit when these seniors were sophomores. So right. When they were beginning to explore really in earnest, they haven't had any access. And so we really worry about it. And they do too, in terms of really knowing the schools, to which they want to apply and really finding the right fit.

Lee Coffin:
Emily is your team visiting schools?

Emily Roper-Doten:
Some. We are, I feel like we're on the delay of hybrid. So when for the last year or so, everything we were doing was virtual, and this is the first time we're really doing both in-person on-campus programming, in-person visits and virtual visits all at the same time. So we're doing most of our in-person and visits are probably happening in Massachusetts. And then we've got one or two other trips that are being planned, but we're not doing sort of the long haul trips elsewhere. You know, we're do kind of doing that research in advance of can, are there enough schools for us to visit, to make it an in-person trip, or do we rely on the virtual visits in that particular community? And so we definitely have a mix, but the pandemic allowed us to remove the geographic barrier, but really just being able to reach more students that we weren't actually reaching before. And I'm super curious about Diane's perspective on for her student population of how is it is actually Zoom helpful for, for different groups? I think it's easy for us to look at this and say, oh, this is such a better, more equitable practice. And being able to get a sense of if that's really true on the other side, but that's what it feels like, at least over here,

Diane Scott:
I'm really glad you raised that because we were very hopeful and optimistic about it and said, last year to the seniors, this is sort of leveled the playing field, right? Like you couldn't get around to different campuses for financial and transportation reasons. And now everybody has to do virtual visits, but what happened, certainly some, all of you were great about options that you created and not just virtual tours, but really a lot of creative programming, but it was interesting. I didn't expect how much one, there was Zoom fatigue, right? Kids were like, I just can't get myself on one more virtual thing after going all day.

And a lot of our families, students had responsibilities then during the day with siblings and it was very difficult to juggle remote work, even school work, and sometimes feeling embarrassed that there's a little sibling crawling around on them or like feeling like they didn't have an appropriate, quiet, focused place to be able to put their camera on and have a professional interaction with an admissions officer. So I would say it was a mixed bag. I mean, we love that you did it. And right now I think continuing the hybrid practice is very, very helpful because we can have students in our school during the day, giving them permission to Zoom with, for example, Dartmouth last week.

Lee Coffin:
Oh, that's really interesting. Like, so you hadn't, that hadn't occurred to me that you're able to do the Zoom from school, which is both probably more stable wifi for people,

Diane Scott:
Right.

Lee Coffin:
But also a more controlled environment. That's, that's really interesting. Cause I've been hearing, from different schools kind of a mixed message around whether it's time to come back. Each admission officer's a little vector from somewhere else kind of popping into a community, and is that community ready for it? And others are like, everybody come on back. So it's been an interesting transition. So what, like one of the things that also kind of exploded out of pandemic much to our surprise was volume. Many, not all many colleges saw big increases in their applicant pool. And I people have asked like why? I said, well, part of it was, we were able to have interactions with more people because of this digital platform.

Part of it was nerves. I think people looking forward and saying, well I haven't visited anywhere. Maybe I should apply to as many as I can because I haven't filtered it yet. Part of it was optional testing, giving people hope that, well, maybe this will happen. And then all of that combined to create in Dartmouth's case 33% increase, which was historically huge and in some ways too many, but do you see that building again? Are we because a lot of the factors remain true. We're partially hybrid, testing still optional. You know, we are, people are still nervous. Do you see a second year of big volume washing through these applicant pools?

Diane Scott:
I do. I mean, I think the high anxiety is still very much there. In fact, for our current seniors, I would say almost a little bit more…

Lee Coffin:
Why?

Diane Scott:
Well, I think because they had their entire junior year remote and they know that that's an important academic year to prepare for selective college admissions during their junior year. I think people are also just very nervous because so many of their avenues for demonstrating themselves as an applicant were sort of curtailed a little bit, right? Academics, extracurriculars, the testing. And so feeling like maybe I just need to cast a wider net and hope that things will work out. And we just, this is just an N of one. But Paul Benito from Boston College was just with us and he said, they're already up. And they're looking for additional readers, part-time readers. So I don't see an end to it this season, but I don't know about you guys.

Emily Roper-Doten:
Olin is so specific that Olin didn't see necessarily the same increase as everyone else. We were pretty much flat, but I think we're going to see it this year because we're able to have students on campus being such a new name for some students and families being such a unique institution, being smaller than almost everyone else out there. Students really want to have that tactile sensory experience of being on campus. What does 350 students actually feel like? What does an all-engineering community feel like? And so there are some of us, I think that are going to be on the lag the second year of a bump, which I don't want to make Diane nervous, but, or anyone else out there. But for those of us who didn't see those big increases I don't think that means that's not going to happen. I think it's just happening on a different scale because now we have those interactions again, that tend to drive those numbers for those of us who are in a, just a slightly different space.

Lee Coffin:
Yeah. My goal is always to reassure and I don't know as we're having this particular volume topic if it can be reassuring, I think other than to say one by one, you can't control it. What you can't control is how much you contribute to the volume. So applying to 10 versus 20 places. Ten is a lot twenty's too many. And I, I think there's some self-control that will go into this too, because the more people over-apply out of worry, the more the colleges get swamped with volume that creates the headlines in the spring, that that say this was the most selective year ever. And the whole thing, it's like a reinforcing feedback loop. So if you're selling economics there it is. One of the things I wanted to pick up was the observation that current seniors are worrying about their preparation. So what comes next with testing?

Emily:
I keep getting this question of you've announced that you're test-optional for another year, but if I'm a high school junior, what are you doing? And this of course happens right after I introduce myself as the dean of admission and financial aid, and I don't know. And I know I'm supposed to be the person who knows, but we don't. We are kind of in a one step at a time moment here where we are recognizing there's still massive disruption to testing. There's still massive disruption to people's lives. There's this, we're going to start talking about this is a multiple year scenario in terms of how does it affect the college admission process. So we're in the moment of we've continued our test-optional process. We're still talking about what does that actually mean?

And actually, in our information sessions, trying to talk about, okay, so there there's actually two, there's two different ways we can look at an application, one with and one without, and trying to spend a little bit more time, communicating how we respond to that. What happens if you self-report your testing on the common application, but you want to apply test-optional to my school, but you reported it because someone else is requiring, what do we do on our side to suppress that testing? So we never see it. It's okay. I promise. You know, so trying to be as clear as possible about what does it mean while at the same time saying I, unfortunately can't, junior in high school. I am so sorry, but I cannot give you that information yet partially because it is definitely complicated and, and falls into that wonderful refrain in the college admission world, of it depends, right?

Lee Coffin:
Yeah. I would give the same answer. I don't know yet happens to the high school class of 23 and beyond it's under review, I guess is the best way to say it. And what I've said to some people who push, like why, why have you made a decision already? My answer is, well, we were not planning to suspend our testing requirement until COVID came into the story. So we paused the policy because it was the equitable thing to do during, during a pandemic. And we sustained the pause because it remained the equitable thing to do, but we have not in doing that. We did not reject testing as an element of our process. We may decide to do that, but we there's some research that I think normally happens when a campus goes test-optional or test-blind that we didn't have a chance to do. So as we wrap the round table kind of a mood question, are you worried or optimistic as you ponder what comes next?

Diane Scott:
I'm optimistic because of my history of working with you all right, I know holistic admissions. I know what you all are trying to do and why, and how just have a lot of faith and trust and that the integrity of that process. And so I'm optimistic because I know what students are doing. I know they're striving and I know that they want to find the right place for themselves and find a sense of belonging in a place where they can thrive and grow. And I think that will still be true in the process. It's a little harder, little more complicated, but I'm optimistic for that. I guess my, my worry is us not utilizing these innovations long-term and sort of a year from now, just going back to practice as usual. And I, and I hope that won't happen.

Emily Roper-Doten:
I think I'm excited about the things that we're keeping that are allowing us to reach new sets of students and being able to sort of share who we are and what we can offer in broader communities. I'm excited because now that we're back, it's going to, I think, I think the threshold for not being back for, a flip back to remote or something like that is going to take a lot, so there's, I'm, I'm kind of excited about the fact that we got to this point. I think the piece that, that I'm worried about is a little less about what the pool's going to look like or what are classes going to look like, because I have a lot of confidence in what those things are going to look like.

I'm worried about the burnout, you know, and I, in the same way, worried about the students burning out and the way that their mental health has taken such a hit in this isolation and loneliness. We're doing so many things virtually and so many things in person. I'm like Diane, I'm hopeful that we will keep all of the great things and not kind of default to, to these pieces. But as we are tired that we have to remind ourselves, like keep doing the hard work, but I think as usual students are going to find excellent homes and as long as we keep communication open between us and IN counseling, the admission side and counselors and students and families and colleges, hopefully we can keep that fire at a low simmer, as opposed to a, a full raging burn.

Lee Coffin:
Well, that I'm going to leave the round table on that optimistic note. Emily, I think that's my thought too. So thank you both for joining us for the first round table conversation on the admission beat. When we come back, Emily and Diane will join me for our first inbox and we'll answer a couple of questions that people have submitted. We'll be right back.

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Lee Coffin:
Okay. It's inbox. As we go forward, we welcome your questions on any topic related to the world of college admissions, submit your question to admissionbeat@dartmouth.edu. And maybe you'll hear your question on a future episode, but for today we have a couple of questions. One, it goes back to our newsroom segment, where we were talking about FAFSA, the free application for federal student aid. And there was a story on national public radio on October 1st, which was the go-live date for, for federal aid this year. And Diane, the question is, should I be worried about out the declining number of low-income students completing FAFSA? Like what is generating that shrinking ability to complete FAFSA? And does it mean the college classes this year and going forward going to be less socioeconomically diverse?

Diane Scott:
Yes and no, we should worry about that. Yes. Following the trends and knowing how hard lower-income communities were hit in the pandemic. For example, I've been working, doing some consulting work with a county in Southern Florida that had 78% of their high school students in a 60,000 person county high school system. 78% of the kids had one, or both parents lose a job in the pandemic. So lots of conversations about this is just irresponsible to my family. I need to work and so forth. However, I also know that all around the country, there is a lot of effort in really creative stuff to ensure FAFSA completion. Live events, virtual events, even things like using geofencing, the social media advertising. So it pops up, you know, instead of just buy Burger King, right? Also, get your FAFSA done a lot of really good guides and multiple languages that are line by line and screen by screen. So there's a lot of very creative work being done by people like me all over the country to make sure that we don't see the dip that we saw last year. So I'm hopeful.

Lee Coffin:
Okay. Hopeful, Emily, since I haven't been able to visit a campus is early decision a gamble? And I asked this because I know Olin does not have early decisions. So you can answer this question as objectively as a dean could answer it.

Emily Roper-Doten:
I think early decision is always a gamble. And so you have to be comfortable in taking that risk. And you are the only person who can make the decision about whether or not you have enough information to say, if admitted, you will enroll. And so that might be about an individual's personality. Can they get enough information from all the virtual programming that they've had? Can they connect with alumni or current students? Can they, do they have a good enough sense of place that they feel confident enough that that's truly where they want to be? For some students that answer is yes, they've, they've got what they need for other students that answer will be absolutely not. I have to step foot on campus. I have to see the people I have to you. I have to sort of really have that in-person moment to say that, yes, this is where I want to be.

And a lot of students are going to fall actually somewhere between yes and no. And I, I think this is a big enough decision that if you're in the middle, that's probably a no. And there are, we forget sometimes that there are over 4,000 colleges and universities in this country. And that we think about a small number of them as being kind of the places where we have to set our sights. And if you're not able to, to fully 100% confidently, either because you don't have enough information or because you just don't feel ready to make that kind of decision, the vast majority of people country apply to schools, regular or rolling decision, right. That it is the minority of students actually in the country and across the world that are applying in these early rounds, you will not be left out in the cold.

Lee Coffin:
Okay. And the last question comes from a mom whose high school just introduced her to scattergrams through a program that shows previous admission decisions from that high school to particular colleges. She didn't tell me if it was Naviance or score or similar platform, but the idea being guidance offices showing scattergrams of previous decisions. And her question is I've been introduced to this scattergram and I'm addicted to the data I'm now consuming. Can I trust it? Diane?

Diane Scott:
I think there's always a desire, right? To like, to try to get the science behind it, right. Where exactly is that sweet spot my child will get in. And we all know there's some art as well as some science, right? It's not just the numbers. It's about a lot more as you guys each work to build the best class. So maybe if there's enough sample size, use it as a guide, but certainly not an accurate predictor just on the numbers.

Lee Coffin:
Yeah. My comment is, has always been, it's a two-dimensional way of understanding a three-dimensional process. So what you don't see and the data that appears on one of the scattergrams is what was the story? Who was the person? You see a GPA and a score, a test score, usually as the way the axes are presented, you don't see curiosity, creativity, or artistry, kindness. None of those things can be plotted on that. scattergram and those are really important qualities in the way a decision is formed and then represented going forward.

Lee Coffin:
So that's our first Admissions Inbox. Thank you both for helping our listeners think about the things that are keeping them up at night. If you've got a question admissionbeat@dartmouth.edu. Diane and Emily. Thanks so much for joining us on the very first episode of Admissions Beat. It's always fun to have you in person, but also in Zoom, as thinking partners on this topic. So hope to see you both soon.

Emily:
Thank you. It was a pleasure.

Diane:
Thank you. It's fun.

Lee Coffin:
So that's the inaugural episode of Admissions Beat. From week to week, you may see something shifting around as Charlotte and I play with our format, thinking about what's working. What sounds great. What do we drop? If you have some thoughts, send them to admissionbeat@Dartmouth.edu. For now, this is Lee Coffin and Charlotte Albright signing off. See you next week on the Admissions Beat.

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