Bonus Episode Transcript
From Dartmouth College, I'm Lee Coffin, vice provost for enrollment and Dean of admission and financial aid. Welcome back to The Search.
This is a bonus episode. We talked our way through 12 preplanned episodes and promised we would save time for some questions. So, this extra episode, we'll entertain some questions that we had from students. You heard on previous episodes, and we have some new questions that came in through our mailbox. So, we'll start with two friends from episode one, Jack Heaphye and Aditi Narayanan, who I said, "Ask me anything," at the end of that episode, they did, we didn't have space in the original episode to include it. So, we'll start off with Jack and Aditi posing a couple of questions to me, and then we'll come back and hear from some new friends we've met, some of our listeners who are wondering about a couple of other topics.
Looking at an applicant, like what is the like single most important thing or something that you would see on an application that just holds the most weight out of anything?
That's a tricky question to answer, because it's kind of like... It depends which element of your file popped. So, for a lot of people, it is... We're going to say the transcript is a common denominator across all the competitive candidates where you have shown the admission officer, I've done well in my high school and I prepared for the curriculum you offer. That's a really fundamental part of what we're doing one by one. But beyond that for a lot of people, it could be an essay, the storytelling part, where you introduce yourself in a way that clearly illuminates the individual we're meeting. So, each piece of the application has a purpose. And as an applicant, you should think about each part of it and say, "How am I using this section to introduce myself to the college?" Aditi, ask me anything.
Ok, thank you.
So, I have two questions and they're both abstract, so you're going to have to bear with me. But so first I was kind of wondering, and I think this might benefit the juniors too, because it's, again, something I struggled with a lot. And it's almost how do you know what you want? Or how do you know what's going to benefit you the most when it comes to college? Because most I'm going to say this broadly for most high schoolers, they don't pick the situations and the kind of schools they're going to be in. Right? It just kind of happens. And most schools are kind of a core curriculum, especially mine. And they have their required classes, things like that. How do you know if you're going to thrive with a flexible curriculum or in a rural environment or with a small campus? Like all of those differentiating factors that people talk about with colleges, like when my college counselors were like, you need to cut 20 of these 25 schools or something like that. And they were like, yeah. So, what do you want in a campus? I honestly couldn't answer for a long time.
That degree of indecision is normal, particularly for juniors. And I interviewed a college counselor for the podcast who talked about inviting students to have a list of negotiables, which were all the things you just laid out, whether the different criteria that seem important to me as I start to meet campuses and think about the fit between me and it. And you might get to a point where things clarify themselves and what seemed important, becomes less important. And something like size, you might think I want a huge campus. And then as you start to explore, huge, huge might not feel as comfortable to you as small, which when you started maybe was a bit of a small place, I have to not do small, but they're small. How many seniors in your class Aditi?
90 to 100.
That's small. That's a small senior class. So, Dartmouth in this example would be a small university. We are the smallest member of the Ivy league by a pretty wide degree, but with 1150 first year students, that's a significant, multiple bigger than what you've experienced so far. So size, it kind of shifts around. And it's your own comfort level as you explore. Being honest with yourself, about as you visit virtually or in person, as you read, as you meet, like just owning, like this feels like it's clicking with me or I'm trying really hard to like it, and I don't. Like, I like the idea of it, but I don't like it for whatever reason that makes sense to you as an applicant, but it's Ok to start this journey being really open-ended to what it is you're looking for. By the end, you need to come to some kind of resolution about what matters, but you don't need to know that now. Second question.
Yes. So, this is more for me and less for the juniors. And it's kind of like how to come from your hometown and come someplace with like Dartmouth and know how to best use all these opportunities, particularly the D Plan research and things like that. How to take charge of these opportunities. Because again, when I looked through the course and club catalog, I kind of wanted to do it all. So how people narrow down doing a diverse amount of things, but also learning?
It's like walking into a buffet and you're like, "Look at all this food. I want to eat it all right away." And now I've got a stomachache because I've just, I've loaded my plate with too many things. And I think the first-year fall trap is you sign up for too many things right out of the gate before you get your sea legs around. What's it like to be at college away from home? The D Plan is intoxicating in the sense that you take three classes, you usually take five, six or seven when you're in high school and I've heard first year say how hard can this be? It's three classes. It's hard. And it depends which three you pair up in our schedule or in a semester schedule. For other places four courses is a lot of work. Particularly if you line up with calculus, chemistry, computer science and comparative lit like that four would be a really needy freshmen fall.
So, pacing yourself as important, but also being open. And I think you both are already saying this being open to discovering things at college that you're not thinking about right now, that could be a major. I always say to kids take a course your fall or winter term, that's totally outside of your normal sphere because things like religion and the anthropology to pick two that aren't classes that you typically find on a high school schedule are fantastic departments that might open your eyes to a whole other part of the curriculum that you're not thinking about now, not necessarily as a major, but just as an interesting thing in the liberal arts to explore. And I think that openness, to being surprised with what you discover sets you up for a really great first year, which is supposed to be a year of surprises, your sophomore year continues that, and it's not until the end of your sophomore year, where you have to start to knit this all together into a plan that then guides you into junior year and ultimately the senior year and the way you wrap it all up.
But for the beginning, I try and disrupt people's expectations. And also, when you come into a student body, like the one we're creating, there's this mystery that each person represents because every student has this really multidimensional story. It's part of the way we read and selected the class. And so, I like to think you people flip the script. You don't just look at something and say, "Ah, I know what role you play in the cast that was high school," and someone that might fit jock might also be a poet. Someone who seems nerdy might also be a rebel. Somebody who's an activist might be a Republican and all of these things' kind of crisscross in ways that I find exciting about going to college. And that's the door you're about to open. So those are the questions Jack and Aditi talked about back in April or May. But since then, we've had some questions come in through our mailbox and we're going to meet a few students and a parent who have a couple of topics, they'd like me to offer some thoughts on as we work our way through this bonus episode. So, let's say hi to our first questioner.
Hola, Mr. Coffin, my name's Ignacio, but you can call me Nacho. I attend Yuma Catholic High School in Arizona, but I live in San Luis, Mexico. My question to you is about the D Plan. Multiple student bloggers at Dartmouth have talked about its awesomeness. Yet I never fully comprehended it. I was hoping you could shed some light on this topic. Thank you for the hard work that you've put on this podcast. And it has definitely contributed to my college search.
Hola, Nacho. And thanks for this great question. And I'm going to answer it two ways. One is the Dartmouth specific answer and one, a more global answer for everyone out there who's not thinking about Dartmouth is one of your options. So, the D Plan represents Dartmouth's quarter system. So instead of semesters, we have quarters and students move through those quarters on their own terms. So what I like to say about the D Plan is it gives students a great degree of independence to create a course of study, particularly in the sophomore and junior years that lets them be on campus or off campus in whatever combination of terms makes the best sense to what you're exploring at that part of your college journey. And for some of you, you may hear that answer and say, "I don't want that degree of creativity."
The bigger question is how does each of your colleges deliver its curriculum? Is it fall semester and a spring semester? Is it like Dartmouth fall term, winter term, spring term, and a summer term, some places have fall term and spring term with a smaller January term embedded in the middle, maybe a month long program? Those are all really different schedules. Trimesters are another option. It's often an overlooked part of a search. The way in which the faculty at that college presents their courses to you in what sequence over the course of an academic year. So unlike high school, which typically starts in late August or September and wraps up in May or June. Colleges can follow really different patterns through an academic year. And that's a question to ask, and it's a negotiable, you need to think about does this matter to you as you're assessing them or not?
And ask yourself the question that relates to the D Plan as it relates to these other colleges, what's the best fit for my personality? Do I like being able to build my own schedule? Or am I somebody that wants to follow a preordained path, where fall has five courses, then there's a break. Spring has four courses, and then there's summer, repeat. Lots of different flavors, lots of different options as you look around. And the D Plan from the Dartmouth perspective is just one example of an individual college having an individualized system. Ok. Here's another question on a very different topic.
Hi, my name is Malia and I go to Oaks Christian High School, and I am from Agoura Hills, California. And my question is how much emphasis do colleges put on your course rigor as opposed to a grade point average?
It's a great question, Malia. So, colleges will look at both course rigor and your academic achievement in that course. And I think people often get it backwards and start with the GPA without understanding a college admission officer will look at your high school curriculum and ask this question. What's offered to you as you move from ninth grade through 12th, to what degree does your school offer advanced and more rigorous courses as you progress. Some places do some places don't. And so, we'll just make a note of that. And for a high school that offers honors, advanced placement, international baccalaureate courses. And if you're applying to a more selective institution, we will expect you to have been in those courses, especially as you move into 11th grade and 12th grade, if your high school doesn't offer them, you can't take them. But if your high school offers it, one of the elements of consideration will be the rigor of your transcript.
And another way of thinking about rigor we'll look at what you are imagining as a potential major. And we'll look at the rigor in your course schedule to see how does that rigor line up with what you think you might study. So, if you're telling us you love international relations and you'd like to major in IR and Japanese and your high school transcript includes lots of honors and advanced courses and social studies and languages. And that makes sense. And perhaps you have some really advanced courses in 12th grade, but not as advanced course in maybe mathematics because that was not part of your academic interest. That's Ok. And then your grades will reflect the rigor. I get a question a lot when I do info sessions, "What's more impressive to a college admission officer an A in a college prep course or a B in the advanced course?"
And the answer we always joke is it's better to get the A and the advanced course, but what we're looking for is the grade pattern across your transcripts, and to see how your level of achievement matches rigor and how the rigor matches your academic interests. And, I should also say this year, some of you will be in schools that remain remote and the grades are passes and fails. Or the courses may not have rigor designations as you've gone into a virtual classroom, we will assess that as well. So, one of the things we will do as admission officers, we'll shift gears a bit and evaluate your transcript on whatever terms the faculty at your high school have set for the remote learning you're now doing. So, don't worry about that. However, your high school determines how a pass comes into your GPA or not. We will make note of that and we will move forward with you. So, among all the questions we got, this seems to be the only one that came in from a parent.
Hi, this is Carrie Carter, and I'm calling from Shaker Heights, Ohio with a question for Dean Coffin. With so many schools moving to test optional right now, I'm wondering what that really means. So, for example, if you are a student who took a standardized test and you did really well, is that going to help you? But if it helps you then, is that really optional? And so, I guess by contrast, if you're a student who took a test and you didn't get a good score, and so you don't submit a test, how does that position you relative to students who do submit test scores? So, really curious to hear your thoughts on this. I love the podcast super helpful. Thanks, so much for doing this.
So Carrie, you're asking a really good question and it's really timely as the journey from the spring comes into almost September at this point, many colleges have moved to a test optional policy for this upcoming cycle, as a way of reassuring you that the limited access to the testing centers around the world during the pandemic should not be a concern. And so, if you have a score and you are happy with it, and you think it's a representative element of your candidacy. Send it in. It will be seen as one factor among many, not a required factor, but we will look at it in the context of all the other information that's coming in. So, the key question, if you have a score, is does this particular score sync up with your academic story? If the answer is yes, share it. If the answer's no, because you took the test once and didn't have a chance to retest that's your choice to submit it or not admission officers during this cycle are not going to see the absence of a score as a question mark.
We understand that the public health crisis has created a lack of opportunity. And that lack of opportunity is what prompted many of us to pause the policy. So optional, whether it's a test, whether it's a recommendation, whether it's an interview, whether it's an art portfolio, the word optional truly means your choice. So, as it relates to testing for those of you who have it and think it is a useful element, share it. If you don't have it, don't worry about it this year. And don't push yourself. I think most importantly, as so many high schools are struggling to reopen. Don't worry about it. If you can't get to a test center this year, colleges understand that this piece of a traditional application is not always possible. And we have one more question from a friend in the UK.
Hi, I'm Maddie Whitman, a rising junior at the American School in London. Dean Coffin, will surging freshmen year postponements by 24s create a chain reaction of reduced admissions access for 25s and possibly 26s? How will colleges protect the next cycle or two of applicants from a crowding out effect? Thanks very much for your insightful podcast.
So Maddie you're, you're bringing us to the last question of the ask me anything bonus episode with a really timely and important question that a lot of members of the high school class of 21 are asking, which is a lot of their classmates who graduated this year, took a gap year and they're waiting at the pandemic and they will enroll in college in the fall of 21. And the question therefore is what do those postponements mean for you? Will your classmates have equal access through the admission process and you're a junior. So, you're even bumping your ahead one more year and saying and the class after that, the answer is, it depends because one of the questions that each college will be asking is how do we pair the college class of 24 with the college class of 25? And if need be the college class of 26. So, as those two or three classes move through their undergraduate experience, we have the right enrollment over the course of the next two, three, four years.
And so, for example, a smaller class of 24, because kids who postponed out could be paired with a larger class of 2025. So, a normal size class with the postpones added onto it. I can tell you Dartmouth, hasn't made a decision about this yet, but that's an example of how there would not be a crowding out effect that you're wondering about that we would smooth out the enrollment by adjusting the size of the next class or two with an eye towards our housing so that everybody gets part of the residential experience, but the smoothing out with would help us avoid what you're worrying about, which is a surge in postpones will create a tougher admissions landscape in the next year or two. I think that remains to be seen. I would counsel you to wait and see and not get caught in the speculation.
For all of you, I think one of the challenges of where we are in the world, never mind in college admissions is there's a lot of questions like we've been answering on this episode around testing and gap years. And can we visit soon, and we'll see. And I think we're all in this week by week, month by month journey and as best as you can stay composed and not worry about things that we can't control yet. I think that's going to bring us all to a happier place. So that brings us to the end of our ask me anything episode. I said goodbye at the end of episode 12. So, I've learned my lesson. Maybe I shouldn't say goodbye because who knows. There could be a couple of more bonus episodes in my future, but for now this is Lee Coffin from Dartmouth College signing off again. Good luck on your search.