The Search Episode Four Transcript

The Search

Episode Four Transcript

 

Lee Coffin:
Hello, everyone from Dartmouth College,
I'm Lee Coffin, Vice Provost for Enrollment and Dean of Admissions, and welcome to The Search.

We're excited today to focus this conversation on a more global conversation than the ones we've been having to help students around the world who might be thinking that an American college is worth exploring. How do you do that? How do you begin to do the investigation? How do you begin to think about telling your story? How do you apply when you live outside the United States?

Normally, college admission officers in the U.S. would spend quite a lot of time visiting countries around the world to introduce ourselves to you. And that will happen for the Class of '25 in a more remote way, at least for the time being. So, as we start this conversation with the 11th graders around the world, we want to give them some tips about how to get started, what resonated with some seniors who just completed this journey. And we're joined today by three incoming members of Dartmouth's class of '24.

As always, we're not asking them why they chose Dartmouth, but we're using their affiliation with us to share some thoughts from three really different perspectives. So, we're going to say hello to Arturo, who is a senior in Panama. Chandu, who's in Zimbabwe, and Izzie, who's in the United Kingdom, I think in London. So, I'm going to ask each of them to say hi, and then we'll start our conversation.

Arturo volunteered to go first. So hello, Arturo.

Arturo:
Hi everybody, Hi Dean. My name is Arturo Serrao. I graduated from a bilingual, private, Catholic and Panamanian high school. Some things about me, my parents are both immigrants, my mom's Colombian, my dad's Guatemalan. I was born here in Panama. And if I can give you some hope for the future it's that some admissions offices were great at going virtual at a critical point in our process, which was college decisions, and they were incredibly helpful and just great. They made an amazing effort. And I'm sure that for you juniors, it may be the same in many schools.

Lee:
Thank you. Okay, let's hop on a plane and visit Zimbabwe.

Chandu:
Thank you so much, Dean. I'm Chandu and I'm from Zimbabwe. If you don't know where that is, that's in Southern Africa, and I love my country. Being from Africa and wanting to explore an American college was something which was a leap for me. And as a gap year student, I had a lot of things to look at if you're considering American colleges. Yeah, thank you.

Lee:
Thank you. And now, let's visit London.

Izzie:
Hi, thank you everyone. Very intriguing introductions. I am Izzie Lewitt. I am from London, England, but similar to Arturo, my parents are actually not from the UK. So, my parents are Canadian and German, but as the accent probably gives away, I've lived here my whole life and feel quite British. I'm also going to be a Dartmouth '24, and I am super, super excited. And hopefully I can share with you some more about my process.

Lee:
So, let's just quickly tell our listeners what you're thinking about studying. I mean, I did a little cheat sheet, so I know that you've all got academic interests which are very wide-ranging. So, Arturo, what's on your mind as you prepare to come to college?

Arturo:
So, I've always loved STEM, and I'm thinking of majoring in engineering science. There is an incredibly interesting modification available at Dartmouth, which includes public policy, which is one of my passions and I will go with that. And since that's a single major and I still have room for a minor, and candidates for that minor include French, history, or education.

Lee:
Wow. So, you are a pure liberal arts student. I mean, your fingers touch almost every part of the curriculum. So, engineering and public policy, we'll come back to that. Chandu?

Chandu:
I'm considering a double major in math and econ. And I'm also considering a minor in sociology, because I love things to do with the society, what's happening especially in Africa. And just wanting it to get to everyone in the world to understand how things work in Zimbabwe and in Africa. So, I'm now looking at just a wide range of things, being open-minded, which will allow me to explore things that I have never thought of exploring. Yeah, I think-

Lee:
Okay. That's pretty specific, I think.

Chandu:
Yeah, very.

Lee:
And then, Izzie, I'm looking at my notes. Izzie takes us in a completely different direction based on what you told us in your application.

Izzie:
Yeah. Similar to Arturo actually, I love science, but I also love public policy and I'm fascinated by that. I'm an avid reader of The Economist and The Week, anyways. But I am fascinated by theoretical physics particularly. So, I'm thinking of majoring in physics and trying to modify it with philosophy, because to me, it's where the two subjects really do merge in the humanities and you get the STEM and the humanities together. So, aspects like time, honestly, facts, like what do we know? How do we know what we know? All those questions that seem unanswerable intrigue me. And I also want to minor in... I mean, as it stands today, this is very likely to change, but currently, I would like to double minor in public policy and then, either theater or music. So do a lot of the arts.

Lee:
Wow. So, as you're listening to this around the world, one of the things to remember about an American undergraduate experience is you have this opportunity to explore. And I'm reminded of that whenever I've done a recruitment trip outside the U.S., I was in Norway two falls ago. And the Dartmouth alum who hosted me in Oslo said, "Now, before you do your presentation, remember Norwegian students have to declare a career as they move into the university." So, it's a very pre-professional type of curriculum where they start, and they're focused on law or medicine or business right out of high school. And the idea that you can explore, which all three of you are thinking about in a really intellectually curious and elegant way, seeing the world and that interdisciplinary approach to studying and thinking is really one of the hallmarks of American college. So-

Arturo:
And I think that some of us outside the U.S. struggle with that idea, because you're trained from when you're young to think that a university is the way you get a degree, and that degree is the way you get into the workforce. And that is not necessarily so in the U.S.

And I also would like to think that you're going to live in this community because liberal arts is really more than the curriculum, it's also the community. And you need to know what that community looks like. It is really much more than just the rankings for your specific major. And you are allowed to care about so many more things you can look at if the community is more communitarian and supportive, or if it's more individualistic and pre-professional and entrepreneurial, you're allowed to care about social life. And we have so many misconceptions about that outside the United States.

Lee:
So, as we're having this conversation, it might be helpful to take a step back and just explain that curricula around the world are very different. So, in the U.S., most of our applicants will follow what is called an Honors Curriculum, which leads to an advanced placement course, which is developed by the college board, which brings you the SAT. And that's sort of a cousin of the International Baccalaureate Curriculum, which is another global curriculum that is very interdisciplinary in the way students move through their 11th and 12th grade, so that's the IB. And then you've got in different countries, different national systems.

So, the admission office in the U.S. knows how to switch between the types of curricula. So, as we meet you in your high school, the school will tell us, "This is the curriculum we offer." What we're really looking for as we assess curriculum and your achievement in that curriculum is how has it prepared you for the curriculum we offer. When you arrive in our classroom as a first-year student, does the curriculum you explored through high school give you the preparation to study at a pretty high level, fast-paced, rigorous curriculum, if you're applying to a college like Dartmouth. But no matter where you're applying within the U.S. that's the way we look at what you've taken in high school, how have you done, and how does set you up for success when you're here.

Lee:
I'm always fascinated by how students start their search. So, your classmates around the world, some places are opening up again after the virus has moved through, some are still staying at home. So, let's assume people are still at home. Share with them how you started your search. How did you start to put together a list of American or Canadian or British schools? Like what was the first couple of steps? Did you do the research on your own? Did someone at school help you? What advice do you have for exploring an American college?

Arturo:
So, I made a very common mistake. And a very common mistake we make outside the United States is that we don't see institutions as individually different communities, we just see them as a means to get a degree. And so naturally the first thing I did was go into the rankings and find out which were the best ranked, both in general, and for my intended major, which was general engineering degree. And I started putting together my list and I saw which schools had it and which were the best studied. I started caring a lot about that.

Until I finally got to the 11th grade, so our junior year and I started talking a lot more to admission representatives who visited my school. And that was a great advantage to have, because when you get to know these representatives, you really get a sense of how different each school can be, and each different experience can be. And that was incredibly, incredibly helpful in order to guide me, to make better decisions about where to apply based on where I could live successfully for four years, instead of what degree could I get after four years.

And I also used many other resources, which were much better than rankings. I used my high school counselor because she knew me well. If the person doesn't know you well, don't use it, it's not helpful. Use teachers because they normally know what they're talking about. They've seen many classes of students and they talk to them sometimes when they come back to your high school and everything, and they have a sense of what type of student fits in well, where.

And lastly, people who were upperclassmen before you, and you had like as a team captain in some sport you played, or you had as a club president in  you participated in. Things like this and who are now at different institutions, talk to them about institutions they're at. And that was incredibly helpful. For me for example, I had a great friend who went to a very highly regarded technical institute. He was with me at math Olympics all the way. And through what he was telling me about, I was like, "Okay, so this person is having a great time, but I'm not sure I would have the same experience if I would have gone there." and I didn't even apply. So that is a great resource, talk to people who are already there and who have had similar backgrounds, to you.

Lee:
And what was interesting at the very end of your advice, you were able to filter it through your own set of priorities. So, you listened to a friend, but then made the conclusion, works for him, doesn't sound right for me.

Arturo:
Exactly.

Lee:
That's good.

Arturo:
That's very important.

Lee:
Yeah. And did you also follow a similar kind of pattern as Arturo?

Izzie:
Yeah, I did. I actually started my college search... In London, I know you guys can't do this, but there's college fairs every year. So, I went to one of the big, very overwhelming American college fairs, where you wait in a line outside for two hours before you get into the very squishy room, but it was actually great. And that was my first exposure to Dartmouth. And I took maybe 10 pamphlets and told my parents I was going to Dartmouth. And they said, "Maybe you should explore everything else before you jump to a conclusion Izzie," but here I am. So, you guys its key, gut instinct.

Lee:
But that's important. Let me just pause and say that gut instinct is a really important reaction. And I hear students say this all the time, regardless of citizenship, you have this moment where you say, "I see myself there." And sometimes it makes your parents frustrated because you can't always put words to that feeling. At that squishy college fair, like what burst through for you?

Izzie:
I think that, honestly, it was so evident that the people I was speaking to absolutely loved Dartmouth. And I think that it's very easy to say, I love something, or I love this institution. Or this is great, there's a great math department. It's a super tight-knit community, we have this many kids and so on and list statistics.

But I think when someone is genuinely happy and genuinely proud and just can't stop talking about it in the most comforting, lovely way. I think that's something that's incredibly unique. And honestly, I personally, I didn't really have that at as many other schools. So that was probably what grabbed me. I mean, the statistics, obviously are all checking all the boxes. Unfortunately, there's several schools that also tick the boxes. So, I think that that feeling is something that is more powerful than anything else

Lee:
Rewind the clock, you are in 11th grade and you're starting to think about applying to college. Did all three of you always know that the United States would be your destination, or were you thinking, a lot of international students will go to Britain or to Canada or Australia or to one of your state universities. I mean, what were you thinking at the beginning?

Chandu:
Actually, for myself, I was looking more of the UK and less of the U.S. Actually, for me in Zimbabwe most people start looking at universities in their final year in high school. So, in my junior year, I never thought about anything university related. So, I started looking at UK universities, Australia universities. And when I had to realize that the UK were not really as generous and were really willing to give me their money to go to school. I had to divert my interests and look into other options and to say what other options am I looking for? And I had to reconsider to say, "Maybe the U.S. is something that I could be interested in."

Lee:
The other two of you, were you both thinking U.S.? Or did you follow Chandu and say, "Oh, this was a late epiphany about where I see myself."

Arturo:
So, for me, most people in my high school will go to the United States just because... And this is very weird for Latin America, but Panama has specific circumstances to itself in which Panamanian universities are not really that great. And so, people have really come to value education abroad. And so, most of us do end up going abroad.

About the U.S. versus other destinations, I think it revolves around the fact that Europe feels too far away, Australia feels too far away, and Canada is just too cold. And so that is a simple system. I'm not proud about this, but that was literally-

Lee:
No that's okay.

Arturo:
My way to say, "I cannot go here. I cannot go here. I will not go here." And so, it is United States. And that's sort of dumb if you can say-

Lee:
No, no, no, no. I think climate is a really important thing. I do want to point out for everyone listening. Dartmouth is in New Hampshire, New Hampshire borders Canada. So, while Arturo-

Izzie:
I was going to say that.

Lee:
Made a funny joke about the winter, but we could be Scandinavian up here as well.

Arturo:
So yeah, I had to come to terms with that. And about deciding on the U.S., it was really more about a magnificent teacher I had earlier in high school. I think it was my freshman year of high school. And I had this amazing, amazing teacher. Ms. [inaudible 00:18:03] if you're listening, I love you, she's amazing. And she was my history teacher, and she put so much effort into her classes and she puts so much education and she gave this completely different approach to what I was used to. It was no longer memorizing names and dates and events. It was understanding and looking at the consequences, interpreting them critically. And that is so different from the Latin American system. And she graduated from an Ivy League institution some time ago. She's from rural Colorado. And she told me, "Arturo, you know what? You cannot study here because you're not going to be happy. You deserve great teachers and you deserve to go abroad." And that is when I decided that I was going abroad.

Lee:
That's a great story. And we're on zoom as we're recording this. And I'm watching all three students nod as he gave that answer. So that gets lost in the audio part of a podcast. But I think what you just said resonated with your new classmates. And Izzie, did you think about staying in Britain versus the U.S.?

Izzie:
Yeah, so I was always... I mean, I guess this is a step before my junior year, I guess my freshman, sophomore year. I was always pretty intimidated by my classmates who seemed to know exactly what they wanted to do and what they want to study and had their life planned out. And I know that I was constantly being told, "Oh, that's just temporary," and so on from my parents and people who were older than me. But I've got to say that was pretty intimidating to me. And I have always loved school. I love learning. I'm a self-confessed nerd. Just going to put it out there. But honestly, I think that if I apply to study one subject, because in the UK, you apply for one subject. And I don't think I at a stage in my life where I was ready to close any doors, which is why I chose to do the IB and not do A-Levels because I can pick three subjects, let alone one.

So, for me, it was more a liberal arts degree was definitely what I was leaning towards. I also have an older brother who actually goes to university in the U.S., so he inspired me along that journey. And I had someone to look up to and someone who had been through it before, which is [inaudible 00:20:17] it all better.

But a lot of my peers don't actually go to the U.S. a lot, stay in London and a lot go abroad across Europe, several to Italy, a couple to the Netherlands, Germany. So, I also applied to Canada as well to my parents' alma mater.

Chandu:
And the process for me was way different from what these two guys have said. So, I was coming from a school where studying abroad wasn't much of a big deal. So, getting from that school and getting in after my A-Levels, I'm looking for scholarships to study abroad.

And then I got to Education USA. That's like the education section of the U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe. So, I get there and then I'm asking for opportunities for scholarships. And then that's how I got to know of a program that Education USA has called Opportunity Fund Program. So, it helps Zimbabwean students to apply abroad.

So, for me to begin my college search, I had actually seen a pamphlet and I was looking at it. And then I see different colleges listed there. I'm like, "You know what, let me just go on my laptop and look into some of these colleges." And for someone who's coming from Zimbabwe, I'm just like, "I've heard of something called the Ivy League. So, I'm definitely looking at the Ivy League as well." But then as time went on, I ended up realizing that it's not about the ranking of the school, it's not about how well known a school is, but it's about how it matches to me.

Lee:
So that's helpful. I find international students to be very creative in the way each of you explores your options. There's a certain fearlessness that comes with the idea that you're going to go so far away from home for college and basically be an immigrant in a new country. And I think that lends itself to the kind of outreach you're describing, where you each relied on a network of people to help you move forward. What was the hardest part of applying to America from your home countries?

Izzie:
I have one, I think for me, the hardest part about applying to the U.S. was that I'm not American. And I don't mean in the sense that I don't have an American passport, but not in the sense that I don't physically have something that says I am an American citizen, but culturally, I'm not American. And I think that sometimes people... Obviously my first language is English and as are majority of Americans, so people have this, I think slightly misinformed opinion that there's no cultural barriers, but trust me, there really are.

And I think that as a Canadian by blood, and also as a Brit, I think that we are quite somewhat self-deprecating. And I think that we belittle our accomplishments. So, if you write a British personal statement, it's very matter of fact, it's basically bullet points, but squashed all together to try to get character limit as short as possible. And American college essays are not like that at all. So, I think that concept and just how I was wording things was challenging. Phrasing those conversations, knowing that my competitors in the U.S. speak about themselves in a very different way, just because of the nature of the culture. So, I think that that cultural barrier was very challenging for me.

Lee:
I think that's a really insightful comment about taking the cultural norm and translating it. And also, you're right, American applications invite you to tell your story, to do it with a bit of pizazz and modesty, which is a lovely characteristic in any human, doesn't always translate in a competitive application.

Arturo:
I would echo completely what Izzie said. The cultural shock of applying. Because you don't want to come across as too proud or too haughty. And that's much easier, if you're in a strongly Latin American conservative, collective, communitarian culture, where everybody is organized and follows the same ideas, as when you're in America, that's much more individualistic, entrepreneurial, you've got to do it by yourself. And that was super hard. Essays were terrible, but to add something to that, I would say that you have to resist the urge to do things solely for college.

So, there's this thing in Panama, where you do things for accolades, you do activities so that they sound good in your resume because you think admissions offices would like that or will appreciate it. And I think I would avoid it at all costs because in the end you may regret it. If you did all of these things solely to get into one single college, and that college does not accept you, you are going to regret having done all that. I think that it also won't help you as much as you think, because I think that admissions officers are really good at reading passion and determining what you were really truly involved in and what you were there only to fill and check a box. It's not like you can check all boxes and get in.

And it's so easy to find something you're passionate about. And the only one caveat I would say to this is standardized testing-

Lee:
That's my next question.

Arturo:
So, for foreigners whose first language is not English and whose education systems do not prepare them to take any type of standardized tests. Standardized testing may become your next extracurricular activity. And you have to dedicate a lot of time to it. And you have to go in with the mindset that you don't have the same resources that all Americans have. You don't have the same tutoring, even if you have private tutoring, it's not going to be as good or as competitive. And so really you have to put a lot of yourself into the standardized testing and in the end it's worth it.

Lee:
So that literally was my next question. What was it like to take the SAT or the ACT as an international citizen? Like these are not tests that are the norm in your countries. There are students who, for some reason do get really wonderful SAT scores and their listening and speaking skills aren't as strong as their reading and writing skills. And if you're in a small classroom, that verbal piece is really important. I mean, all of you are really [inaudible 00:27:20]. So, Arturo set us up for this, but did you also have a testing conundrum as you moved through the application process or did it seem straightforward?

Chandu:
What was difficult for me as an international student was that English is not my first language, but it is my language of instruction. But then the English was just different from the English that I learned here because the English that we're instructed, it was British English. So, I'm getting to start reading five passages in like 65 minutes and I have to come up with solutions, I have to read as quick as I can.

And thinking about practicing the SAT was very difficult. Especially for Zimbabwe, there were very few opportunities that help students to do their SATs, like tutors. SAT tutors, there are very few and when they are there, they are very expensive.

Izzie:
For me I think one of the most daunting parts about test taking, and something that my peers who weren't applying to the U.S. couldn't quite comprehend it, is that we sit down for four hours to take one test. I mean that in itself is exhausting just saying it. And I don't know about you guys in your home countries. But for me, that's something that just, isn't a thing in this country. So, I know that in America, that's the thing for some AP exams, but I had never really done that. So, as someone who constantly likes to move, honestly, sitting still for that long and maintaining my focus for that long, that in itself requires a lot of practice.

And I mean, thankfully I didn't have the language barrier so much in the math section. In the English section, honestly, I agree with you that the words are just used differently. And also, because I don't read American literature in class. It's more British focused and like American history pieces. So honestly, as I said, I'm a self-professed nerd, but I get intrigued by the passages. Like, I want to know what Charles Dickens is going to do next. And he's English like there's too much. I mean, honestly the time pressure was overwhelming and it's my first language. So, I'm wow, you guys really impress me.

Lee:
When we read your applications. We're looking at your testing, not as the primary piece of information, but as a supporting piece of information, I think that's very different than a lot of the foreign national systems where the test is the test. In our case, the SAT supports your transcript. We're looking at your scores, we're looking at your curriculum, we're looking at the grades, we're looking at the recommendations as part of the same puzzle that comes together and creates in this example, our assessment of your academic achievement.

I wanted to give you a chance to ask each other questions. So, as you've been meeting each other in the zoom format, do you want to ask one of your new classmates something about the admission process or about themselves that kind of popped up as I've been quizzing you?

Arturo:
I have a question for Chandu. So, I've heard it from many international students, this thing where they use the embassies as a really great resource. And I don't think that's really common for us in Panama, but I think that any resource you can get as an international student is great. So, if you can tell us like how to take advantage of it, I think it would be great for the people listening.

Chandu:
So, for me, it was a great resource as you said, because you get to a place where you don't have an idea of what America is all about. So, the programs that I joined for Education USA, they had a sort of like a bootcamp where you take five days where you are introduced to what studying in America is all about. They introduce you to college research. They introduce you to SATs. They introduce you to things that you need to know, like recommendations, essay writing, activities, and all the other sections of the application.

And it was a great resource also because besides that, I could do my research at the embassy. Especially for people who don't have internet access at home, because internet could be challenging. But if you were there, you were given the resources in front of you. You just had to use them. You don't get to go to the U.S., but then the U.S. comes to you.

Lee:
Do you want me to ask me anything?

Arturo:
For my question, I have a sister and she is a senior right now in Panama and you apply to college as a senior here in Panama. And she's applying to college and she took some SATs last year, didn't do great at them. And now she's worried because they are canceled for a long time to come all around the world. Also, college fairs are canceled, also presentations and visits to our high school are canceled. And so, she's worried that many resources that you have to prove that you are a competing applicant as an international student are now not available to her. So, what would you tell to do, to take advantage of the situation in the best way possible?

Lee:
Yeah, well, and that's why we're here on this podcast to help students like your sister, start to think about how do I apply when many of the resources are unavailable to us right now? I think for the testing question, a lot of colleges have made them optional. And the word optional in English is not a trick word. People always say, it says optional, but isn't that a different way of spelling required? And we're just like, "No. Optional means it's your choice." If you think the score in this example reflects your aptitude, share it with us. If the score is not what you wished, because you took it once and didn't have a second chance, don't submit it.

For the places that still require testing, Dartmouth is in this category right now. We know that the circumstances that will create the applications of this next class are different. So, there's a lot of pieces of the puzzle that have evaporated right now. And so, my best advice to the students who will be applying in this next cycle is you still have a story. The virus that keeps us all at home this spring did not erase your personality, your interest, your intellect, your curiosity, your kindness. If you played the saxophone, you still play the saxophone. If you are somebody who is a poet, you're still a poet. If you are an athlete, maybe the team isn't playing, but you're still athletic. So, I think the opportunity in this cycle, and one of the episodes that we're preparing will be to help students think about how do I tell my story? And I think step one is just to figure out, how do I want to introduce myself?

Thanks to our three friends for sharing their perspectives from high schools around the world as they've thought about coming to the United States for their college experience.

And I'm often asked, why do American colleges focus on international recruiting? Why are we so interested in creating this global student body? And to me, the answer is very straightforward. Most American colleges have a globally-oriented curriculum. We all have an obligation to prepare students for careers that at this point span from the mid 2020s to the late 2060s. And the question I often think about is, is that middle part of the 21st century, less or more global, less or more multicultural, will borders be more or less open and will the people we meet in our various walks of life and careers have a multicultural, multidimensional identity?

And to me, the answer to all those questions is more. And so, framing our undergraduate communities with an eye towards a global diversity really enhances the campus, it's residential, it's academic, the conversations we have in our classrooms. It's not just the point that you should take your junior spring and travel abroad. It's how do we bring an international perspective into every moment of the undergraduate experience. And I think you heard today, the students who are joining an American college community bring a really rich perspective that enhances the quality of what we do.

Our next episode, we will shift from our student perspective to the other side of the family dynamic and invite three parents who recently completed their journey through the search with their own high school seniors. For now, this is Lee Coffin signing off from Dartmouth college. See you soon on The Search.