The Search, S2, Episode Two Transcript

The Search

My Neighbor Says Transcript

 

Lee Coffin:
From Dartmouth College, I'm Lee Coffin, dean of admission and financial aid. Welcome to The Search.

College admissions is one of those high-profile topics that invites speculative chatter. I think the very essence of admissions, the idea that there's an elusive commodity, a seat in an entry class, and the process of attaining said seat, rests outside your direct control, and that generates some fuss.

I've often joked that my title is "catnip." When people learn what I do, especially on an airplane, the questions are unending. People wonder, they worry, they've heard things. Inside Higher Ed had an article about admissions that said, "The image of college admissions officers as gatekeepers is a powerful one and part of the mystique is that what they do goes on behind closed doors." That observation was in 2007 before Facebook and Instagram, and Twitter erased any norm of less than immediate access and transparency.

Compounding things, the media pays attention, sharing news from the admission beat with the same horse race narrative that dominates political overage sans polling. But I suppose acceptance rates are statistical proxies for that. Admission outcomes matter in some zip codes more than others. It's the perfect combination of ambition paired with angst, truth twinned with innuendo, competition mixed with merit.

Am I good enough? Was she good enough? Uncle Harry thinks your list is unimpressive. Your colleague's wife's third cousin visited campus X and heard only kids from Georgia with 4.0s get accepted and you live in Chicago, and you have a 3.9. Too few, too many, not enough, what if? The head spins.

Anyway, let's just say there's a lot of noise in this process, so let's diffuse it. Let's try and parse some of the chatter with a panel we're calling "My Neighbor Says." Credit for this idea goes to Erin Lyman, director of college counseling at Berkshire School in Sheffield, Massachusetts, who imagined a set of questions as part of her junior kick-off program this winter.

As it so happened, I was one of her panelists, and I thought what a cool idea for a podcast. So Erin, hello. Welcome to The Search.

Erin Lyman:
Hi, Lee. Thanks for having me.

Lee Coffin:
Great to see you again. Erin, in addition to being a college counselor once upon a time, was an admission officer at UVM and at Columbia. So like a lot of people who go into college counseling, she has some roots in the college admissions side of this. But Erin, what prompted you to frame this set of questions we're going to bandy about today? What do you hear from your school side of this that your parents and students are fretting about?

Erin Lyman:
My goal was to demystify what happens on the other side of the desk and for me to have the opportunity to share with our families that there is a human element to this college process and that relationships really matter. But if you have not worked on the other side of the desk, it's hard to believe that there is really truly a human element, and it was really fun. That's the other thing, the feedback I got from the families after is that it took down their stress level and that was a huge goal of mine.

Lee Coffin:
Good. No, taking down the stress level is one of my goals in the podcast: to go week by week and offer some reassurance to families that this is still doable, that they're not lost, and that the work we're doing in college admission is more normal than not.

So joining us today are two of my fellow deans to help tiptoe through Erin's questions as we get them. Emily Roper-Doten is the dean of admission and financial aid at Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Massachusetts, and Matthew Hyde is assistant vice president and dean of admission at Lafayette College. So hi to Matt and Emily.

Matthew Hyde:
Hello, Lee. Happy to be here.

Emily Roper-Doten:
Hi.

Lee Coffin:
Joining the panel representing the parents of America, no pressure, is Kara Carter. Kara is the mom of four kids who attended Shaker Heights High School in Shaker Heights, Ohio; two of whom, John and Maggie, are seniors this year and going through the virtual college search themselves. So Kara, looking forward to your perspective as a mom, listening to the questions from Erin, and seeing if they ring true to what you hear. But I wonder if you could start us off. How has this process been this year for you as a parent, and what do you hear from your peers in Shaker Heights as they come into the finale of this year's admission process?

Kara Carter:
Yeah. Hi, Lee. It's so good to be here, and hello to Matt, and Emily, and Erin as well. So as Lee mentioned, I have four kids, so I've been through this process a couple of times before. I have a graduated student who's been out of school for a couple of years. I have a present student in college. He's finishing his last year virtually. Now I have twins who are going through this whole process virtually, the admissions process.

So your question, what are people fretting about? I think parents who haven't been through the process before are really thinking fire and brimstone. "Oh boy, everything's virtual and nothing's the same, and the kid hasn't seen any schools," and so on, and so on. They're freaking out a little bit, and when I think about if there's anything to freak out about, it's really this whole notion of finding your community that is difficult to do if you don't visit the campus. I think there's still maybe time to catch up on that.

So yeah, I think everyone is sort of thinking about it as, "Boy, I don't even understand the rules as they were before. Now it feels like all bets are off, and oh man, my kid is going to get hung out to dry."

Lee Coffin:
All right. So that means there's some worry in the atmosphere as the high school class of '21 comes into the final moments of its college search and as the class of '22 begins. So the juniors in high school are ramping up right at the same time the seniors are finishing. So Erin, I'm going to deputize you as my guest host for episode two, and I am going to join Matt and Emily in the cast of characters answering your questions. So microphone is yours to shoot us some questions.

Erin Lyman:
My neighbor says that there is no way anyone is going to get to see any of their colleges. So will you be offering in-person visits this spring and summer at your colleges?

Matthew Hyde:
Yeah. I'm going to jump right in here and say, yeah, gosh, I hope so. But here we are on our campus trying to predict the health and wellbeing of our current students and with the different operational levels that we have deemed appropriate to welcome visitors. I don't know where we're going to be in April, in May, in June, and July. So we're hoping that our prospects will continue to be nimble and on their toes and engage with us where we're allowed to be.

Emily Roper-Doten:
Yeah, I think Matt's answer is one that none of us like to give, but we feel like we're in that holding pattern too in figuring out what's the right thing to do for our communities and for the students not putting pressure on themselves to try to get to visits and really thinking about what is an equitable process. Who can access flights to get to a campus or can quarantine in another state to be able to go to a visit.

So I think we're leaning toward not opening for visits until summer, but that's a hard choice we have to make and one that we're making with our eyes wide open and as part of our planning for how are we going to engage virtually with our admitted students to be able to set them up as best we possibly can with as many personal interactions that give them that sense of community.

We're crossing our fingers that we're doing the right things and trying to think four steps ahead, but again, the uncertainty is surrounding all of us in ways that are not always our most comfortable places to be. Right?

Lee Coffin:
Yeah. Well, Emily and Matt, how have you reimagined April? Last year we did it on the fly. The pandemic hit and we pivoted with no warning from open houses and campus visits, and suddenly we were virtual and had to invent it. But a year later, sadly, we're still virtual but we've had time to plan. As you look into April, and answering Kara's question, people are worrying about how do you sense out community when you're not there.

Emily Roper-Doten:
So actually for folks who don't know, Olin actually has a second phase of our admission process where we bring students to campus. We actually made the call months ago to make that an entirely virtual event. So normally they're on campus for a day and a half, they're interviewed, they do all kinds of things, amazing amounts of community building. It's almost like orientation part one, it's that kind of community experience.

So we've had to think about how do we explain, how do we show, how do we transfer the feeling, the spirit of a place in a Zoom room? So I think the best thing that we did was essentially deputize or hire a bunch of students to help us figure out what that looks like. So I'll give you one example. So one of the things, we have a kick-off for the program, and that's me and a student welcomer. We do some speeches and some logistics, and what's this all going to look and feel like.

Then we broke the students down separate from their parents, and the students went into small breakout rooms with current Olin students, and we had pre-mailed them origami kits. So they had a bunch of icebreaker questions. They were all doing origami together on Zoom while their parents were on a parents-only tour with three students, a couple of current parents, and our director of dining services. So we were trying to create small moments for the students to interact with current students on their own. Maybe that time where you wander away from your family on a tour, or if you do an overnight when you're by yourself.

So trying to think about what are the ways that we can that our current students were suggesting to us to start building those relationships. Because community is all about the web of relationships that you knit. So how do we create some of those moments? I think using our students as the architect of what that was going to look like. So far, so good. I think it's providing lots of different opportunities, lots of different ways for people to engage. Not just a panel, not just Zooming into class, but thinking about what are some of the more casual ways where natural conversation can flow and feel a little bit more like, "Oh, we're actually sitting in the dining hall with my host having that conversation."

Lee Coffin:
Yeah. I feel like I've been struck over the past year by how adaptable the students have been to this digital reality and how much parents, and I'll put myself in the parent group, those of us who remember the 20th century struggle to... I miss being in person, but I have found my young friends in high school have been much more able to bounce into this virtual space with an ability to make connections, as Emily was just saying. Erin and Kara, have you seen that from your kids of...

Kara Carter:
Yeah, I was just talking about this with my kids the other day. So they're 18, cell phones have been in existence since the day they were born. Our kids have the ability to connect meaningfully on their phones virtually in ways that far surpass what anybody in my generation knows how to do.

Lee Coffin:
Yeah.

Kara Carter:
So I know I'm here to offer the conspiratorial parent perspective, but I feel like I'm the one going around calming down all of my friends like, "It's going to be okay."

Lee Coffin:
That's funny.

Kara Carter:
It's going to be okay.

Lee Coffin:
Okay. Erin, question number two.

Erin Lyman:
Sure. My neighbor says that because so many students took gap years in the class of 2020 that there's no space left for the class of 2020 and 2021 in 2022. Is this true?

Lee Coffin:
False.

Matthew Hyde:
Double false. The reality is, yes, we had an increase in those who requested deferred enrollment, but that's not going to shape the decisions I make on thousands of our current candidates. Is it going to change our offer of admission number? It might, but it would be noise when I look at that larger offer that we're going to make. So it's nothing for a prospective parent to be thinking about.

Lee Coffin:
Question three.

Erin Lyman:
Well, my dentist says that testing doesn't matter anymore. That the SAT is going out of business and ACT is soon to follow. So my kid doesn't need to do any testing, right?

Lee Coffin:
So your dentist is drilling down on testing.

Erin Lyman:
Yup. Totally.

Kara Carter:
Can I add one wrinkle to that? So if a test is optional but I got a really good score, I'm going to submit my score, and that's probably going to work in my favor. So if I'm thinking like the conspiratorial parent and my kid didn't have good scores and they don't submit it, well then it's going to be obvious to the admission officer that they must have had bad scores, and that's why none were submitted. So is it truly optional?

Matthew Hyde:
Well, I'll unpack that a little bit. Yes, it is truly optional. Taking a test is a skill that a young person can develop, and different prospects have had different opportunities to develop that set of skills. I think we need to all agree right now that what a 17-year-old does, filling out dots for three hours and 45 minutes of their life on a Saturday morning, has no bearing on how powerful they can be in our communities. Let's just all agree to that.

But I think this conversation around test-optional nationally I think has cast a really important light on thinking long and hard about what is this test is truly measuring. Spending a whole day in our admissions committees, very rarely do the tests come into the conversation. In some cases, it was there and it was powerful. That's great. Almost expected for the student based on who they are and where they're coming from. When it wasn't there, we weren't left guessing with the test because I had years of academic achievement to be considering beyond that high-stakes moment.

Lee Coffin:
What about to Kara's point that the student took the test and got a high score and wanted to send it in because it seemed advantageous to do so?

Matthew Hyde:
Well, our whole job is about making assumptions, and we can make that assumption that if a score isn't there, then it must be really soft. Yeah, we can make that. But what good does that do me and the admissions committee? So we are going to make that assumption, but we're going to let it go very, very quickly and comfortably when everything else is aligned in that application.

Lee Coffin:
I would say, Kara, that I can honestly say I didn't read a single file and stop and say, "Why are there or are there not scores in this file?" When they were there, I read them in the context of the file. When they were not there, I didn't wonder why, and often I knew why because the test was inaccessible to lots of kids this year. I know I told my colleagues at Dartmouth to read the file based on what's in it, not what's missing from it. When the scores were there, they were as always supporting pieces of information to the transcript as Matt said. When they were missing, the transcript stood alone.

But the question remains, do these pieces of information help us answer this really big question, can you do the work on my campus? Hey, Erin.

Erin Lyman:
My daughter is an outstanding athlete and has really excelled in her first year of high school and has been told by a college coach that she's been slotted, which means she will be attending our college in four years. So she can just kind of coast through high school now. She's all set.

Matthew Hyde:
Yeah, she's not. It turns out that admission decisions come from admission professionals, not coaches. That being stated, we can assign merit to many things in our approach to evaluating a candidate, and we do inform our understanding of merit when we do have a coach, in this case, saying, "You know what, this student has potential to impact our program in a positive way." So yeah, we're going to pay attention to that, but I also know there's a whole lot of maturation that happens and growth that happens from ninth grade through to the senior year.

So I would caution any family that's getting that kind of signal from a coach that they can put that in the bank and expect an offer of admission four years later.

Lee Coffin:
Kara, so you're the mom of a D1 recruit. What was her experience?

Kara Carter:
Yeah. So her experience, she's been an athlete her whole life, but she's a three-season athlete. She played ice hockey, lacrosse, and field hockey. She only made the decision as she completed her sophomore year in high school that she wanted to play field hockey in college rather than ice hockey. Lacrosse was never... We don't have a real strong program, so that's kind of her fun sport.

Okay, you want to play field hockey. Well, there are 75 colleges across the U.S. that have field hockey teams. So is she going to play division one or is she going to play division three? Is she going to get a scholarship or not a scholarship? It's a long process. Coaches change. Coaches change their minds. What a kid looks like as a freshman isn't necessarily how they show up as a senior. Kids get injured. I hate to say it, but they get injured, and they change their minds.

So one thing that we thought about a lot for my daughter is could field hockey help her get into a school that she might not have been able to get into academically on her own? The answer is, I don't know, maybe. But do I want her to go to a school that feels a certain way that she wouldn't necessarily academically fit in? Is she really going to be happy? I'm really happy where she landed at a big university that's going to have a lot of different options for her, a fabulous coach. Couldn't ask for a better fit there.

Her high school coach told her, "If you got injured your freshman year in college, you better be somewhere that you would've wanted to go to anyway." So I think it's like any decision, it's really complicated, and nothing is guaranteed.

Erin Lyman:
Well, my neighbor also says that because of COVID, international students and students who need to apply for financial aid will not be getting into college. Is this true that international students and students who need financial aid are facing even trickier path this year?

Lee Coffin:
So panelists, let's split that up. Let's do international and financial aid separately. International, I'll tackle that one first. I think last year, during the height of COVID, international students had a tough time getting to the United States. That was the issue. They were admitted because they are exciting admissions to the student bodies we're trying to create in a global moment in world history.

Getting a visa during a pandemic?  I have a student who called up in August and said, "My international airport is closed until October. What do I do?" We said, "I think you have to wait and come next year." So that's back to the gap year question, that helped increase the number of gapping students because they could not leave their countries and some countries being a bit more challenging than others. So I think this year there should not be any ripple into the international zone in terms of their admission.

The financial aid part of this… I think the answer there is, it depends. It depends is not a cop-out. You hear a lot of admission officers say "it depends" because it depends on the college, it depends on the admission policy at that college, it depends on the resources at that college. So I think Matt, Emily, and I might all answer this question differently.

My answer would be there's no difference. Our policy remain the same. We're prepared to spend the resources required to enroll the class that gets admitted this spring and to meet their need now and for four years. But that's a really privileged position in American higher education, and I'm happy to work in a place that can say that, and others may have to give a different answer to that question.

Matthew Hyde:
Yeah. Fortunately we have a similar situation where need-based financial aid is a priority for the college, and our budget has increased actually in this pandemic. But we are feeling more pressure, and I think most enrollment divisions are to help address any sort of budget challenges that this pandemic has hoisted upon us. So we're aware of that. In the end, we need to deliver a class that meets the many different priorities, oftentimes competing priorities that are set before us.

But I think we would all agree that the long-term success of our institutions has to do with enrollment and making choices now that propels forward in our effort to become more accessible, more powerful, more diverse, and that requires significant financial aid. These institutions are huge investments to be made. They're worth every penny. But the situation is it's a joint investment between family, and student, and institution, and we are not giving up on that by any stretch of this pandemic.

Emily Roper-Doten:
Yeah, I would agree, and I'd actually love to add a little shade to the international piece where we had a number of students that were in the similar situation, they weren't going to be able to get to us for the fall semester, and so we actually made sure that they were able to enroll virtually for the fall. So we made sure that we had virtual orientation programs for them. We didn't have all of our first years on campus, we had most of them on campus, but they were able to make some connections, stay connected through the fall. So they're not impacting enrollment next year from a deferred standpoint. They joined us on campus this spring.

So depending on how the campus opened may also depend on what ways those students are flowing through. So that can certainly impact the deferred numbers in different places, but I think depending on how the school met their own pandemic challenges for their communities, it might not have any impact.

Erin Lyman:
Great. Thank you. My uncle says that being a legacy doesn't matter anymore. He said that he and his wife are a double legacy and that pretty much if your name isn't on a building or you don't have an endowed scholarship in your family's name, your connection to your alma mater doesn't matter anymore.

Matthew Hyde:
I'm going to go with false with that. Yeah, we're going to make enrollment choices that are not rooted in a family's connection with the college. That connection can be informed by that legacy, no doubt, but it's not going to dictate or define the choice that we make. Is there a preference for those who have a legacy connection nationally? There is, but it's going to differ from institution to institution.

Lee Coffin:
I think there are, certainly on the private part of higher ed, there's a relationship from generation to generation with the institution, and I think the myth that the children of alumni have an easier path into the college disrespects those applicants and their merit. They apply, and one factor among many in our respective processes is their connection to the college. When that's true, that's a reason we might invite them in. It does not turn inadmissible students into freshmen.

I think the other part of the question though, Erin, was about if you give a scholarship or you have a building named after you. That's not legacy so much as it's philanthropy, which could be graduates, but it's just more broadly the families that are investing in our campuses and what's the ongoing connection between them and us. But that's not always a legacy, and I would say few legacies end up in that philanthropic spot.

Matthew Hyde:
The pronounced legacy connection does give us an indicator though. It does allow us to make a firmer assumption that you know what, the student is more likely to enroll possibly. Now, do I know that for sure? I don't. But am I going to make that assumption? I am, and that could I think positively sway a conversation making the admissions committee thinking that this student's more likely to enroll if we offer them admission. Which in this unknowable landscape, when I have any kind of clue or indicator, that's something that I can not necessarily put in the bank, but it can certainly be helpful to that student when we're considering them.

Lee Coffin:
I want to jump in because I'm wondering, Kara, as you hear Matt say that, does that surprise you? Because you're hearing a dean talk about a really pragmatic issue. Making sure he's got the right number of students when we open in September.

Kara Carter:
Yeah, that totally resonates with me. In fact, I was with a group of parents recently, and we were talking about what improves your chances and what makes it harder. One of the other parents said something along the lines of, "If your kid has applied to like 12 schools, then it's not obvious," this parent might have been me, "then it's not obvious to the admissions officer where does your student really want to go." My personal opinion, I think kids apply to too many schools these days. That might be an unpopular perspective for this podcast, but you know...

Lee Coffin:
I think the-

Emily Roper-Doten:
Can I debunk a myth-

Lee Coffin:
Yeah.

Emily Roper-Doten:
... in something that Kara just said? So what I heard in your perspective was if I know that the applicant that I'm reading is applying to all these other colleges. I have no idea where else they're applying. So I think there is this funny assumption on the part of sometimes the applicant or their families that we know things that we don't know. We know you applied to us, and it's the applicants job in their essays or short answers, or the ways in which they're engaging with the application to show us that they know us and that they're interested in us.

So we're not thinking that "Oh they're choosing... Are we one among many? Are we one among four? So that means they like us this percentage more." We have no idea where else they've applied. So I think it's really about how does the student, for us, it's more about how does the student demonstrate their potential connection to our institution by the work that they put into their file.

Again, what Matt said before, we make some assumptions. We're not making assumptions about where else they're applying or how many other places they're applying. We don't have time.

Kara Carter:
But here's the thing, and this is just one perspective, which is one of the ways that students used to be able to demonstrate their interest in the school was when the admissions officer visited their high school. Did they go to that assembly, and then did they visit the school? Of course, neither of those things are happening right now. So outside of your application, your essays, and so on, I think there is some anxiety on the part of parents, how does my kid demonstrate how interested they are?

Lee Coffin:
By doing a thoughtful application and I think Matt and Emily have said that. That is through reading... We have not turned off the lights in terms of the way we are introducing the college to the prospective applicants over the past year. We've shifted to an electronic format, but we're still doing info sessions and drone tours and Zoom this and Facebook that, and Instagramming and things that I don't even know about and won't go there. But the conversation has continued just in different ways.

Piggybacking on Emily's point, by definition, regular decision means students have applied to multiple places. So when I'm in this part of the admission cycle, I know that a student should have applied to a few if not several other options, and that is not my worry. There is a pragmatic piece that Matt touched on which is at the end of all of this, I have to say to the college where I work, "This class is full," because that full class helps guarantee the college's budget for the upcoming year and the way the majors unfold in that student body.

But I don't really stop and think a lot about where else they applied. I do stop and think about, "Does this application make sense?" As I'm meeting someone in the file and seeing lots of evidence of well, you do what we do. That's called fit. That's called I see the reason behind John's application to Dartmouth because he and we share an interest in sustainability and the program in that area is really vivid, and that makes sense.

As opposed to you're talking about things we don't do, and that feels like a looser version of demonstrated interest. Like you've applied to a college that doesn't really sync up with what we do or who you are, and that's where particularly as the selectivity part of this kicks in. We notice that and respond in favor of the students that have really articulated their case well.

On occasion say, "Well, this seems a bit fuzzier," and fuzzy is often situational. Some students just don't have the agency to be able to frame the story with that kind of crispness or use a little poetic license there. But the question is really, among your many options, how is this one stacking up against the person you have introduced through your file? Erin's nodding as I say that. Is that teeing up another question?

Erin Lyman:
Yeah, because my masseuse said-

Lee Coffin:
Oh god.

Erin Lyman:
... that the whole point of the supplemental essay is just to discourage people from applying to a ton of [inaudible 00:33:06] schools. The supplemental essays are just a way of weeding people out. Is that true?

Lee Coffin:
I hope you didn't give that masseuse a tip.

Emily Roper-Doten:
No. The whole point of the additional pieces are because we maybe can't get what we need from the common application. We're asking things that are specific to our institutions to help us understand whether or not this is someone that would contribute and grow on our campus. I don't think any of us are thinking about the supplement as a way to winnow a pool but more to communicate what our values are in the application. So it's actually another touchpoint for students in thinking about is this place a good fit for me.

I think of one of our questions is what issue is facing the world that engineers should be working on, and why do you want to be a part of that? So that allows us to say, "Does this student's values and their particular interest in this discipline resonate with the way we think about engineering?" Certainly, we wouldn't think of it as its own gatekeeper to keep someone from applying that's not truly interested, but it's more about reinforcing our values and who we are through the application and giving that student an opportunity to shine their light on that fit and that match and why they're applying.

Kara Carter:
It's sort of like what you were saying about test scores, right? It gives you more information about who the student is. I'll never forget when my daughter was applying to Tufts, the supplemental essay question that, or one of them anyway, was tell us about your nerdy side. My daughter, I love her to death, and she is a super nerd and she very easily answered that question, and it really spoke to who she is as a person. That probably played into how much the person who read her file thought, "Wow, this kid is a really great candidate."

Erin Lyman:
From my lens as a college counselor, it's been really fun to read the diversity of questions that are asked through the supplemental essays and how students can find out more about the schools in terms of understanding what their priorities are for the type of characters they want on campus and what's important to their community mission. Some, like you said, are super creative. Sometimes they're one-word answers, a list of one-word answers. Sometimes it is, "Please tell us why you're a match for our institution," just that frank.

It's really fun for me as a college counselor to talk through those answers before a student writes them because it says a lot about the institution. What they want to ask of you that the common application hasn't given them the opportunity to find out about. Do we have more questions?

Lee Coffin:
Go ahead. Go through a couple more.

Erin Lyman:
Couple more?

Lee Coffin:
Yeah.

Erin Lyman:
Okay. Actually, on the topic of demonstrating interest, my daughter's advisor from outside of school said it's going to be impossible to demonstrate interest. How can we demonstrate interest if we can't even come to campus?

Matthew Hyde:
I think be aware that it's our job to purvey a vibe, and it's best when we can do it in person on campus in this face-to-face environment and in these communities that are built on relationships and connection. I think to Lee's point earlier, this generation that has grown up with touch screens is more comfortable in this space. I think Emily launched our conversation this evening saying we need to root our delivery of that message in the experience of our students. So you don't need necessarily a middle-aging admissions guy trying to create and manufacture that vibe. We need our students to curate a set of experiences that deliver what, in my case, Lafayette is all about.

We're creating those opportunities as best we can. Lee shared that last April, we were pivoting very quickly and having to build this path as we were walking it in trying to deliver these experiences. We've had a lot more time to be strategic and thoughtful in how we engage and inspire these young people. So I'm looking forward to the challenge of creating more opportunities for students to engage with us virtually.

The silver lining of this pandemic is we've become much more accessible in this space to many, many more students across the country and around the world. But yeah, I miss what I call our closer. We have a gorgeous hilltop campus that surprises a lot of people, and I'm going to miss having that as we roll through this April. But you're darn right if I'm going to capture the best of that experience, that visceral experience and deliver it virtually.

Emily Roper-Doten:
I hope I'm not going to see more conspiracy theories, but we all have technologies that allow us to see who's coming into the Zoom room.

Lee Coffin:
Yeah.

Emily Roper-Doten:
So if you're a school that part of the calculus you need to do to get to September one or move in with the right number of students, and you need a big piece of that to be students who are super engaged through their process, we are actually able to still track interest in lots of different ways. We have been hustling on this side to provide as many different types of opportunities as possible to meet students where they are.

We also have to have a certain amount of understanding and generosity to know that the students are also possibly doing remote school, hybrid school, helping a younger child, helping a sick parent, somebody lost a job. So I think this is the year where our dashboards are still lighting up with students showing up for virtual tours and signing up for things. If it matters in our process, we're still going to be able to find it, but I think most of us are trying to center the fact that we are in a weird world right now and that people's lives and their experiences this year are not going to look the same.

So if we had benchmarks for demonstrated interest in the past that said, "Oh, they've been on campus," so this shows this type of interest, and so it's going to help us predict that student's yield in a particular way. Ultimately what it comes down to is that in normal times, the most selective schools are probably paying the least attention to demonstrated interest. As schools become less selective, they're probably paying more attention to demonstrated interest, but we have an entirely new dictionary this year of what all of these things mean.

I think one of our hopes or one of Erin's hopes at the beginning was really to talk about the humility and the humanity that is actually infused in this process. I think nothing takes everybody to a new human level than a pandemic. We're all experiencing this in ways that we have to understand or try to imagine what can be happening on the other side. We're really, many of us, going to what are the words that they're saying in their application? Who is the person that we're meeting in the application and letting that guide where we go.

Lee Coffin:
Well, Emily, I like the metaphor of we have a new dictionary because I connect that back to one of Kara's opening comments about parents being anxious about how this year is unfolding because they have a dictionary with a vocabulary that is not necessarily part of the language right now. How's that as a metaphor? I think we all went into this admission cycle last spring and summer and then fall expecting, okay, soon things are going to turn the corner and we're going to be back in person; or there's going to be something that feels "normal" and it didn't happen.

So I think the, Matt called it the silver lining of the pandemic, I think as we move beyond remote admissions, I think some of the things we've invented this year will persist because it was easier to do a high school visit in Cleveland without having to fly to Cleveland. We could do it after school and to not have to take kids out of their AP English class to be able to talk to them about who we are.

I can imagine high schools saying, "Hey, keep doing that. That was a lot less fuss than having this parade of admission officers in and out of my guidance office every day in September and October, and maybe November, and maybe again in April." This is another way of just meeting students where they are and save the on-campus components of it for even the finale. To Matt's point about here's the college on the hill, touch the brick.

So Kara and Erin, maybe one question more from Erin and then, Kara, if you want to ponder from your mom side of this process. You have one more question you want to toss those to Erin?

Erin Lyman:
Well, Emily brought it up. Back to the humanity part of this process. Because my daughter's best friend's father said that your schools get about 50,000 applications and actually only read about 1,000 of them and then you outsource, so like a company to read the rest. Is this true?

Lee Coffin:
I think all of us who are admission officers are wrapping up episode one was reading season. We've spent the last 12, 14, 16 weeks reading and the idea that we would cut the pool in some precipitous way and only read... How do you know who to read unless you read them all? I always have in the in-person moments when we talk about reading, someone will always, it's usually a dad, will raise a hand and say, " This just doesn't sound efficient. You read them all cover to cover."

Matthew Hyde:
We do it repeatedly.

Lee Coffin:
Reading them one-by-one, as slow as it is, not to say we don't make eliminations as the process moves forward, the pool does contract and you start to identify here are the contenders and here are the ones that are going to be not admitted for whatever reason at whatever college; but we read them all. I think the suspicion that we outsource what is the most important part of our job is, to me, preposterous.

Emily Roper-Doten:
It doesn't serve us well to do anything too quickly or to shortcut the reading process that allows us to bring in our next generation. Might we sometimes hire outside readers to help us that are highly trained, who read lots of test files before they ever touch a real file, who probably don't read alone for a very long time so that we make sure that they understand the work that we need them to do?Like Lee just said, this is sort of the biggest thing that we do because it's how we get to the place of who's actually going to then choose us.

So we have to have those thoughtful processes to get us there. It's labor intensive for sure, but most of us are here because we like short stories, and an application is basically a nice short story. Right?

Matthew Hyde:
We need to be comfortable with the inefficiency here on many fronts because it is massively inefficient. But Lee brings up a really important point, this idea of perspective. One of my very favorite moments each year, when we work together at Tufts, was when Lee pulled us together and said, "Let's talk about our biases, positive and negative. We all have a different lens that we're looking through at these students. Let's be aware of our own lens, and let's be aware of one another's as an admissions committee."

We need an admission committee that is diverse that has dimension to it because we're trying to craft a class that has that same diversity and dimension. So I think that's where the inefficiency is built into this, but it has to be that way for us to be completely thoughtful, and I would say successful in building the communities that we're striving to create.

Lee Coffin:
All right, Kara, as our guest parent, you get the last "I've heard dot, dot, dot" question.

Kara Carter:
I think, Lee, when you opened this, you talked through the voice of a student. Right? What the student's thinking. I think there's a big parent component. They're probably the ones you hear from the most, and everything feels really personal, "You chose my child, or you didn't choose my child." What I've heard from Lee, Emily, Matt all throughout is this notion, and Matt, you just said it, building a class. You've reinforced some of what I knew about what you're looking for and what really jumps out as you're reading these applications. You're really feeling who these students are, and your objective isn't to either accept or deny or reject... No, what's the word we're supposed to use?

Lee Coffin:
Decline.

Kara Carter:
Decline. Either accept or decline. All right, what I was going to say is this, that the perspective of the admissions officer, the admissions dean isn't to either accept or decline a student because it's not really that micro. It's bigger. It's about building this class of the students who are going to be successful. They're going to be successful, they're going to enjoy their time there which is connected to them being more likely to be more successful, and that it's a very human process. I think parents and probably kids forget that.

Lee Coffin:
Thank you, Kara. That's a great valedictory comment for this conversation about dispelling the myths of college admission. So Erin, thanks so much for sharing your questions with us, but also with our audience. Matt and Emily, thanks for joining The Search as our guest deans. Kara, thank you for voicing on your shoulders the parent concerns of the college admission enrollments. That was a big task that they...

Kara Carter:
Keep your fingers crossed, I still have one kid who's still in it. We still don't know where he's going, so...

Lee Coffin:
Okay.

Matthew Hyde:
Let me tell you about Lafayette College.

Kara Carter:
We're waiting on some letters and then he's got a big decision.

Emily Roper-Doten:
Which is an appropriate step for him to be at this point in the calendar year.

Kara Carter:
Exactly.

Lee Coffin:
Exactly. I would wrap this episode by saying what I hope came through the questions Erin posed, and the answers we gave is the idea that you shouldn't listen to everything you hear. There are a lot of sources out there, and maybe because we're isolated, those sources become even more magnified. You turn to social media perhaps for an answer to a question you couldn't get in person. Use your own lens to gather information, draw your own conclusions, and trust yourself to be a good judge of information and less suspicious.

One of the things I hope this podcast has done over the two seasons is to reassure you that this work is not random, that there is honor in it and that the end result, even when they're no's, are well-considered. But the point is we go one by one.

Next week we return with an episode on selectivity. How do colleges make their decisions, and as decisions are released in the coming days, what does it mean to be admitted, to be wait-listed, to be declined? How should each applicant absorb that news as it arrives? I'm Lee Coffin from Dartmouth College. Thanks for joining us on The Search.