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Decoding the Web of College Admissions

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2012 Academic Festival

2012 Academic Festival

Whatever else they  might have differed on, the five panelists  in the afternoon session “Decoding the Web of College Admissions” agreed that – as moderator Tom Rock (Ed. D. ’02), TC’s Director of Enrollment Services, put it – “College admissions has changed since we all went through the process.”



Certainly getting into college has been getting more competitive for each successive generation. Many high school seniors now apply to 10 or more schools; schools that were once “safeties” for top performers are now turning many such students away; and competition for spaces at state schools has become so intense that many students are going to community college for the first year or two before transferring in.

But the real news is the impact of technology – much of which, in the panelists’ view, has not been for the better. Panelist Joe Bertolino (Ed. D., ’03), former Vice President of Enrollment Management for CUNY and newly named President of Linden State College in Vermont, summed up the zeitgeist of many of today’s college-bound youth by describing an episode of the TV situation comedy “Two-and-a-half Men.”

“Jake [the show’s teen protagonist], is seated next to a friend on the couch, both with laptops, giggling,” Bertolino recalled. “Uncle Charlie comes downstairs and says, ‘What are you doing?’ And Jake says, annoyed, ‘We’re talking to each other.’”

Bertolino added that CUNY is “looking for students who can develop relationships beyond the screen.”

Jennifer Fondiller (MA ’89), Dean of Enrollment Management at Barnard College, said that at many schools (though not at Barnard), the traditional face-to-face interview is in danger of becoming a thing of the past. With Facebook and other social media tools at their disposal, “many students are not engaging with us directly – and many colleges are also falling into that trap,” she said.

Compounding that problem, said Carla Shere (Ed. D. ’93), Director of College Planning at Learning Leaders in New York City, is that when students submit materials electronically, they often do so in a manner that smacks of
“presentation to their peers.

“We’ve had kids submit applications on their mobile phones,” she said. “That’s just taking things too far.”

On the positive side of the ledger, the Web is allowing admitted students who share common geographies and interests to link up before ever setting foot on campus. And the world of high education “no longer need be defined by the residential experience,” said Eric Furda (MA ‘94 ), Dean of Admissions at the University of Pennsylvania, adding that  Penn, the University of Michigan and other leading institutions are creating platforms to enable undergraduates to learn entirely online.

All the panelists agreed that applicants should guard against being seduced by the convenience or informality of social media. “We make clear to our students that admissions people are not your friends,” said Mitchell Thompson (MA ’96), Dean of Students at Scarsdale High School. “We tell them, ‘Put nothing on your site that your grandparents shouldn’t read.’”

The bottom line: the written application still carries the day. “Tell them what you want them to know about you, write as well as you can, and have an adult check it over,” said Fondiller. “And remember, you don’t have to make a video to own the process.”


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