…and then it was March!

Woosh! Was that the month of February I just saw go by my window? I hardly noticed! I must have spent the whole month hunched over my desk reading applications!

If you’re a returning reader, welcome back! If this is your first glance at the blog, thanks for your interest in Pitzer! We’re approaching the light at the end of a very long and rewarding tunnel. We’re only a week or so away from finishing all of your applications! At this time, everyone’s application has been read at least once by the Admission Counselor responsible for your territory and is now circulating to a “second reader.” We use this system to ensure that the first person who sees your application has the best chance of being familiar with your high school (and may have even met you while we were traveling). Second readers give each application a fresh perspective and help us get a more holistic picture of our applicant pool. It’s been an absolute honor and joy to see your essays, recommendation letters, interview notes, MyCollegeI videos, art supplements etc.

So what’s next? Next week our whole team will come back together for an intense week-long summit that most schools simply call “committee.” We basically lock ourselves in the conference room and discuss what we’ve read so that we can build a well-rounded class. Committee is fun, emotional, exhausting, and rewarding. It is also the most poignant reminder that we innevitably receive far more excellent applications than we have the possibility of offering admission to. More on committee in the weeks ahead.

I’ll leave you with this fun piece of news. Our very own Angel Perez, Director of Admission, has been asked by the Washington Post to write about the college search and admission processes. His first article is a great checklist for any high school student who is pondering the college question.

That’s it for now. See you soon!

Posted by Adam Rosenzweig, Admission Counselor


Angel is Awesome

Despite being sick, Angel wrote another amazing article this week and it was published in LA Times. This article discusses what it is like for us to fight for you in committee and after finishing my first year it is 100% accurate. I hope you enjoy.

College admissions’ wrenching ins and outs
For school officials, deciding on students’ dreams is a difficult, emotional task.
By Angel B. Pérez April 3, 2009

I’ve been talking to a lot of angry people this week. They yell; I listen patiently. They cry; I empathize. The pain of not getting into the college of your dreams is unlike any other. Students call here to Pitzer College to find out what they could have done differently. Parents call to ask us to reconsider. It’s hard to justify to someone who has just been “denied” the college of their dreams that although they’ve done everything right, we just did not have enough seats in the class.

What these families don’t see is the amount of emotion that admissions officers across the country pour into making these decisions. These students don’t know that behind closed doors, we argue about these difficult decisions. Each of us fights for the kids in admissions committee meetings, and we’re truly sad when we turn away applicants who we know have worked hard but, because of circumstances beyond our immediate control, we cannot admit.

It’s still hard for me to erase the images of the downcast expressions on my staff members’ faces when the decisions go against the students they had argued for in committee. Just days ago, we were deliberating between a few candidates for a special scholarship opportunity — knowing we had room for only one more. You could feel the tension in the room. Every admissions officer wanted his or her kid to get in. When the tough call was made, there was profound sadness. We knew we would positively affect the lives of some students while turning away the majority of those who had applied.

No matter how many years you work in college admissions, it never gets any easier to say no. At my institution, we received 4,079 applications but only have 245 spots in the freshman class. Choosing among a majority of overqualified students is our challenge.

I recall the fate of one young woman whose academic profile was top-notch. She had a 4.0 grade-point average at a competitive high school in Los Angeles, she listed a fair amount of extracurricular activities, and her essays read well. But she was from a town very close by and had never taken the time to visit the college. We offer many opportunities to do so, but she had had no contact with us.

In a year in which predicting how many students will enroll is going to be more difficult than ever, were we going to take a chance on her, that she was serious in wanting to come to Pitzer? With the pressure of having too many applications and not being sure of who really will enroll, we have to find ways to turn down students. In the end, we passed on her.

I also recall the young man from New York City who was academically below our margin. If I had read his application without meeting him, I probably would have denied him admission. But he showed up for my school visit when I was in New York, and had several contacts with me throughout the year. Then I interviewed him, and in my evaluation I wrote, “This kid bleeds Pitzer College.” He was concerned about issues of social justice and social responsibility — two key values that our institution was founded on. Clearly this kid had done his research and was determined to help me realize that he was the right fit.

His application eventually arrived on my desk, and I knew he was not going to be an easy admit. With a GPA below our typical average of 3.9 and no test scores submitted (we are a test-optional institution), the committee was not going to be kind. Therefore, I decided to read parts of his essay out loud to the committee. I needed to make sure they saw him outside the context of his numbers. They laughed out loud in response to this young man’s humor, and they could not believe how much time he took to demonstrate to us how right he was for Pitzer.

I followed up the reading by telling them about my impressions from the interview: “He won’t graduate top of his class, but he is going to be a powerful presence here.” One of our staff members, who was clearly impressed, said, “This kid really does want to change the world, doesn’t he?”

In the end, personal contact made a difference, and the young man’s ability to paint a clear picture as to why he was the perfect match for our institutional culture won us over.

This week, students across the country received admission decision letters from thousands of colleges. They have poured their hearts and souls into their applications. They have worked hard and taken risks to share some of the most intimate details of their lives. They have told us about their goals, aspirations, triumphs, failures and adversities.

As I sat in my apartment, at the local Starbucks, in my office, (admittedly sometimes at the strangest hours of the night), I read their applications. With a constant cup of coffee in hand, I pored over each of their life stories. I laughed, I cried, and sometimes I performed a cheer of triumph (earning me some strange looks at Starbucks).

Regardless of my reaction to individual applications, I am truly inspired by young people today. They are much more motivated and qualified for college than I was when I was applying. Each day, I read stories of young people who are working hard to change the world and create new experiences that require them to take risks, have courage and overcome obstacles. We can’t admit all the students we love, and that’s because we tend to love many more than there will ever be room for.

To all these students, I say that where you get into college is not a representation of your worth, and please remind your parents that your college acceptance letter is not their final grade on the parental report card of life. If a school did not admit you, it’s not a personal rejection.

In fact, most kids we turn away have done absolutely everything right, but given the seats we have available and the conflicting institutional needs that we have to balance, many kids are turned away because of the needs of the college, not because of a lack of achievement on their part.

We want an even representation of women and men, in-state, out-of-state and international students. We try to create a strong balance of socioeconomic and ethnic diversity as well. We need to make sure some kids can staff our athletic teams while others man our orchestras and theater productions. The list of needs is endless and seems to grow longer every year.

So for all of you getting the thick envelopes, the thin envelopes and everything in between this week, thank you for sharing the details of your lives and your aspirations. It’s what keeps admissions officers in this business — knowing that young people are doing amazing things and creating transformative experiences that will affect our world tomorrow.

Regardless of the decision letters you received, you have worked hard and have earned the right to brag about your accomplishments. You are indeed the hope we have been looking for.

Angel B. Pérez is the director of admission at Pitzer College in Claremont.


Posted by Danny Irving, Admission Counselor

Danny Leaps for joy

I’m Tired, and So Are You

I wanted to share an article with you that Angel wrote for the Chronicle of Higher Education about the experience of fall travel. The whole purpose of this blog is to help you, the students, get a better idea of the admission process by telling you about our lives, I figured I should post it, even though it is a little late. I hope you enjoy it, I know I did.

Dear Admissions Colleagues:

I write you today as I sit on a flight — one of the last legs of what feels like an endless fall recruitment season. I’m grateful to be sitting here. In fact, I almost wasn’t.

The alumni-affairs office asked me to make a presentation to our alumni board on current issues in admissions at Pitzer College and how they compare to issues facing the nation. The presentation began at 10:45 a.m., and I had a 1:20 p.m. flight to New York out of LAX. I was able to persuade a friend of mine to accompany me to the campus and have the getaway car ready; I figured if I left by 11:15 a.m., I could make my flight.

At 11:35, I darted out of the building and jumped into the car. “I think we’ll make it,” I said nervously, as I changed clothes in the back seat. I got a few strange looks, but it was either that or wrinkle the suit I needed to wear a few more times that week.

I had a sandwich waiting in the car so I could have my lunch. Just as I bit into it, our car came to a halt, and I looked up to see major traffic on the freeway. So we did what every frantic traveler does: exited and took local streets to an alternative freeway, breaking every law and safety regulation in the process.

Thirty minutes before takeoff, I arrived at the largest airport in the United States hoping to get through security in a New York minute. What can I say? I’m an optimist. Just as I was taking my belt and shoes off and placing them through the metal detector, my name was called on the loudspeaker. That was not the kind of last call I’m used to hearing. I leaned toward the closest security officer I could find and whispered, “They’re talking about me.” She let me skip everyone in line, and I darted off through the terminal and made it to the gate seconds before the door closed.

Sitting in my seat, exhausted and dazed, one thought occurs to me: Why the heck do I do this?

As the plane pushes off from the gate and I begin to write, my mind flashes through images of the last few months of my life. I remember my two-week trip through New England, where I switched hotels every day and visited high schools in almost every state of the region. I remember my speedy one-day trip to Chicago to serve as a panelist at a high-school program. There was that one-city-a-day Claremont Colleges Receptions tour that tends to leave you wondering what time zone you are in.

Let’s face it: It’s been a long admissions season. I’m tired, and so are you. I see those droopy eyes as you pull into the parking lot early in the morning, having just landed after a long flight. I notice the slower pace in your stroll as you greet a family visiting the campus on a Saturday morning. You smile in your usual manner, but I know you’re thinking that you can’t remember the last time you had a weekend without work. Being weary this time of year is common in the admissions business. I write to acknowledge that, and to let you know, it’s OK to admit it. But as I stare out of the airplane window, I begin to recall the many recent experiences I’ve had that explain why our work is invaluable and why it does indeed matter.

I remember a recent lunch meeting I had with a new student at Pitzer. She wanted to thank our office for helping her during the application process and for, ultimately, admitting her. We had a wonderful conversation and as we strolled out of the dining hall, we bumped into another first-year student. After my lunch partner introduced us, the student said, “Angel, I already know you. You and your staff changed my life!”

Not knowing how to respond, I asked, “How do you suppose we did that?”

“During my application process,” she said, “I met with you and several other members of your staff. All of you gave me the confidence to apply to this school and held my hand along the way. Then you folks admitted me and my life is significantly different. I can’t thank you enough.”

Then I think about the amazing students I have met during my travels this fall. I can clearly recall a conversation I had with a young man at his high school in Vermont. “I’ll be honest with you,” he said, “I’m from Vermont, and although I love it here, my world is so limited. I think it’s time to see the world.” We had the most inspiring conversation about his hopes and dreams.

That kind of conversation is why we travel. We reach out to families and jet around the country because the age of information technology hasn’t obliterated the power of personal contact.

We travel because when we meet a student who is the perfect fit for our college, we can make the case to fly her to the campus to visit during our diversity program. On one of the few nights we are home this fall, we stay late in the office to talk to her dad on the phone for an hour because he is scared of letting his little girl go to school on the West Coast. His family has already made a great leap from Africa to live on the East Coast of the United States, and he can’t fathom letting his daughter live five hours farther by plane.

We allow ourselves to stay late at a college fair, knowing we have a long drive back to our hotel through dark isolated roads because a mother needs to hear that although the economy is in turmoil, her son can indeed afford to go to college. We hold people’s hands, calm them down, and reassure them, it’s going to be OK.

As the plane finally reaches its cruising altitude, I think back to my recent meeting with a high-school counselor who came to visit the office. She’s a brand new counselor and works with an underrepresented population in her hometown. She took it upon herself to start visiting colleges and learning about the admissions process. She needed resources and a mentor, and even though she didn’t know it, she needed a reminder that what she was doing was valuable. A 15-minute meeting turned into a two-hour conference.

The business of college admissions is structurally complex, and it is compartmentalized into long, intense seasons. The highs are extremely high and the lows can be downright overwhelming; it’s easy to feel defeated and worn down, and to forget the transformative nature of our work.

Therefore, I ask you to take this moment to stop and turn off all the distractions that cloud your vision of the bigger picture. Before we move on to the next exhausting phase of our admissions year, before we greet our final fall visitors, before we begin to alphabetize thousands of credentials, before we start entering the data on those applications, before we calculate the thousands of dollars of financial aid needed, before we are curled over our kitchen tables with hundreds of applications, before we start obsessing over the numbers, before the news organizations start calling in search of a story angle on another extremely selective admissions year, I ask you to take a moment to breathe and exhale.

Acknowledge the impact of your work. What you do matters. In fact, I’ve been told it changes lives.

Angel B. Pérez is director of admission at Pitzer College.


Posted by Danny Irving, Admission Counselor

Danny Leaps for joy