Blog & Podcast Series 

Amy Thompson

with Amy Thompson, Dean of Enrollment

Amy's experience in admissions at independent schools and colleges as well as her years as a director of college guidance, give her a unique understanding of the admission process. Her goal with Genuine Admissions is "to provide some insight, guidance, and a healthy dose of perspective as families navigate the next step on their educational journey."


 

Come On … Do Admission Committees Really Exist?

Say the words “admission committee” and many people immediately conjure up a boardroom-type meeting where the dean sits at the head of a long table holding court over raging debates late into the night about why this applicant should have a spot over that one, or how the oboe player (it’s always an oboe player) stacks up against the track star. Images emerge of a kind of super-secret society where potential members are presented, ballots are cast, tears are shed ― kind of a Darwinian, Lord of the Flies-esque semi-organized chaos — and where it’s every applicant or admission officer for themselves.

This stereotypical image of the mysterious smoke-filled admission room is a popular one, and, understandably, comes with its critics. In the book Who Gets In? Strategies for Fair and Effective College Admissions, researcher Rebecca Zwick argues that colleges should be more transparent with their admission policies, proposing they link those policies to institutional goals that are shared publicly so that potential applicants can be aware of and therefore prepare for successful admission. This reminds me a bit of a November 2020 article in The Atlantic, “The Mad, Mad World of Niche Sports Among Ivy League-Obsessed Parents,” which described a craze of highly resourced parents enrolling young children in activities like squash lessons, believing them to be a future golden ticket to uber-selective universities. (Granted, that article has since been retracted and the author discredited but one can still imagine what might happen if a highly selective school announced that they were looking for squash players. Perhaps no child would kick a soccer ball ever again.)

Movies, books, even New Yorker cartoons have been created by people eager to satirize, question, or “inform” anxious families about how admission decisions are made. Throughout my thirty years working in admissions and college counseling, I have found this media attention to be as repetitive as one of my favorite movies, Groundhog Day; each spring around the time daffodils start emerging a book is released, an op-ed published, or a morning show guest appears with an “insider’s view” of admissions. The problem with much of it is that the “advice” often comes from either A) people who have never actually worked in admissions, or B) people who worked for a few years in an admission office and turned that experience into a lucrative lifelong career outside of one. All of which demonstrates how much of an appetite is out there to know the unknown when it comes to “getting in.”

I have read admission applications at four very different institutions and observed admission committees at twenty or so highly selective colleges in my former career as a college counselor. In that role I also talked with admission officers at all kinds of institutions about their selection process. And I can confirm that yes, admission committees exist. I can also confirm that many, if not most, exist in forms that look little like the stereotypes. Here is just a small sampling of the range of what an admission committee can consist of:

  • Only teaching faculty — no admission officers.
  • The dean of admission and the head of school.
  • Two admission officers sitting in the same room, reading different parts of the same application, discussing it, and deciding between them.
  • A faculty member, student, and admission officer reviewing approximately one quarter of applicants, with 75 percent of candidates already having been admitted or denied by a reader before they get to committee.
  • All admission officers presenting candidates in a full committee and voting every few minutes in a process akin to speed dating.

And there are many, many more iterations depending upon the type, size, time, and resources that an admission office possesses.

The reason why it’s important to provide a snapshot of the range of admission committees is that it highlights what is so important to remember about admission decisions. They are as unique as the schools themselves, and committees ― and the way in which decisions are made by them — can vary quite wildly. At Loomis Chaffee, admission decisions are made only by those who work in the admission office. We believe that good decisions rely on comprehensive review from professionals who have the appropriate context of the full applicant pool to understand which candidates are the right fits for Loomis, so everyone reads applications across all grades and areas of the world. We also spend a lot of time training and re-training our admission officers on everything from implicit bias to how to read a transcript from a school that does not provide a traditional grading system ― and much more. Each applicant’s file is read multiple times and readers cannot access notes on the file from other readers; this is to prevent confirmation bias based on previous observations. Because we have a high volume of applicants, many meetings of admission committees of varying sizes among our team occur throughout the month of February and into early March. In these committee meetings we value independent thought and encourage all admission officers to participate fully, whether they are new to the position or a 25-year admissions veteran. We also value partnership and discourse across our team, as everyone provides valuable input based on different experiences with Loomis students and a depth and breadth of knowledge of our school. We hire and train our admission team members with this collaborative goal in mind.

Of course, it’s not how admission work is done but why one decision is made over another that is typically the focus of the abovementioned scrutiny. While transparency in the admission process is great in theory, it doesn’t hold up when it comes to admission practice. That’s because no one applicant is the same as another, and the combination of factors that lead committees of any size or shape to say yes, no, or maybe later is not the same combination for every student. It’s impossible to provide a road map for applicants to know how to get in when there are as many ways of arriving at a destination as there are applicants. Each one takes a unique journey to the ultimate result, whatever that may be.

The traditional saying goes, “admissions is an art, not a science.” I usually argue it’s a bit of both. We bring all our experiences and perspectives to reading, discussing, and deciding applications, making it a subjective process (an “art”). At the same time, it is not a free for all. There is a “science” to it, and the structure of a committee system is one element that is more standardized. Making decisions within a system that is designed with a consistent process of evaluation requiring multiple perspectives helps to ensure that every candidate is considered equitably. It’s not as transparent as a road map, but it’s not as opaque as one might think. And with that … I’m off to committee!

 


 

Previous Blog Posts

Recent Podcast Episodes

The Academic Program

 

In this podcast, Dean of Enrollment Amy Thompson speaks with Director of Studies Tim Lawrence and Dean of Faculty Andrew Matlack about the inspiring and exciting opportunities offered by Loomis Chaffee’s academic program.

A Conversation with Head of School Sheila Culbert

 

In this podcast, Dean of Enrollment Amy Thompson speaks with Head of School Sheila Culbert about Sheila’s hopes and dreams for the 2021–22 school year as well as our interdisciplinary programs; Center for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: new programming in digital and computational learning; and the soon-to-open Nichols Center for Theater and Dance.  

Senior Reflections

 

This past May, Amy Thompson sat down with seniors Kendall, Harry, Grace, and Max who took time to reflect on their four years at Loomis just days before they graduated. Their conversation provides wonderful insight into the student experience at Loomis.

Building Community Through Advising

 

Dean of Enrollment Amy Thompson sits down with Dean of Student Life Jessica Matzkin and Science Faculty member Ed Pond.

What Makes Loomis, Loomis?

 

Dean of Enrollment Amy Thompson answers one of the most popular questions we receive at Loomis.


 

Why Genuine Admissions?

An Introduction to Genuine Admissions, a blog and podcast series by Amy Thompson, dean of enrollment at The Loomis Chaffee School.

Genuine admission #1: My life goal was not to be a dean of enrollment at an independent boarding school.

Genuine admission #2: College admissions and boarding school admissions are not the same. But in some ways, they are.

Read More