The July/August issue of the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine contains an article about Karl Furstenberg, the retiring Dean of Admissions at Dartmouth. It’s an interesting look at his 17 years of experience as the gatekeeper of one of the nation’s top undergraduate schools.
During his tenure, Furstenberg saw applications to Dartmouth rise by 80%: from 7,900 to over 14,000. Steinberg asked him how his staff has grown in that time to meet the challenges of such a huge increase in applications.
The staff is virtually the same size today as it was 17 years ago. Which is kind of staggering. We’ve made up for that with the use of technology and the inclusion of faculty and alumni who work in partnership with us to recruit studetns. What has changed over time is the speed with which we have to read. As much as we try to make it personal, to read 14,000 applications–with 15 admissions officers–is a challenge. We try to be as thoughtful and fair-minded as we can be.
Two points here. First is about the use of technology. Numbers matter. Test scores. GPA. Class rank. Dartmouth crunches these numbers through an algorithm to see whether your application passes muster. If the resulting number is not high enough, your application won’t be read very thoroughly, if at all. If you’re a legacy, an athlete, or a minority, you might get passed through if your scores are lower than the usual cut-off, but no guarantee of that, either. While the numbers may not tell the admissions officers the whole story, in this very “deep pool,” your scores must begin to pull you from those depths so you can rise to the surface.
Second, with so many applications, the admissions officers get pretty bored reading them. Another essay about grandparents. Another prep school kid. Another who swears Dartmouth is her first choice. The all look the same. Unless your application really sings. It has to hook the officer. It has to ignite some interest in you as a person. The essay must be original. Something has to get the officer to wake up from his stupor and say, “hey, this kid is interesting and unusual…let’s give him another look.”
The competition for Ivy League admission is fierce. The pool, indeed, is very deep. And what with the Common Application, demographic bubbles, and savvy college counselors, the pool will only get deeper.