True Life: Undergraduate Admissions

Today’s guest author is Mandy Stein, a ’10.5 public health studies graduate of Johns Hopkins University and current intern in the Undergraduate Admissions Office. Mandy has been part of the Student Admissions Advisory Board and a Hopkins Interactive blogger since her arrival in Baltimore four years ago. Following her decision to graduate a semester early, Mandy applied for and was accepted as the Admissions intern for the 2010-2011 academic year. In this one year she has been witness to the ever-changing admissions cycle, and we have asked her to share her reflections. Mandy will be with our office until June 22 and then will head off to St. Louis to start law school. We have appreciated all of her hard work and creativity, and are sorely going to miss her.

Between daily information sessions (ranging from one to hundreds of visitors), reading applications, participating in my first-ever college fair down in Prince Georges County, and a recruiting trip to New England, it’s safe to say that my life these past few months has revolved around undergraduate admissions. Of course, my life has also revolved around law school admissions as well, as I was going through that process myself. In short, my life has been admissions.

Despite having volunteered/worked in the Admissions Office since my freshman year, I had no idea what it actually means to be a full-time employee in the office. Sure, I had seen Admissions_Daniel and the rest of the office get really stressed or tired or whatever else throughout the application cycle, but it was impossible to fully understand what it means to be an admissions counselor until I started working here full-time.

JHU_Mandy hard at work during one of the recent SOHOP events.
JHU_Mandy hard at work during one of the recent SOHOP events.

I want to dedicate this blog entry to shining a bit of light on the amazing job that college admissions counselors all over the country are doing each day. It’s impossible to truly understand this field without spending a significant amount of time immersed in it, but I’ll do my best to show you the other side of the admissions process.

November: it begins.
Early Decision applications pour in and begin flooding the counselors’ online queues as the files are completed by the operations team upstairs.  

December: pause.
As Hopkins students are wrapping up the semester and finishing their final exams, the counselors are also feeling the crunch to finish up their final decisions. Decisions are released on or around December 15 (finals this past year finished around December 17), at which point, the entire campus breathes a collective sigh of relief. The Admissions Office then has a couple of weeks that could be best described as “the calm before the storm.”

January: the deluge.
Our Regular Decision application deadline is January 1. Happy New Year, Office of Undergraduate Admissions! Immediately upon returning from a nice but short winter break (which usually involves some work with pre-deadline applications), those online queues I mentioned begin overflowing. Okay, not literally overflowing—they are online queues. At this point, part-time readers join the team (this is where I come in) and help prepare transcripts for review by counselors, in addition to reading some files on their own.

February: a false sense of security.
By February, the staff is buried up to their eyeballs in application work. Whether it’s processing (by our operations team) or reading (by our counselors and part-time readers), we’re busy. However, the official deadline is usually the end of the month or the first week in March—so there’s somewhat of a false sense of security. “Oh, we have a few more weeks, it’ll be fine,” or, “I can’t believe how many applications we have to get to, but at least we have a couple more weeks!”

March: crunch time.
First reads are finished—the work of part-time readers is done—and counselors move into their committee review. They have about two weeks to complete the class, a process that is constantly in flux. While this may sound like it’s arbitrary, I can assure you that it is nothing of the sort. Each day, there is a different task to help shape the class to be exactly what we’re looking for. The biggest challenge at this point is making sure we’re at the number that we want; during our first reads, we’re not thinking so much about the volume of each decision, we’re going with our first thought. March is the time to make sure we’re not going to end up with a class of 10,000. It’s unbelievably difficult. Our mailing process involves 4-5 checks per envelope to be beyond sure that we’re sending the right letters to the right applicants. Then: a sigh of relief. Throughout this process, however, we’re busy with visitors who have early spring breaks or are otherwise starting those weeks of college visits.

April: where did all of these people come from?
Decisions are released. More juniors start looking at colleges during their spring break. Seniors start visiting the schools to which they’ve been admitted. We run four different information sessions each day, two for prospective students and two for admitted students. We also run a lot of other programming for our visitors. The unique challenge during April is the combined effort to introduce juniors (and sophomores) to Hopkins and to convince our admitted seniors to choose Hopkins by their May 1 deposit deadline. In short, it’s exhausting. But it’s fun, too—I promise. Just for a bit of perspective, on Good Friday, we had at least 1,500 visitors to campus, and this wasn’t even our admitted student SOHOP event.

To complicate matters, April is time for spring travel, too. This year, while Admissions_Daniel was busy with our second SOHOP event, I went up to New England to kick off his spring travel.  He joined me in Rhode Island on Friday after SOHOP to finish off the weekend’s events. I arrived in New Hampshire, did two college fairs there and then headed to Providence, RI, for another two events. We moved on to Dedham, MA, as a convenient location for our Explore Hopkins presentation, followed by one more (gigantic) college fair on Sunday. What a week!

A view of Boston from JHU_Mandy's rental car. Admissions_Daniel is in the black SUV up ahead. (No comment about taking an iPhone pic while driving.)
A view of Boston from JHU_Mandy's rental car. Admissions_Daniel is in the black SUV up ahead. (No comment about taking an iPhone pic while driving.)

May: where did all of the people go?
It’s early May and there’s a calm that’s come over the office. Seniors have made their decisions. Juniors/sophomores aren’t on spring break anymore. Hopkins students are finishing up the semester, and some are looking ahead to commencement. Where did the time go? It’s not time to kick back and relax, though. It is crunch time for evaluating transfer applications, a process that started back in the aforementioned hectic April.

June-August: not-so-sleepy summer.
The campus is busy with summer programs for students and our office is busy with visitors who are working on their “apply” list. We do a lot with our incoming freshmen (primarily through a Facebook group) and work on bigger projects for prospective students through Hopkins Interactive.

September-October: on the road.
As students are back to classes, the admissions counselors are back on the road. It’s time to make sure we’re out and about telling the world everything there is to know about Johns Hopkins to help them decide if it’s a good fit and whether they should apply. It’s also time to brace ourselves; as soon as November comes, so does another crazy cycle.

So you get the picture: it’s a rollercoaster of a job. Keep in mind, too, that this isn’t the exhaustive list of tasks. Every day, someone sends out tours. Someone gives information sessions. Someone responds to e-mails. Someone answers the phones. Someone coordinates interviews. Someone processes the materials coming through mail and fax. There are countless other tasks that are more behind-the-scenes, but are certainly no less important. This is a crazy job, but also a thrilling one.

Whether it’s serving as a family’s first impression of Hopkins or evaluating a student’s application for admission, this is a very people-centric job. It’s also very Hopkins-centric. I draw from my experience of three-and-a-half years as a student, but most of my job training has been picked up on-the-go. How many students are at Hopkins? 4,998. Can you tell me about your combined five-year bachelors/masters programs in engineering? Yes (I’ll spare you the details). What carries the most weight in the application process? Who is happiest at Hopkins? What are the professors like? How big are classes? What is the percentage of students admitted to medical school? Knowing the answers to these questions is part of my job, but it’s also second nature—the most wonderful thing about Admissions at Johns Hopkins is that we don’t have a handbook telling us what to say. We don’t have a script for our information sessions. We’re very honest and candid. We take questions and we want to share our experiences. At the end of each day, the most important thing that I do is to help students/applicants find their fit—that place where they’ll be happy for the next four years—whether it’s chatting with sophomores and juniors deciding where to apply or evaluating applications for admission.

Again: this is a crazy job, but also a thrilling one. I can’t think of a better way to have spent my “senior spring” semester.

2 thoughts on “True Life: Undergraduate Admissions

  1. I love this blog, but it has been weeks since a new entry was made. I check everyday right after my Facebook. Haha. Hopefully as the school year gets wrapped up a couple more posts will be made? =)

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