A little over seven years ago, I joined the counseling team of the Office of Undergraduate Admissions at Johns Hopkins University. This would be my second university admissions team, as I had previously worked for six years at a university in D.C. As I moved up I-95 from Washington to Baltimore, I was filled with a lot of confidence that I would succeed at this new position without any major struggles. Boy was I mistaken. The early transition went smoothly as I learned all there was to know about this new university, had a successful fall travel season, and quickly got to know the students and my new colleagues. Then application file review season hit, and my rude awakening began.
As I said, I had a ton of confidence in this new position—so much so that I was constantly ignoring what my new colleagues and my new boss, Dean of Admissions Dr. John F. Latting, were telling me about the complicated nature of application file review for a highly selective university. As Early Decision application reading approached, I knew I was prepared for the volume of applications I was expected to read and even more I was pretty sure that reviewing the Johns Hopkins applications would not be much different than reviewing applications at my previous institution. As I write this I realize how naïve I was. Reviewing applications at every university is quite different, especially when you go from a university with a 60+% admit rate to a school with an admit rate in the low 30% range (what it was when I started at Hopkins).
The realization of how naïve and over-confident I was hit me at our Early Decision reading retreat, when I joined my new colleagues and new boss to discuss our approach to application review for the year. As we progressed through three mock application reviews, I witnessed how steep of a learning curve this was going to be. The discussions were not about GPAs and test scores and how these applicants compared to our admit ranges; in fact, there was no admit grid or defined ranges. I was primarily focused on the academics of the three mock applicants and decided on admit decisions for all three. My colleagues focused a lot more on the other parts of the application (recommendations, essays, extracurricular accomplishments) and had much more in-depth analyses of the strengths and weaknesses of each applicant and a sense of their future fit at Hopkins. I realized I had a lot of catching up to do, and thankfully with the help of an amazing team I caught on quickly and have been learning ever since.
So what is the point of this reflection you wonder? Well, just a few weeks ago my colleagues and I joined Dean Latting for our 2011-12 Early Decision reading retreat where we discussed our approach to application review for the upcoming cycle. Just an hour before the start of the retreat, Dean Latting shared with the entire Admissions staff that he had accepted a position to lead the Admissions team at Emory University and would be departing at the end of our Early Decision review process. This news shocked us all and we all congratulated Dean Latting while simultaneously being saddened about his departure. For me, after the shock and dismay died down, one realization hit me: the last item Dean Latting would leave Johns Hopkins University would be his personal selection philosophy that had shaped the previous ten classes and would guide the selection of the Class of 2016.
During Dean Latting’s tenure at Hopkins, the word “success” has been distinctly linked to the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. The total number of applicants has risen from just under 9,000 in 2002 to an expected 20,000+ in 2012. The admit rate has fallen from 35% in 2002 to 18% last year. Every academic measure of enrolling students has risen over the past ten years, and universally everyone remarks that each new class has been more engaged, more energetic, more skilled, and more socially active. Dean Latting is going to be greatly missed not only for all the successes we have achieved under his guidance, but more significantly because of the application selection philosophy he has engrained in the staff of Mason Hall.
As I begin this final application review cycle with Dean Latting at the helm, the greatest realization that I have come to is that, under his mentorship, my colleagues and I have learned and executed an extremely successful approach to application review that works specifically for Johns Hopkins University and compliments well an ever-growing and more selective applicant pool. Entering into this 8th application cycle, I have also realized that one crucial component of implementing a successful approach to application review is to start each cycle by reflecting on the strengths and struggles of the past year and setting forth an adjusted approach for the coming year. This is something Dean Latting is truly committed to, and every year before the counseling staff reviews any application, we gather at our retreat to listen to Dean Latting’s thoughts on improving application file review and to have a collective discussion on the values of each component part of our holistic application approach. Though at times I will joke with audiences that our decisions are made by using a dart board, in fact the truth is that our decisions are not only based on comprehensive, holistic reviews of each individual application but also involve extensive research and reflection on an overall philosophy on application review that fits the specific needs and wants of the undergraduate schools of Johns Hopkins University.
The one final realization I will reveal is that I know that readers of this entry are now probably wondering, so what is this approach to reading all about? I know that I have now opened the Pandora’s Box of application review questions for current and prospective applicants to Johns Hopkins University. How will they review my application? Who reads my application and what are they looking for? What are the most important parts of the application review? What is the final basis for admissions decisions? Don’t worry—I plan to answer these questions. Just as the title says, this is just Part One of discussing “Our Approach to Application Review.” Check back at the end of the week when I post Part Two, which delves deeper into these questions.