Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Getting to Know You

“Run my name through your computer
Mention me in passing to your college tutor
Check my records, check my facts
Check if I paid my income tax
Pore over everything in my c.v.
But you'll still know nothin' 'bout me”

Sting, “Nothing ‘bout Me”
Back in 1993 (yes, before many of you were born!), the artist Sting released this song on an album called “10 Summoner’s Tales”.  It’s a wonderful song, and great album (I still call them albums – you know what I mean), but it reminds me of the feeling so many high school students have right now as they wait for admissions committees to review their applications for the fall.  Trying to convey to strangers who you are, what you’re all about, what your goals, ambitions and dreams are is a daunting task.  Yet in admission offices across the country that is exactly what we are trying to figure out.

At USD, we recognize the inherent challenge in the application process, and we take great care to try and go beyond just numbers and test scores.  Grades and scores tell part of the story, but our staff spends a lot of time poring over all the information submitted trying to identify a good “fit” – for the student and for us.  It takes a long time, and I thought I would try and help explain how we attempt to do that and help you understand what our staff is doing as you wait for your decision.  We know it is stressful to wait, but it’s also stressful deciding!

First, for the fall 2015 semester, we have received approximately 13,500 applications, and we hope to enroll a class of about 1150 students.  To do that, we will admit a little less than half of all the applicants.  It would be a relatively easy exercise to just sort everyone by the strength of their GPA and test score, accept the top half, wait list another group, and deny admission to the rest.  But that would likely result in a pretty homogenous group of first year students, and that is not at all what our goals are. 

At USD, we are looking to enroll students who are strong academically – students who have demonstrated they are ready to do college level work.  The high school transcript tells us the most about that, and we spend a good deal of time reviewing it.  We look, of course at the overall GPA, but also how a student earned those grades.  We look at how much they challenged themselves, what offerings they had to choose from (not every school offers the same range of courses), and other special opportunities they may have taken advantage of.  

In addition, however, we want to get a sense of how each student learns.  Are they curious about the world around them?  Do they participate in class discussions or are they more passive learners?  Have they had the chance to work in groups on projects and collaborate on assignments?  These are all factors that our faculty look for and are characteristics of students who are going to be successful here.  How do we do that?  In large part by reading the recommendations that the counselor and teachers wrote.  In some cases we do it through the personal statements and essay the student wrote.  And sometimes we get the chance to ask the student directly, through an interview or personal meeting with our staff.  

We are also looking for students who want to make a difference in the world.  As one of 29 Changemaker campuses around the world, we value students who not only have an interest in what is happening around them, but who have demonstrated a willingness to foster change.  This can be at school, through leadership roles or participation in various activities.  This is often in the community, through service and advocacy.  And it can be on a global scale, by travelling or participating in international organizations.  We expect our students to be fully engaged in making a difference in the world, and our application review tries to identify a student’s interest and capacity for fostering change.  The extracurricular activities, resume, essay and personal statement, as well as the answer to our Common Application Supplement questions all help us gain a better understanding of this important quality.

We also value diversity here at USD – in all its forms.  We hope our entering class is made up of students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, different geographic areas, and students with different academic interests, socioeconomic backgrounds, religious beliefs and political views.  Why?  In part, because as a Catholic university, our mission calls us to welcome and respect the dignity of every one.  In part, because our designation as a Changemaker campus implies that we help students see the world in a much broader and integrated way than they have before – change making only comes about when one truly understands the bigger picture.  Reading each application thoroughly, trying to learn each student's story, understanding challenges, and privileges that each has had all help us select students that will enrich the learning and social environment on campus.  

Selecting a class is hard work, and as Sting said, in the end we may still not know our students entirely.  But hopefully, as a result of the time and diligence we take in trying to learn all we can from the application, we assemble a class of students that will learn from each other, challenge each other, and support each other.  I like to share with our staff that we are not only selecting students for the entering class, we are selecting future alumni who will represent the University for a lifetime.  

Thanks in advance for your patience as we read your application.  I know a great album you can listen to in the meantime….


Brian Begin said...

Appreciate your openness in your blog article and your way of putting it out there for us students to get to know YOU. As I read this article, I felt as though you wrote it just to me. Kind of like I felt it like personal letter about USD, even though I know it's for the whole prospective admission pool of students. Relating "it" to Sting's music was a great hook! Congrats. to any and all students that are accepted! USD feels like an outstanding place to study.

SPultz said...

Thanks for your comment, Brian!