Admission committees are more than just a group of admission professionals and faculty in a room saying yes or no to files. How do these groups train and come together to build the future graduates of our schools?
Jennifer McGurn, Director of Admissions at Pace Academy (GA), Steve Milich, Director of Admission and Financial Aid at The Buckley School (CA), and Jenna Rogers King, Director of Admission and Enrollment at Riverdale Country School (NY), share their experiences with leading and managing admission committees.
Is there a set number of committee meetings for the course of the admission cycle?
JM: Typically, I explain the expectations, timing of the admission cycle, and any essential data via email. We offer a number of meetings between core groups of administrators and the admission team to ensure each committee member is comfortable using our database. We also explain the institutional standards for interpreting required information (SSAT scores, teacher recommendations, and interviews). Access to the files is granted through our online portals, and this allows committee members ample flexibility to assess each candidate and provide meaningful feedback to the committee within the ideal timeline of four to six weeks.
SM: Our committee includes admission staff members; middle and upper school faculty members; the heads of the lower, middle, and upper school divisions; and our head of school. Faculty are hand-picked, as we want committee members who bring a variety of different viewpoints and perspectives. Committee meetings are preset at the beginning of the academic year, and our inaugural meeting usually occurs during the first week of October. At that time, we go over the ground rules for new members, and specifically talk about the issues of confidentiality and professionalism. Since committee members play an active role in applicant interviews, we also spend time working on interviewing strategies. We have three additional meetings in the first semester. We use this time to discuss any issues and hot topics brought up in interviews or possible revisions to our file reading evaluation sheets.
JRK: Our admission committee is structured slightly differently for each division (we’re a PreK-12 school), but there are many common threads that run across the divisions. Prior to our official meetings about applicants, we meet to remind all team members of our confidentiality agreement, to go over the specific needs of each class, and to discuss what committee participants should look for as they read files. At our school, every committee member reads every file so that when we gather to review files, everyone in the room already has a sense of the applicant. We then meet for several consecutive days to discuss the files and make decisions.
Is there a point when there are “too many chefs”? Or too few?
JM: Each year, we take account of our committee representatives and work to round out and/or streamline our groups to ensure that the breadth of our school’s constituency is represented. We want multiple and diverse perspectives, including faculty with a long history at the school and those with fresh perspectives. Ideally, we want the fewest number of teachers and administrators to represent every facet of school life. On average, our admission committees are comprised of 12-20 individuals for each division of the school.
SM: Our committee has morphed. In previous years, anyone appointed to the committee was able to attend all meetings and to vote in the decision-making process. While this promoted an open dialogue among all committee members, we found that having so many voices at the table meant that, inevitably, some members were regularly disappointed at decision time. Now, faculty members serve primarily as interviewers to provide feedback on each candidate. Their input is then taken into account as the division heads, admission staff, and the head of school make the final decisions around institutional priorities. By managing our process in this manner, we believe our applicants receive fair and holistic reviews.
JRK: The ideal committee size for us is about five to six people for each division. This allows for a variety of opinions but also gives every committee member a real voice in the process. The committees are limited to admission office members (we have a fairly large team) and several faculty members from the relevant division. We are fortunate that many of our admission committee members are office veterans, but we also add fresh perspectives, specifically from teachers who can evaluate reading, writing, and math skills. While we review certain files with the division heads and with the head of school, the admission team is given autonomy to make the final decisions. Everyone on our team is involved in the community outside of the office (i.e., as advisors, teachers, coaches, etc.), so we tend to have a good sense of the types of students who are successful at the school.
What kind of committee training do you provide to meet your enrollment goals?
JM: We work diligently to provide committee members with the tools, time, and training to help them make the best assessments. Our goals are to provide a fair and complete evaluation of every applicant, to discuss their relative merits within the context of the overall pool and the needs of the school, and to admit and enroll the strongest and most engaged group of students, who will honor the values and legacy of Pace Academy. This past year was an exceptional one. We migrated to a new online file reading platform and also implemented a different file reading process to help alleviate the volume pressures on our committee members. Because we focused more on the applications the admission office felt should be discussed in greater detail, we made stronger, more confident admission decisions.
SM: At our first meeting each year, we participate in an activity to help us learn about our hidden biases and predispositions for particular candidates. For instance, committee members are asked to rank what attributes they believe are most important, assuming we only had one space left in the incoming class. Examples of this might include: “What carries more weight for you: a sibling of a current student or a child of an alumnus?” or “Would you rather have an outstanding academic student who received an average rating on character/personal purpose, or an average academic student with an outstanding rating in personal integrity?” It is fascinating to hear the discussions that ensue, and I believe it brings the team closer together. As we all know, the admission profession involves the perfect combination of art and science. Does our team always get everything right? Of course not. However, when procedures are in place and a talented group of professionals is guiding the course, a great deal of magic occurs to help perpetuate the traditions at The Buckley School for years to come.
JRK: We are fortunate to have a veteran admission team at Riverdale, so we don’t do much training on the specifics of file reading. But, we stay current on testing updates (The Enrollment Management Association’s Kate Auger-Campbell recently presented to our regional ISAAGNY group about interpreting score reports) and attend faculty meetings, so that we understand what is important to our teachers and administration. The entire admission team regularly participates in training sessions provided by our diversity and community engagement teams, as well as on-campus presentations by grit guru Angela Duckworth and others who help us consider how a student’s character strengths factor into his or her learning and development. Furthermore, by teaching and serving as advisors, we have a sense of how well new students have integrated into our community, thereby giving us a better idea of what to look for in future applicants.