Admissions: ‘Attention and Care’ for Every Application


With the application “reading season” well under way, it’s the busiest time of year for admissions officers. But Cameron Pinckney doesn’t mind.

“It is really a great privilege to have so many capable applicants,” says Pinckney, associate director of admissions.

Reed Wommack ’14 (right) guides a tour for prospective students and their families. (Photo by Eli Burakian ’00)

Pinckney is one of 15 admissions officers keeping busy this time of year reviewing 22,416 applications from students hoping to become members of the Dartmouth Class of 2017. Even with the second-highest number of applicants ever, Dartmouth’s Admissions Office is committed to a thorough review of each candidate, says Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Maria Laskaris ’84. Thanks to a team of dedicated staff, Dartmouth gives each applicant a detailed and personal review.

“Critical to our ability to make a series of very nuanced decisions is bringing multiple perspectives to bear on each application submitted to Dartmouth,” says Laskaris. “Our goal is to assemble a team of readers who bring both relevant experience in higher education or secondary school, and a diverse set of life experiences.”

During the reading period in winter, the Dartmouth Admissions Office enlists the help of a reader corps, which is a 14-member team of former admissions officers from Dartmouth and peer schools, and former college instructors and high school teachers who assist in the review of applications. Since Dartmouth’s application is done completely online, former staff members can assist in the process no matter where they are located.

Katherine Burke, assistant dean of the college for campus life, has worked as a member of the reader corps for six years.

“It’s a real privilege to be a part of this process,” says Burke. “None of us who work at Dartmouth would be here if it weren’t for the extraordinary pool of candidates from all parts of the world who are knocking at Dartmouth’s door, hoping for the chance to be part of this community.”

The admissions officers also draw on the insight of 8,600 alumni volunteers worldwide. These alumni recruit, interview, and answer questions of prospective students, according to Laskaris. The majority of applicants do interview with alumni, either in person, via phone, or by video chat.

“It’s a really amazing commitment from our alumni and a vital part of our holistic approach,” says Laskaris. “An interviewer can ask important questions about the choices students make and why they made them.”

Dennis Ryan ’81, who lives in Minnesota, has conducted alumni interviews for more than 30 years. Ryan says the goal for an interview is to “establish a personal connection between the applicant and Dartmouth, and give the Admissions Office the only truly unbiased impression of the applicant.”

Alumni interviewers can help find the “unquantifiable” in a candidate, as Associate Director of Admissions Isabel Bober ’04 puts it. She says the applicant pool includes “so many amazing kids” who have outstanding academic records. The admissions staff is constantly looking for the intangibles that test scores and grade point averages can’t measure, she says.

Reed Wommack ’14 (left) leads a tour across campus. Regular decision notifications will be released in late March. (Photo by Eli Burakian ’00)

“One thing I really appreciate about Dartmouth,” says Bober, “is that we think really critically about what community means.”

“Ultimately,” says Pinckney, “We’re asking two questions, ‘Is this applicant going to be academically successful?’ and ‘Who are they going to become as part of this community?’ ”

One way Dartmouth strives to find answers to these questions is through an applicant’s peers. Dartmouth is one of the few schools that include a peer evaluation in the selection process, which Laskaris says offers a “genuine, authentic look at a person.” Pinckney says this is an important way to learn about the character of students, what motivates them, and what they might do with their free time. “You get some pretty unique insights,” he says.

In addition, the Admissions Office seeks to be accessible to applicants, and to give them a sense of the Dartmouth community. Applicants can connect with current students and admissions officers through Dartmouth Direct, a website for prospective students that features blog posts, live video chats, and updates from Hanover.

Pinckney, who has also worked in admissions at the California Institute of Technology, calls the Dartmouth process a very rigorous screening. Every application receives two individual reviews before going to a senior admissions officer. “I think every application gets looked over at least three to four times, on the low end,” says Pinckney.

“What impresses me endlessly,” says Pinckney, “is the attention and care we put into every application.”

Dartmouth expects to admit about 10 percent of applicants, and for the class to consist of about 1,120 students. Applicants will be notified at the end of March.

Keith Chapman