On the Road: Why We Travel
On August 5, the world watched the 2016 Rio Olympic games open in Maracanã Stadium. One of the highlights of any Olympic opening ceremony, for me, is always the Parade of Nations. Each flag bearer has a special story, and the commentator provides a brief history of the athlete and how this person came to lead her or his country into the stadium. Some of these countries I have been to, many others are on my bucket list, yet for a moment I am transported to a far off place and put in the shoes of this person who leads their country in the procession. I learn something new. I learn about this person’s life. I learn about their context. For the next few months, Barnard admissions officers will travel to meet you and, in the process, learn more about your context.
If you have ever sat in on one of my Barnard Admissions Information Sessions, you may have heard the word 'context' mentioned more than just a few times. As a highly selective liberal arts college for women, we pride ourselves on offering a demanding, well-rounded education for the 21st century. This well-rounded approach begins with your application. Our holistic review allows us to read deeply and get to know you both in and out of the classroom. Context is a key player in this process, and where you come from is a large part of your context. So, we travel.
Whether you encounter a Barnard Admissions Officer at a college fair in your high school's gymnasium, library, or cafeteria, or in an intimate gathering in your college guidance office, there is something different about this meeting that takes place on your turf. We sometimes have the opportunity to hear our own feet make the wood creak on the basketball court that you speak of in your essay, to take in the smell of the books you have read on your visits to the library, or to be in the cafeteria where you and your friends catch up or discuss the latest assignments. During our visits, we briefly immerse ourselves in the places you have spent the last 2-4 years of your life and when we return to Morningside Heights to read your application, we visualize the halls of your school where you campaigned so hard to become Student Government President, or we recall that brief conversation we had with your teacher.
While we cannot visit every community from which we receive applications, various pieces of your application, much like the commentator introducing the flag bearers in the Parade of Nations, transport us to where you are standing and put us in your shoes. Your writing, your extracurricular activities, and your letters of recommendation, put your grades and your test scores into context. Not one part of the application is read in a vacuum. Each piece speaks to the other so that the Admissions Committee makes the most informed decision on each file. However, something that is not always captured in the application is the time we spend building relationships with your community. These relationships go beyond a visit. The admission officer assigned to your school becomes familiar with your school, its resources (including your teachers and counselors), and its relationship with your greater community. Getting to know your community helps us contextualize your story.
What is your relationship with your school community? How do you fit in? How do you make the most of it in order to grow? How do you balance academic success in the most rigorous curriculum appropriate for you while taking ownership of your place in your community? These are questions that we often tackle around the committee table (yes, we actually sit around a table) and your admissions officer makes the case for you based on what you have provided in the application. The beauty of a holistic review process is that it gives every applicant an equal opportunity to present her own strengths, and she may excel where another young woman lacks. No one person is perfectly well rounded. We all have our weaknesses. However, as we start to shape our class with strong applicants from around the world, each strong in her context, we start to shape the perfectly well rounded class.
While you will be busy throughout the fall, take a moment to stop by the Barnard table at a college fair or school visit. Ask a question, or suggest a good place to eat in the area! If you decide to apply, reach out to the person you met. Take your admissions officer back to that time when they met you on the road, and when they read your application, they will have more context.
Now that the 2016 Rio Olympic games have closed, it’s time to face reality: summer is ending. Many of you reading this have spent the better part of this month trying to squeeze out the last ounce of your summer vacation, but for the Barnard Office of Admissions it has been a time for planning. By the end of this month, many of us will hit the road and open skies for weeks before we settle down to read thousands of applications. I happen to be wrapping up some travel planning: PHL. MUC. GVA. FCO. LHR. As I look at the notes I have jotted on my calendar, I chuckle at the fact that learning airport codes becomes its own language to any seasoned admissions officer. Learning this language also requires mastering the art of packing 1-3 weeks of clothes and materials into just a couple of bags, depending on the destination and length of stay. So much planning, organizing, booking, and traveling . . . it comes with job. But why do we set upon this lengthy, sometimes exhausting routine every fall? The answer: you, students who in just 8 months or more will help build our future first year classes.