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APRIL 09, 2009


what it takes to get into Whitman College

BY CJ WISLER As Whitman College approaches the end of the year, the future class of 2013 has just begun their college journey with the arrival of their acceptance letters. This prompts some Whitman students to ask themselves: what does it take to get into Whitman? What qualities do admissions officers look for that are not included in brochures sent to prospective students? One specific quality that admissions officers look for, according to Assistant Director of Admission Victoria Lidzbarski, is a “fit” student. “This is a cloudy idea. There’s not really a specific definition,” said Lidzbarski. “Test scores and involvement are looked at, of course. This extra element often includes a cultural fit. Are they passionate and active community members? Are these students going to try and make a difference or are we not going to even notice they are here?” “Fit” does not have a specific definition. Students who are considered “fit” have made a difference in their high school, whether that means starting a club or making a current program better.

However, according to Director of Admission Kevin Dyerly, “the vast majority of our applicants are academic and meet those bars. The question remains if the students can remain active in the community as well – if they can both work hard and play hard.” “One thing I look for is if students are participants and givers rather than takers,” said Bruce J. Jones, Assistant Director of Admission: New England Regional Office. Officers take a close look at unique voices as well as the ability to convey passion for a particular subject in order to determine if a student can add “cultural spice and diversity” to the Whitman community. Beyond the ‘Whitman-ly’ qualities of passion, involvement and the notion of “diversity,” officers also watch out for “red flags”: particular personality traits that are huge turn-offs for admissions officers. Aside from students who do not fit the academic mold, officers typically look out for students who have a history of plagiarism or legal issues. One particular area officers pay attention to when looking for “red flags” is the essay section. “On rare occasions, students will write essays that come WHAT IT TAKES, page 18




APRIL 09, 2009

Contributed by

guide, overnight host, classes they visit,

always tell my tours that there is more than

down freshman year, and until you’ve had

my experience day in and day out is much

how nice the receptionist is when they

one right college for everyone, and that it’s

that experience, how could you possibly

more indicative of what the Whitman expe-

I’ve been working for the admissions office

walked in, how the weather was the day

50% choosing a college and 50% attitude

know what to look for? Whitman isn’t just

rience is really like. I tell students there are

for three years. There’s no formula for why

they visited…it’s impossible to know. Most

once you get here. I honestly think the at-

school—it’s an experience that has to be

three things they should do at every school:

a person chooses a school. I recently did a

of them can’t really pinpoint it themselves

titude part is more important.

lived and breathed, and how can one possi-

read the newspaper, eat the food, and talk

survey for current freshman and found that

but use words like “feeling” and “fit” to de-

I think the most difficult thing about ad-

bly articulate that to a prospective student?

to the students. The daily stuff is the stuff

the overwhelming majority of them cited

scribe their visit experience. For the typi-

missions for prospective students is this:

Working for the admissions office, I always

you’ll be dealing with for four years, so get

their visit to campus as a key reason they

cal liberal arts student, I’d say that it makes

how do you know what you want from a

try to talk to students one-on-one and be as

a feel for it. Statistics can only take you so

chose Whitman. The confusion therein is

sense that “fit” comes to mind more easily

college when you don’t really understand

honest as I can about my individual experi-


that there are so many factors—their tour

than, say, academic or athletic programs. I

what college is? Your life is turned upside

ence. My statistics and facts are helpful, but

Alex Thomas ‘10 an interview with Patricia Xi, ‘11 as told to Gillian Frew Pio: What’s the most common question prospective students ask? What’s the most common question their parents ask?

Xi: Students always ask me what is there to do and what I specifically do


on campus. Parents will almost always ask one of three questions: “Why did you choose Whitman?” “What’s student life like?” and “What’s your major?”

Pio: What are some of the strangest questions you’ve received? Any bizarre experiences with tours or overnight stays?

Xi: Most of my strange questions haven’t really been all that strange and they’ve just made me feel slightly uncomfortable because it’ll be something personal like, “do you party a lot?” so I don’t think I’ve had any bizarre incidents, but I have had plenty of friends who have. I have two favorites. A male was hosting a prospie and the host went to shower and specifically told his prospie not to go anywhere while he showered. His prospie decided to run away, get completely trashed, and pass out in the hallway. A female tour guide I know was asked by a father of a prospective student, “have you had sex on campus?”

Pio: How do you think most prospective students view Whitman? What’s a common concern? How do you approach that?

Xi: A lot of prospective students respect Whitman’s academics, however, they are afraid of its specific location. I usually approach that by the honest truth. Walla Walla isn’t as large as Seattle. We bring stuff to campus to do because there isn’t a ton to do out there in the city. And I also point out what we do have in Walla Walla.

Pio: Is the admissions office offering you guys any new advice on how to talk to students/parents concerned about finances?

Xi: The admission office offers the tour guides information about Whitman finances during the a-team meetings, which is fantastic. It doesn’t necessarily prepare us for the really tough (and completely awkward) questions, which are always about our own personal finances. The best piece of advice given to me as a tour guide is that if I’m not comfortable talking about something, I really don’t have to. I can just refer the student/ parent to an admission officer.

Pio: Anything else you’d like to share about the admissions experience? Xi: I have been really surprised by how much the admissions office actually does try to be honest. If an officer really doesn’t think that Whitman is right for a student, they’ll try to direct them to resources a prospective student can use. I’ve always assumed that admissions offices really market the school and yes, our office does that, but not to the extent you’d imagine. Whitman really is a pretty self-selecting school.

students employed by admissions overall budget

for admissions

applications recieved

top 10 BEST things

about Whitman 1. Friendly, laid-back student body 2. Small classroom sizes and professor accessibility

3. Free events and activities on campus 4. IM sports on Ankeny 5. 24-hour library and health center 6. T-Sports! 7. Strange statues and installation art 8. Academic Resource Center 9. George Bridges’ bow ties 10. Vegetarian options at Bon Appetit

top 10 WORST things

interviews on the road per day college fairs annually

about Whitman

Visitors Days

1. Isolation of Walla Walla 2. Homogenous student body 3. Rising tuition costs 4. Separation of greeks and indies


of new students

Sarah Colton, ‘11, tours a prospective student around campus.

5. Alcohol use and repetitive party scene 6. Hookup culture and lack of eligible partners

number of high schools Whitman visits

7. Town-gown tension 8. Thin walls in Anderson, squeaky floors in Prentiss

9. Missionary origins

compiled by Gillian Frew

compiled by Gillian Frew

mailings Whitman sends out annually

10. Duck rape

cost to recruit each student KLEIN





APRIL 09, 2009

Tony Cabasco, Dean of Admission & Financial Aid As told to Cindy Chin ALDEN

THE INTERVIEW: “A student who was a perfectly good student but in the interview, as she’s walking in, her cell phone rang and she proceeded to talk for 15 minutes and the admissions officer waited politely.” “Another person was really sick and threw up during the interview. It didn’t affect their chances at all, but still. The person … apologized a lot for it, but that person got in.” “About 15-16 years ago, a student who was visiting campus was caught shoplifting at Safeway. That student was not admitted. The ironic thing was that the student worked at home at Safeway.” “Another staff member was interviewing a student was holding a Styrofoam cup, and whether it was out of nerves or what, began nibbling at the Styrofoam and soon enough he was eating the Styrofoam. The so was just watching and freaking out, like, he’s eating Styrofoam!”

WHAT IT TAKES, from page 15

THE ESSAY: “I remember one essay, where someone wrote about Shakira. I can’t remember, after the first sentences I was just like, what?” “A student came out in his essay, and it was something the student hadn’t told family or friends but was writing an essay talking about the difficulties of being gay in high school.” “I remember a few years ago, this student didn’t have a graded paper so they wrote about Beowulf. But wrote ‘Bearwolf’ all the way through the essay.”

across as extremely negative or aggressive writing,”

“Students need to match the rigor of Whitman in

With the application process becoming more and


high school,” said admission officer Joshua Smith. “It’s

more competitive, Whitman College has raised the

not easy to get into Whitman if students go from taking

bar for academics, student involvement, creativity and

five AP classes their junior year to no AP classes their

personality. Even with the lowest acceptable GPA for a

senior year.”

prospective Whitman student at 3.89, “about 85 to 90

“We get to know people fairly well in the application process.” “We had an applicant who survived cancer in high school.” “We’ve had an applicant who is currently homeless who will be admitted, and we’re going to do our best to help them. They don’t have an address, how do we deal with that situation?” “This guy from New York City who founded a nonprofit with a few students to provide shoes for young students at a sister school in Kenya. Another student [he] started a nonprofit to help homeless Romanian orphans.” “You hear inspiring stories like that, with students who overcome so much and are still amazing students, involved and engaged. This person’s going to make a difference.”

creative, but after three turns I put it down.”

said Lidzbarski. “We try to watch out for people who

Since admissions officers go through over 60 to 100

seem really non-community. They may be academically

applications each week, spending up to 30 minutes on

qualified and be involved, but students who come across

each of them, officers lose interest in looking at “cutesy”

that way I don’t think would really fit in to Whitman.”

or “gimmicky” essays.

While high school seniors tend to slack off their last

“If a student’s essay seems really shallow we don’t

year, officers pay close attention to how much students

really look closely,” said Smith. “We don’t disregard ac-

slip not just grade-wise but how what courses they give

tual talent, though, and we do look over applications

up during their final year.


Furthermore, students who go overboard with their application and add “creative gimmicks”, as some of the officers called them, the application is likely to be glossed over. “I had one prospective student turn in a three-ring

percent of applicants are academically qualified” according to Cabasco. The question remains, when every aspect of the application is weighed in, what happens to those rejected?

binder that was a 130 page application which included

“Some of our favorite prospective students don’t get

every award or certificate the student had received

in because there is just not room,” said Cabasco. “It’s too

since kindergarten,” said Jones.

bad because we do try to accept as many as we can.

“One prospective student turned in an essay written

They go on to do well in other schools because they

in a circle so you had to turn it to read it,” said Dean

are talented kids. It’s a difficult process, and we really

of Admission and Financial Aid Tony Cabasco. “It was

do care.”

Whitman College Pioneer - Spring 2009 Issue 8 Featured Section  

The Featured section of the 8th issue of the Spring Semester.

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