Annual Report, 2004-2005
Mary Fairbairn, Denis Haney, David Penniston, Shusuke Yagi, Owen McFadden, Woody O’Cain, Christina Henderson, Nicholas Consonery and Judy Grisel (Chair).
The goal of the admissions committee this year was congruent with the strategic plan and the perceived desire of faculty: To invigorate intellectual life at Furman by recruiting and retaining an intellectually vital and diverse student body.
We saw two general ways to accomplish this goal:
1) To influence the “outcomes” of the admissions staff by getting involved in managing their daily business through activities like taking a more active role in attracting or interviewing potential students, or reading individual applications.
2) To influence the target goals of the admissions department in order to specifically address our desired outcomes.
Admissions now receive well over 4000 applications, and they have a well trained and effective staff to review those applications. In fact, the committee spent quite a lot of time learning about the mechanics of the admissions process.
We chose the second option for both practical and philosophic reasons. The logistics of managing so many applications, the admissions department’s efficacious management of these applications, and the regular change in constituency of the admissions committee all contributed to our decision. Therefore we spent our time in consideration of the overall aims of the admissions department. Applications are broken down into five main categories, and points are assigned within each category. Grades, SAT scores and the types of courses taken (ie, AP, IB) all weigh in heavily. Less important, but also considered, are extracurricular activities and personal statements.
This fairly traditional strategy is likely to result in a freshman class that is smart and generally well-rounded—indeed, one that looks much like Furman’s current student body—but may be at somewhat at odds with the faculty’s desire to recruit more interesting students. Therefore the committee felt it might be worthwhile to consider alterations to the admission criterion for at least a portion of the student body to emphasize other factors. To accomplish this goal we have looked at ways to modify the application in order to gain insight into student characteristics that might be exceptional and not picked up on the traditional form.
The committee envisions getting faculty input and support for potential changes, and eventually working with Admissions Staff to incorporate changes to the application (probably as an optional component). For instance, we spoke about adding an essay question (see examples below) and having the committee read just those essays (in other words, blind to traditional measures of evaluation). We would then like to use a ranking system to prioritize students for consideration by the admissions department. For example, if a student we saw as “highly desirable” met the even the minimum criterion for success at Furman as deemed by the admissions department, we would hope that that student be admitted. Initially, we hope to help determine perhaps 10% of each class in this way, and evaluate a few classes for at least their 4 years at Furman.
The committee met 5 times this year in collaboration with Admissions staff. Plans for next year include a focus on increasing the number of international students at Furman.
Faculty input to the admissions committee is welcome. We have a blog for faculty contributions at http://facweb.furman.edu/~mfairbairn/admissions/.
Sample essay questions:
1. Furman University is interested in fostering a diverse community. How might your presence at Furman contribute to this goal?
2. What kind of car would you be, where would you be driving, and what would be on the radio?
3. Write page 256 of your autobiography from the perspective of old age.
4. Recently statements were made by the president of Harvard suggesting that perhaps women can't "do" math and science at the highest levels for genetic reasons. Speculate about what might underlie the relative lack of women in the sciences. Can you think of other instances where there are "lack of group X in profession Y" that you would consider analogous?
5. Choose a favorite quotation and explain why it is important to you.