October 19, 2000

Time Writes on Cornell Admissions

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The ins and outs of Cornell’s admission process will be featured in a Time Magazine article this week. With the condition that no names or specific characteristics of applicants be revealed in the magazine, Jodie Morse, a Time reporter, was allowed behind closed doors for three days last February to observe the University’s admissions process.

The look inside Cornell admissions — and the admissions offices at Rice University and Bowdoin College — enabled Time to publish what it considers the myths of the college application process.

“We received a call from Time at the end of last winter,” said Donald Saleh, dean of admissions and financial aid. “They told us that they wanted to come to campus and sit on the selection committees with the purpose of helping students and parents understand how readings [of applications] go.”

“We discussed the project with faculty and decided to do it,” Saleh said.

The article attempted to dispel some common misconceptions concerning the application process, using Morse’s observations from the reviewing sessions.

Some typical fictitious beliefs included that an applicant must “look as well-rounded as possible,” or that the applicant must send in his or her “award-winning portfolio,” Morse noted. She also discouraged students from making the typical assumption that “if a teacher says he’ll write a [recommendation], it will be a good one.”

Most of the observations printed in the Time article originated from the selection process for the College of Arts and Sciences, though Morse sat in on admissions sessions for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences as well.

One Cornell applicant, referred to as ‘Theater Boy,’ was deemed “Cornell material” by the Time observers. Despite the applicant’s distinctive accomplishments, however — accomplishments including a score of 1,420 on the Scholastic Achievement Test, experience including numerous musical performances and leadership of a $50,000 fundraising campaign to stage plays at his schools — the student was not granted admission to Cornell.

Witnessing the decision firsthand, Time noted the obstacle that caught Theater Boy. The student’s ultimate rejection, Morse wrote, stemmed from Theater Boy’s weak teacher recommendations and his outlining a course of study seeming unrelated to his past activities.

With the specific application in mind, Prof. David Field, psychology recalled, “The more I think about it, I don’t see enough real scholarship here.”

I just have a feeling that we can do better,” said Field, who reviews Cornell applications during the admissions process.

Saleh discovered the experience working with Time to be very interesting.

“We met as we always meet,” he said, but the committee would pause occasionally during reading sessions to explain to Morse what was going on.

“At first, I though the reporter would inhibit our work, but then the reporter joined in,” Field recalled. “She knew the rules dealing with confidentiality and eased my concerns.”

“I think [Time] achieved their goal,” Saleh added. “As a parent of two children who have gone through the application process, I found that the article would be very helpful from a parent’s perspective.”

Field noted that Cornell would benefit from publicity from the article as well.

Archived article by Jamie Yonks