More than a machine: the magic behind the office of admissions

 

Antoinette Esce, Features Editor

A massive machine stamping out acceptances and rejections with a vengeance: how most college applicants picture an admissions office.

But looking at the UR student body, with its intellect, diversity and common friendly disposition, it’s hard to imagine a computer putting that group together.

After speaking with a number of the people who picked us and will pick our future classmates, it’s obvious a machine couldn’t be further from the truth. The UR admissions counselors are not robots. In fact, they are intelligent, funny, and above all, real people.

While most college admissions offices have a “revolving door” when it comes to staff, meaning that most counselors only stay for a few years before moving on, the past UR admissions staffs have been characterized by more experienced admissions counselors. These counselors have great connections with alumni and understand both the system and the University.

To ensure that UR maintains a balance of old and new staff, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Jonathan Burdick has started hiring more recent UR graduates as admissions counselors; coming right out of our campus environment, he believes they have the best feel for the University.

One of the more recent hires is Chris Bierasinski ’10. A Russian language and literature major, Chris was a tour guide, orientation leader for the Class of 2013 and a study abroad orientation leader.

After he graduated, he decided to look into admissions instead of graduate school.

“As a UR student, I still have trouble making up my mind,” he said with a laugh.

Burdick also had trouble making up his mind when he first graduated from the University of Southern California. After graduation, Burdick spent 6 months traveling throughout Europe and the Middle East. When he returned, he capitalized on his experiences as a student leader and became an admissions counselor at his alma mater.  Now he can’t imagine doing anything else.

“I never feel like I’m working,” he said. “I always laugh behind my hand that they pay me to do this.”

Burdick’s job is two-fold; in his capacity as dean of financial aid, Burdick works with students even after they’ve been accepted.  The admissions office stays engaged with the University community through the Meridian program, by offering their space to student groups and participating in pre-major advising.  Burdick estimates that about 10 percent of freshmen are advised by his staff.

Senior Assistant Director of Admissions Mark Emblidge is actively involved in the UR community as well.

“My favorite part of the year is move-in day,” he said.  “I call it my annual workout.”

One year while helping with move-in, Emblidge met a family from Anchorage, Ala.

“There are only so many students who enroll from Alaska and I read those applications,” he recounted. “It didn’t take long for me to figure out who their daughter was.”

The next time Emblidge visited Anchorage, the family invited him over for dinner.

Emblidge has worked in a number of places over the years in both admissions and alumni relations.

“UR has been my favorite place so far,” he said. “I love the students and the type of school.”

When hiring staff, Burdick looks for good judgement and a propensity for learning.

“Admissions is an ongoing learning experience because the students are always changing,” he explained. “I hire admissions counselors who are good learners.”

Burdick also likes to work with the biases of individual counselors instead of fighting them with strict guidelines.

“Those guidelines would only obscure the biases.  They’ll still be there,” he explained.

“We are encouraged to understand our bias, and in some cases use it,” Associate Director of Admissions Stacy Wells Shea said. “I think that with everyone using a little of their bias, we end up getting a class that’s diverse and interesting.”

The double-blind reading process used at UR ensures that each student gets plenty of fair attention. Each application is read twice and if the decisions match, they’re passed onto Dean Burdick. If there is a discrepancy between the two decisions, a committee meets to discuss it.

The entire review process is genuine. Counselors holistically evaluate each applicant’s credentials in an individual context.

“We’re never going to ask you what kind of tree you want to be because, quite frankly, we don’t care,” Bierasinski said with a laugh. “We want to know who you are, what you do and why you want to come here. That’s what’s important to us.”

This year, the admissions staff recommended 7,000 offers of admission to Burdick.  His job is then to shape the class and estimate which ones will enroll, if admitted.  This depends on a multitude of factors including demographics and geography.

“There are a mind-numbing amount of details to consider for each student,” Burdick explained.

“After the decisions are made, Dean Burdick has a giant chart and performs what I can only assume is wizardry in order to get the proper amount of students eventually enrolled,” Bierasinski noted. “He shapes the class from this massive amount of data we give him and every time it just works. I swear he is some kind of sorcerer.”

Burdick reads about a third of all applications and has the final say on admittance, but after almost 10 years at UR, he feels confident in his ability to judge applicants.

“I have a soft spot for those iconoclastic, rule-breaking students because they are the ones who make better researchers and artists and activists,” he admitted. “I take ‘ever better’ to mean never satisfied. The goody two-shoes all go to Ivies.”

The admissions staff does more than just admit people, though.  A lot of their work is done informing and recruiting college seniors. Regional Associate Director for the Mid-Atlantic States Damian Garcia ’07 goes above and beyond even that.

“I have worked with community organizations and kids as young as fourth graders to get them thinking about the rewards of working hard and doing their best in school,” Garcia said.

These admissions counselors are as diverse as the student body they help create.  Some of them like to travel and some of them prefer to stay home.  Some have tattoos and some do community theater.  Some of them even have a soft spot for students who have worked at McDonald’s.  They are UR’s gatekeepers and therecould not be a better set of people for the job.


Esce is a member of
the class of 2015.



You can contact Antoinette at aesce@u.rochester.edu.

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