Accepted! – what it takes to get into Whitman College

C.J. 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 across as extremely negative or aggressive writing,” said Lidzbarski. “We try to watch out for people who seem really non-community. They may be academically qualified and be involved, but students who come across that way I don’t think would really fit in to Whitman.”

While high school seniors tend to slack off their last year, officers pay close attention to how much students slip not just grade-wise but how what courses they give up during their final year.

“Students need to match the rigor of Whitman in high school,” said admission officer Joshua Smith. “It’s not easy to get into Whitman if students go from taking five AP classes their junior year to no AP classes their senior 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 binder that was a 130 page application which included every award or certificate the student had received since kindergarten,” said Jones.  

“One prospective student turned in an essay written in a circle so you had to turn it to read it,” said Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Tony Cabasco. “It was creative, but after three turns I put it down.”

Since admissions officers go through over 60 to 100 applications each week, spending up to 30 minutes on each of them, officers lose interest in looking at “cutesy” or “gimmicky” essays.

“If a student’s essay seems really shallow we don’t really look closely,” said Smith. “We don’t disregard actual talent, though, and we do look over applications holistically.”

With the application process becoming more and more competitive, Whitman College has raised the bar for academics, student involvement, creativity and personality. Even with the lowest acceptable GPA for a prospective Whitman student at 3.89, “about 85 to 90 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?

“Some of our favorite prospective students don’t get in because there is just not room,” said Cabasco. “It’s too bad because we do try to accept as many as we can. They go on to do well in other schools because they are talented kids. It’s a difficult process, and we really do care.”