"The Reality of Secondary School Admission" by Director of Admission Brooke Asnis
My first job after graduating from college was as an Admission Officer at Harvard College. I spent each fall traveling throughout the southeast and midwest, visiting schools and speaking with prospective students about Harvard. For a young person who had never left the country, it was a thrill to explore new places from Mobile, Alabama to Green Bay, Wisconsin in my limited spare time on the road. I loved meeting kids in cities like Atlanta, Birmingham and Charlotte and in small towns in Kentucky’s horse country, the Mississippi Delta and the Blue Ridge Mountains. Hearing their stories and telling them all about the allures of Harvard Square didn’t feel like work. Once I returned back to Cambridge as the winter set in, the admission cycle unfolded somewhat like this: knee (sometimes shoulder) deep in files, reading, reading, reading. Committee meetings. Decision day! A celebration as the mail was loaded onto the trucks. Fallout (angry phone calls). Summer. Endless interviewing. Then back on the road again come September.
As we head into the winter months here in the Nobles admission office, and as we too are about to begin reading applications, I have been thinking about the years that I spent at Harvard and reflecting on the differences between being a college admission officer and a secondary school admission officer. Here are a few conclusions:
1. The Interview: interviewing a senior in high school is a dramatically different experience from interviewing a 13 or 14 year old. I prefer the latter. I like that young kids tend to be less polished, more authentic and more likely to say something hilarious and unscripted like “My mom told me to tell you that I love community service, but I actually don’t” or “I don’t like to read.” Or ask questions like: “Do you think that I can read your mind?” or “Do you guys have detentions?”
2. The Essays: younger kids tend to bring the same parent cringe-inducing honesty to their writing. Responding to the prompt “What is a question that you can’t answer but wish that you could?”, applicants have answered with the practical “What is my dog thinking?”, “What does my voice sound like to other people?” and “What will my kids look like?” as well as the philosophical “Is there really no ‘I’ in TEAM?”
3. The Fruits: the best thing about working with young kids in the admission process is the privilege of seeing the students that we have come to know so well in the application - the fruits of our labor - every day. Unlike in the college world, we also get to witness young people grow up. New students arrive at Nobles as kids, and they graduate as young adults. We get to know them well during their years here. As admission officers, we also advise, teach and coach them. We are deeply attached to our tour guides - an army of Nobles enthusiasts 130 strong. Nobles students make us laugh every day with their wit, they inspire us with their talents and they give us hope with their empathy and compassion. They make us proud to be educators. What an honor it is to work with them.
I love early teenage kids because they have lived long enough to have a story to tell, but they are also open to the possibility of trying new things and of reinventing themselves. They aren’t locked into a certain image of themselves. They don’t always think before they speak, which can lead to some hilarity in our work but also lends a clear authenticity to our interactions with them. While they might have some concrete goals and dreams for the future, they are also content to enjoy the present - to sip some hot chocolate, eat a few “Admission Office mints,” fidget in their chair, yawn a few times during the interview and wonder aloud if they really can read minds.