Emotional Gate-Keeping

This week is admitted student weekend across many campuses and I’ve been thinking about the relationship between Admissions and the Registrar’s Office.

April 24, 2011

This week is admitted student weekend across many campuses and I’ve been thinking about the relationship between Admissions and the Registrar’s Office. Our professional association, the American College of Registrars and Admissions Officers, is combined, yet the two offices have very different relationships with students. While the Admissions Office recruits and simply admits the students; the Registrar’s Office shepherds them through the degree, from matriculation to graduation. Often there is a “wall” between admissions information and matriculated student information, and in some cases “enrollment management” blurs the lines between admitting students and enrolling them in classes. But as a Registrar, I don’t often think about what attracts students to a particular institution - it isn’t part of my daily job to worry about whether or not a student will attend. My focus stays on current students until they graduate and then I turn my attention once more to the incoming students.

Reading The Gatekeepers, an exposé of the admissions process as a small selective liberal arts school, made me think back to why and how students choose a school. The Gatekeepers focuses on Wesleyan University - my alma mater and first post-undergraduate employer. The first chapter describes the campus of my sophomore year, two years after I went through the Admissions process. I was hooked - here was a book which described places and people I knew, but also clued me in on how confused high school students weed through the piles of promotional materials (which were still piles of paper, circa 1998) and decide where to spend an exorbitant amount of time and money. Steinberg does a wonderful job of showing the interplay of rankings, parent expectations, pure chance, and emotion in narrowing down college choices.

The Gatekeepers reminded me of the emotional pull a college can have. I was lucky - when I stepped on Wesleyans campus, I intuitively knew I was meant to be there. Graduating from Wesleyan has had a profound impact on who I am as a person, my beliefs, and my chosen profession, all realizations I’ve come to after several years away from campus.

The students I see wandering the halls this week are trying to make a decision about a professional school, and for many, that choice is much more practical than emotional (for example, Yale Law School has a generous loan forgiveness program). Some students don’t feel an emotional pull toward the college of their choice, but that doesn’t mean it is the “wrong” choice.

As a Registrar, my interactions with the students are hopefully value-free. Diversity, money and other hot-button factors play a role in committing to an institution. There are other emotional factors involved in our interactions with students, but we are more often reporting on and interacting with students who have already chosen to be at the school. So while the Registrar and Admissions Offices are both working on behalf of the institution to provide students with excellent service, I am happy to remain on the more even-keeled side of the admissions/matriculation wall.

Heather Alderfer is a contributer to the University of Venus, and is an Associate Registrar at Yale Law School.


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