Office of Admissions pushes for broader outreach
Penn aims to recruit students who cannot afford campus visits
March 13, 2012, 7:57 pm · Updated March 14, 2012, 11:40 pm·
Every fall and spring, admissions officers leave their home base in College Hall to meet high school students and their families all over the country and abroad.
According to Dean of Admissions Eric Furda, Penn’s admissions officers are on the road for five weeks in the fall and two in the spring.
“Our largest recruitment region is our on-campus program effort with over 65,000 visitors a year,” he said. “That being said, Penn has always been committed to a comprehensive on-the-ground recruitment effort across the United States and around the world.”
Though road trips have always been a part of Penn’s recruitment efforts, the Office of Admissions is making more of a push to reach out to students who don’t have the resources to take an extensive look at the campus.
“The shift in terms of our recruitment and outreach beyond campus is trying to reach more people — we’re not trying to simply see the same student who has already been on a campus visit and participated in a junior program at Penn,” he said. “We’re trying to make sure that we have a much broader outreach, which takes on many shapes.”
Penn’s outreach outside of campus includes visits to high schools, information sessions in certain cities and “Exploring College Options” tours, which are joint sessions with Duke, Georgetown, Harvard and Stanford universities.
Exploring College Options is the most comprehensive outreach program, according to Furda, covering all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands each year.
“This is the foundation for all of our outreach here — we’re visiting smaller areas that Penn might not visit on its own,” he said. “We’re sharing costs and we’re speaking to larger audiences. That’s the breadth to our travel.”
The Office of Admissions also organizes “Introduction to Penn” sessions in major cities. In fall 2011, Penn representatives visited 17 cities in 12 states, according to the Office of Admissions website.
Another major component of the University’s recruitment beyond campus includes high-school visits by individual admissions officers in the fall.
According to Furda, admissions officers visit three to four high schools a day — oftentimes in different cities. Overall, Penn visits about 1,200 total high schools.
Maria Morales-Kent — a former Penn admissions officer and director of college counseling at the Thacher School in Ojai, Calif. — said direct contact between admissions officers and students is “definitely worthwhile.”
“[College admissions] can be a very impersonal process, but there isn’t anything to replace the personal human connection that admissions officers make with the students sitting at the tables,” she said.
College junior Jennifer Mondal said the visits to her high school helped her in the college decision process.
“I got one-on-one attention with an adult in the admissions office rather than a college student, which can sometimes be helpful,” she said.
In addition to domestic visits, the Office of Admissions holds information sessions abroad.
Furda said it has always been Penn’s “strategic initiative” to reach areas that haven’t yet been targeted by many institutions.
Whereas places like California marked the “new frontier” for the Office of Admissions years ago, much of that focus has shifted to recruiting in countries like India and continents like South America.
This past year, Furda said, representatives from the Office of Admissions spent 20 days talking to prospective students in India.
Despite these efforts, however, some students said they did not benefit much from on-the-road visits.
College sophomore Esther Kim said the visits were too generic to provide an accurate glimpse into life at Penn.
“When they came, they only covered the basics,” she said. “It’s helpful if you’re considering applying, but if you’re serious about applying, just going off of [the visits] is not enough.”
College freshman Ariana Bray said a visit to her high school in Chicago would have been more helpful than the “Exploring College Options” session she attended, since she was the only person from her school applying to Penn.
“The session was not helpful,” she said. “They could be more honest in addressing concerning questions people have.”
Top Colleges Educational Consultant Steven Goodman, a 1989 Graduate School of Education alumnus, said Penn needs to push even more toward increasing the number of middle-income school visits.
“If Penn or any other institution was genuinely committed to diversity, it would recruit more middle-class communities, rather than the exclusive schools,” he said.
Furda said the Office of Admissions routinely looks to recruit at schools that are generally underrepresented in the University’s applicant pool.
“We can’t just sit in College Hall in our leather-bound chairs and expect students to come to us,” he said.