College Admissions: Through the Eyes of a 23-Year-Old Dean of Admissions

By Sam Rosensohn

I was so excited to talk to Leigh Weisenburger, who was in one of my American History classes at John Winthrop Jr. High in the bad old ’90s, and I was even more excited when I finished speaking to this beautiful thinker.

When it comes to sizing up the college scene, the approach to picking the right school, and what you can and can’t control, Weisenburger had one pearl after another to offer.

When you visit college – make sure to ask where the post office is and spend some time there, just listening and watching, said Weisenburger, 23, who graduated from Valley Regional High School, Smith College and is currently an Assistant Dean of Admissions at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine.

“Leave your parents for about a half an hour. See the action; see how students interact, what they’re wearing, and the magazines they’re receiving. Are they half asleep? Are they all dressed up?

“Are they loaded down with books? Are they talking about a weekend trip to go skiing? Are they going to see the weekly on-campus movie? Get a sense of how things are operating,” said Weisenburger, who transferred to Smith after three semesters at Fordham University in The Bronx.

Weisenburger encourages students to do the traditional tours, to observe classes and to attend informational meetings on campus, but the best way, she says, to get a real sense of the school is to find an unconfined setting.

“Go to the gym by yourself,” she says, “ride a bike for half an hour and listen to conversations to see what people are chatting about. It’s those candid conversations that will help you to better understand the school.”

Weisenburger harkened back to an afternoon at the Chester Public Library when she saw a family friend wearing a Smith pin. The woman happened to mention she was going to the Botanical Gardens to meet a bunch of Smithies.

“This was a woman in her fifties,” Weisenburger recalled and she was talking about her college and doing things with her classmates. I wanted a similar experience – I wanted to feel forever connected to my college.”

And since many of the best things in life are not free, and you’re eventually going to have to pay back that massive college debt, Weisenburger encourages prospective students to visit the career services office on campus.

“I know it’s kind of hard for a 17-year-old to think where a college could place you – grad school, employment, but see what the options are and the networking capabilities of the alumni.”

It’s such a good point; the alumni network is yet another way to assess a school’s health. An august alumni association signals that the school’s graduates profited from their stay and have confidence in the school’s graduates.

If you’re a freshman, a sophomore or a junior in high school, Weisenburger encourages you to focus on your school work first. What you do in the classroom will determine the schools you can attend and will most likely want to attend.

“Students need to recognize that their number one focus should be on the classroom. I wish I had known to take more advantage of in-depth research. I did two independent studies in high school, and they were wonderful, but I could have taken them a step further.”

Weisenburger encourages students to take advantage of the area colleges, their libraries, and their professors. “The work you do in high school, the initiative you take sets you apart, if you take that extra step it will highlight your high school record, which is the first thing all colleges consider.”

So work as hard as you can in the classroom without making yourself nuts, enjoy your days and focus on what you have control over, not what you can’t control. “You are one – in the case of Bates – of about 4,500 applicants. You control your writing, your transcript, your interview, who you choose to write your recommendations, but beyond that you have to let it go,” she counsels.

“You don’t control what the college is looking for, and that can change from year to year. So stay focused on what you can control and the rest will fall into place if you focus on the right set of schools to apply to.”

Weisenburger says that if you have a chance to interview, it’s a must. At Bates she said the student who doesn’t interview puts himself at a disadvantage in the application process. Schools that offer interviews want to see students on campus, and want to get to know them as individuals.

“I eventually learned how to market myself,” she said referring to when she transferred from Fordham to Smith. I learned how to highlight what others needed and wanted to know about me.” She encourages students to ask the person who is interviewing them: “What type of students are already there, and what type of students are you looking for in your applicant pool.”

So I asked her what Bates was looking for. “There’s no one thing, yet we’re always looking for students who in some way will contribute to our community.”

Sam Rosensohn is the founder of College Planning Partnerships, which offers prep classes for the SAT and helps students to prepare for college and write college essays. He can be reached in Clinton at 860-664-9857 or at sam@satprepct.com