Smith Sees Surge in Applications
It has been a record-breaking year for the Smith College Office of Admission. The
college received 3,771 first-year applications, a 13 percent increase over last year’s
numbers. Smith is not alone in this noticeable surge. Selective colleges and universities
all over the United States are also seeing a dramatic rise in the number of applicants,
reporting their largest numbers ever. Karen Kristof ’87, senior associate director
of admission, recently answered questions for NewsSmith about both the trend and
the admission process itself.
NewsSmith: What is the size of the class of 2012 you
expect to enroll?
Karen Kristof: About 640 first-year students.
NewsSmith: To what do you attribute this dramatic rise
Kristof: There are several reasons. Like other colleges, we are riding
the demographic wave. (The number of high school students in the U.S. is exceptionally
high this year.) We also saw a significant increase in applications from China, a
country where we are doing more active recruiting. We did additional travel on the
West Coast as well as in southern and southwestern states. Finally, it probably didn’t
hurt that Smith was named the “hottest women’s college” in Newsweek!
NewsSmith: Who are the “admissions committee” members? And what qualities
do they look for in an applicant?
Kristof: There are 11 full-time staff who review
applications. Faculty also read applications from international students and prospective
Ada Comstock Scholars. We look for students who have performed at a high level academically
and are passionate and talented.
NewsSmith: Since 1994, Smith has solicited parent recommendation letters as part
of the application process. How helpful is such a letter when you are reading a candidate’s
Kristof: Parents are full of anecdotes, and their comments can balance
the accolades. They may reveal that their child procrastinates or simply note “I
can’t walk into her room because it’s so messy.” While a parent’s
letter will never make or break an admission decision, it adds texture to the application.
NewsSmith: Are subjective judgments made?
Kristof: Of course. Because each reader
brings her own experiences to the table, we interpret things in slightly different
ways. For example, I like students who take risks, like the artist who isn’t
afraid of AP Calculus or the shy student who decides to run for student body president.
They bring real spark to our community.
NewsSmith: Are preferences given to legacies?
Kristof: We give careful consideration
to applicants who have a family member who graduated from Smith or a sister who is
currently enrolled. Sometimes, it’s more than one family member as in the case
of a first-year student who is a fifth-generation Smithie.
NewsSmith: Has technology made your job easier or harder?
Kristof: For the most
part, it’s made our job easier. Applicants who can’t visit the college
in person can instead take an interactive virtual tour on the Web site. From Mongolia
to Montana, it’s the next best thing to being here. Meanwhile, applications,
transcripts and letters of recommendation can be sent electronically and downloaded
with a few keystrokes. (No more having to decipher handwriting!) On the flip side,
we get over 800 e-mails a week and students want an immediate response. We do our
best to manage this aspect of technology.
NewsSmith: What are you going to do when you’ve finally sent out that last
Kristof: I’m going to Disney World! With no more college
essays to read on the weekends, I’m returning to my personal reading list -- in
between naps, that is!
When students are asked on the college
application how they heard about Smith and why they are applying, they typically
answer that they learned about the college from an alumna or guidance counselor
and that they fell in love with the beauty of the campus or were impressed
by the students and faculty members they encountered during a visit.
from time to time, students’ answers take a quirky twist. They
cite watching the virtual tour “about 40 times,” the presence
of Herrell’s Ice Cream in Northampton or even applying to Smith in
the (mistaken) belief that Hillary Clinton went here. (Clinton, of course,
attended Wellesley.) What follows are some examples culled from the 3,771
applications received for the class of 2012.
“A friend listed Smith
as the school he would have loved to attend if only he were female.”
cited mentions of Smith on MTV and in the movie The Greatest Game Ever
Played. Another cited Lisa Simpson, who, in an episode of The
Simpsons, is tempted
by the Siren-like representatives of the Seven Sisters (and George Plimpton),
who offer a scholarship to the sister school of her choice (and a hot plate)
if she will throw a spelling bee. (She declines.)
“I chose Smith because I feel like a Smithsonian.”
“The drive and passion encased within my five-foot frame is bursting
to be freed.”
“Barbara Bush read to my first-grade class.”
‘‘I love Julia Child.’’
Some applicants were inspired by the characters
of Charlotte (Kristin Davis) on Sex and the City and Joanna Kramer (Meryl
Streep) in Kramer vs. Kramer, who went to Smith. Another cited a character
in the book series Sweet Valley High who went to Smith.