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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.

Karen Kristof ’87, Senior Associate Director of Admission. Photo by Jim Gipe.

NewsSmith: To what do you attribute this dramatic rise in applications?
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 application?
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 acceptance letter?
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!

Reasons for Applying to Smith? Let Us List Some of the Whys

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.

But 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.”

Applicants 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.)

“Cozy bathtubs.”
“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.

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