Vanderbilt Impact: Longevity, Depth

Written by Lisa Bleich

How does a school go from a regional leader to a national powerhouse in 7 years? How does a school go from an acceptance rate of close to 60% in 1999 to a 12.5% acceptance rate in 2014?

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I asked this of Andrew Moe, the Assistant Director, Undergraduate Admissions, of Vanderbilt University.  Andrew reads applications for New Jersey and discussed Vanderbilt admissions with a group of NJ IECA consultants during one of our monthly lunches.

Step one; get a new Dean of Admissions.

Step two; meet full demonstrated need and replace loans with grants even after the 2008 financial melt down.  However, keep Pell Grant eligible students below 7%.

Step three; step up recruiting in an intentional way on a national and international basis to increase awareness and applications among top students.

Step four; invest in academics and buildings to create a beautiful environment for students to study.

Step five; Accept 45% of your class through early decision.

It also doesn’t hurt if there is a hit TV show, Nashville, featured in the city where your school resides! (Ok, this was just a lucky break!) In all seriousness, Vanderbilt’s precipitous drop in acceptance rate mirrors what is happening at many of the most select colleges across the country.  Andrew said that 7-8 years ago application numbers had remained fairly steady at between 9,000 to12,000 applications per year.  But applications continued to increase steadily over the years and this year Vandy received 29,500 applications! It reduced the size of its incoming freshman class after it built a living and learning community, The Commons, for all freshmen.

So how do students stand out in this highly competitive admissions process because having the metrics, e.g. high grades (top 10%) and high test scores (1490-1600 in the critical reading and math section of the SATs or 33-35 on the ACTs) is simply not enough?  And neither is being a 3-sport captain, playing the violin, and being a member of National Honor Society.  There are just too many students that share that profile.  Instead, Vandy admissions wants to see students whose activities demonstrate impact, longevity and depth.

Impact.  Vanderbilt likes to see students who have had an impact within their school, family or community.  This could be in the form of volunteering once a week to serve as a big brother/sister, to organizing fundraisers within the community, to identifying the need for a course or club that is not available in the school and working towards making that happen.  They also like to see students who can bridge different communities together, such as interfaith groups, Gay/Straight alliance, or inter-cultural groups and in fact have a merit scholarship precisely for students who do this.

Longevity. They value students who have served consistently as a big brother or other volunteer position in some ways more than a student who does something big just once. Vandy wants to see students who have a commitment to their activities throughout high school.  This is yet another way to demonstrate grit or perseverance.

Depth.  Vanderbilt, like other highly select colleges, wants to see student who have gone deep in a couple/few activities rather than broad and shallow.  Music plays an important role on campus, so students who have contributed to the musical community in a deep way through band, orchestra, pit orchestra, regional bands, independent rock bands, are always welcome.  This also goes for any other activity where students go deep.

So, as you think about how you spend your time, think about how and where you can make in impact through a consistent and deep commitment to things you care about. This holds true for Vanderbilt and at all highly selective colleges.


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