The Dating Game - Admissions style
This article appeared in the Boston Globe 5/16/2009
Shakye Jones didn't waste time with small talk. No witty banter to break the ice. Without a hint of just-met jitters, the teenager cut to the chase.
"What would make me want to come to your college?" the Codman Academy junior asked the Wesleyan University admissions officer, looking her square in the eye.
Tara Lindros didn't blink, matching the teen's bluntness with a charm offensive.
"Wesleyan students are so fun and interesting," she said. "They have so much passion and energy, it's contagious. If you come and visit, you'll see that. It's only two hours from here."
Jones seemed interested. Maybe it wasn't love at first sight, but Wesleyan was worth a second date, so to speak.
The matchmaking meet-and-greet was part of the Dorchester charter school's second annual "speed-dating" event yesterday, bringing together about 30 college representatives with high school juniors in the hopes that they will hit it off. Making their way around the room in five-minute intervals, students got a crash course in potential college destinations, from Harvard University to Bunker Hill Community College. As students begin the courtship of colleges, they need to learn to play the field, school officials said.
"You're not going to love every person you date, and you aren't going to love every school," said Nora Dowley, the charter school's dean of enrichment, who organized the event. "Finding that perfect match takes a lot of work."
Sebastien Louis, fresh from a frenetic hour of 12 short interviews, said the dating analogy was spot on, self-conscious conversations and all. But he was relieved that the admissions officers were as eager to impress as he was.
"At first I was nervous, because I didn't know what to expect," he said. "But you could see they were nervous, too. So then it was more like just getting to know each other."
Louis, a tall 19-year-old from Mattapan, said he came away favoring Emerson College, Colby College, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
After Jones' five minutes were up at the Wesleyan table, Arielle Correia took her place in front of the glossy brochures and pamphlets. She smiled and shook Lindros's hand, and the two launched into an easy conversation about the college's theater and study abroad programs. They quickly built a rapport, and Correia got up the nerve to ask what was really on her mind.
"The classes, how hard are they?" she asked quietly, as if in confidence. Lindros said they aren't easy, but tutoring is there for anyone who needs it, and students don't spend all their time in the library. Correia seemed relieved.
"It sounds wonderful," she said, filling out a form to put her name on the school's mailing list. "Thank you so much."
Over at the Emerson table, Olivia Kirby admitted right away that this was a blind date.
"I don't know much about Emerson," she said with an apologetic look. Undeterred, the representative whipped out a brochure to show her the campus was right beside the Boston Common, slyly noting its proximity to the popular movie theater.
"Oh, I walk by it all the time," she said, her eyes lighting up.
Afterward, Kirby said the meetings, though brief, were beneficial. She learned about a lot of schools, and was excited to find out that most have extensive community service and study abroad programs. Plus, the format made her realize that choosing a college, like a boyfriend, has a lot to do with intuition.
"You either have that chemistry, or you don't," she quipped.
School officials said introducing students to a range of colleges should help jump-start the selection process. Most Codman Academy students are poised to become the first in their families to attend college, and are often unaware of their options. Many mistakenly assume that selective colleges only accept students with perfect grades and test scores, and are too expensive for all but the wealthiest families.
From a motivation standpoint, students will almost surely work harder for a goal they believe is possible.
"We want to give them a picture of what college is like," said Meg Campbell, the school's executive director.
School administrators said it is also important for students to realize they are not simply at colleges' mercy, although it often feels like it. The schools need them, too, they said.
"Students think it's all on them, but it's a two-way street," Campbell said.
The admissions officers said the concentrated burst of contacts was good for business, and said they hoped they made a good enough impression that the students might follow up. Some said they would make the first move with a follow-up e-mail thanking them for the chat. Unlike dating, they weren't going to play games.
"Same process, with your true self," said Amanda Juriansz, assistant admissions director at College of the Holy Cross.
Peter Schworm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org