Thirty years ago, I stepped onto the Princeton campus a first-generation college student from a small town, intent on pursuing a degree in politics and applying to law school. I had a plan—one that was tangible and would land me in an occupation that everyone knew about.
Well, I followed through on the degree in politics. But somewhere along the road to constitutional law and torts, I realized that education and, more specifically, access to education was what truly interested me. I traded the LSAT for the GRE and enrolled in a graduate program that was a much better fit.
Most people who work in college admissions will tell you that it wasn’t their childhood dream. I’ve already noted it wasn’t mine. However, those of us who commit to the work usually come to realize that it is, in fact, our dream job. For me, being an admission professional allows me to do the work that I love—talk with people, introduce opportunities, dispel myths about how decisions are made and help build an intentional community for a college campus. The fact that I get to do this work at the place that formed me into a young adult and helped shape my ideas makes it that much sweeter.
Tonight, we will release the early action decisions for the Class of 2024—my first group of applicant decisions as Princeton’s dean of admission. During the past few weeks, my team and I have read and discussed the attributes that various students would bring to campus. I am humbled by the talent that exists in this applicant pool. There is no dearth of merit—that is, the ability to take what one learns here at Princeton and apply it to make a difference in the world. In fact, there is an abundance of merit of all types in the pool, which is what makes the decision-making difficult for our team and the process stressful for students, their families and their counselors. And recent developments involving admission to college takes the stress to an entirely new level.
I hope that no matter what your reason for being on the Princeton admission site (or reading this blog) you will note one important take away: Our job is to learn about our applicants. We do this not just through their transcripts and test scores, but also through their essays, recommendation letters and how they spend their time outside of class. Though academic performance is important, many intangible pieces of “merit” contribute to the academic and social fabric of the University. We look for creativity, a willingness to hear differing opinions, the ability to take risks, and evidence of a desire to work with others, among many other things.
My goal is to continue to use this space as an opportunity to provide some insight into the work that we do. Perhaps you will find that Princeton is a place that you want to learn more about. (In which case, I recommend you start here on the student blog.) Even if that is not the case, I hope that we can help make the admission process a little more transparent and just a little less scary.
Editor’s Note: A story about the newly admitted Class of 2024 will be available tonight at 7 p.m. EST on Princeton’s homepage. To read future posts by Dean Richardson, Class of 1993, select “From the Dean” category on our blog homepage.