Admission: Not Impossible

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Over 6,700 prospective students, over 50 days of reading and deliberating files, over 115 inches of snow, and today Committee is OVER.  And what a Committee it was!  13 counselors with different backgrounds, different levels of admissions experience, and different recruitment regions all came together to help shape the Class of 2019.  We are so proud of our applicants this year–the pool included students from sea to shining sea, as well as Canada and Peru, the UK and Nepal, China and Egypt and India and several other countries.  It was so incredible to learn about students from all over the world, as they threw their hats in the ring for a chance to be part of our community.  I am so humbled to work in Admissions here at Holy Cross and get to be a part of this amazing process!

Students’ incredibly hard work certainly did not go unnoticed in this admission cycle.  We tapped our feet to drumming videos; smiled through scenes from plays like Shrek and Legally Blonde; felt shivers run down our spines during vocal performances; enjoyed stunning self-portraits, photographs, still-life paintings, and ceramic pottery; laughed at funny essays (and teared up at tender essays); and of course, we voted.  We chose students who we think challenged themselves in high school and will relish the academic rigors here on Mount Saint James.  We chose students who we believe will enhance our community with their wonderful talents, their varied interests, and their strong drive to not only better themselves but also better the lives of others.  And finally, we chose students who showed us their desire to study at a liberal arts college, and if they could, their desire to study at Holy Cross specifically.  Applicants showed us in all kinds of ways that they wanted to be Crusaders–by visiting campus, interviewing with an admissions counselor or an alumnus/alumna, writing to us, submitting their application response form, sending us supplemental materials, and/or attending a campus event.  Now that this part of the admission cycle is over, we look to the next step: helping admitted students choose Holy Cross!

I would like to end this post with my deepest congratulations to everyone who applied to the College this year.  You are all such incredible people with so much to offer, and it was an extraordinary experience to review your applications.  Working at a small liberal arts college, we had to make some hard decisions, and I wish that we could have taken more students–we saw so many well-qualified students in this pool.  While we could not offer a spot to everyone, we thank you all for applying and wish you all the best in your final semester of high school and in your future studies!

snow 2  Students walk to class past Beaven Hall during a cold winter day.


Tuesday, February 10th marked the first day of Committee, and it has been off to a great start!  From 9am to 4:30pm until the end of March, my counseling colleagues and I sit together in a room with the shades drawn and the projectors up to make application decisions.  While we drink coffee and eat pretzels, goldfish, fruit snacks, and Twizzlers (total brain food, right?), we look at each student’s application carefully to determine their potential fit at Holy Cross.  We also look at our master list of applicants for this admission cycle and study transcripts, essays, recommendations, test scores, art supplements, and any other admission item that may come our way.  Together, all of these materials help us see if whether or not a student would make a good addition to the College.


2015 has certainly been a great year for us so far–we received over 5,000 applications for about 750 spots!–and I have learned some things that I wanted to share with prospective students and their families:


1. Contact is so important!  We in the Admissions Office really do appreciate hearing from applicants, whether it’s during a visit to Mt. St. James or from a simple email. We want to admit students who want to be a part of the Crusader community, so please do reach out to us!

2. Please don’t hesitate to share your writing. Reading application essays is a treat for me and my colleagues.  When a student sends us an additional statement, selection of poems, article, or research paper, we get really excited!  Seeing multiple examples of an applicant’s writing is a great way to get a sense of the person as a student.  At Holy Cross, students are expected to do a lot of writing, so if we can see samples now we can make a more informed decision on that applicant.

3. Highschoolers today are incredible. I have read so many wonderful, funny, insightful, warm, thoughtful essays this year. I had looked over so many  extensive lists of school activities, service opportunities, trips abroad, professional internships and jobs, numerous awards, amazing athletic triumphs, and stellar performances.  Students give so much of their time to hone their crafts, to pursue their personal passions, and to give back to their communities.  Reading about their experiences has been wonderfully inspiring!


Stay warm, keep safe, and I look forward to offering more insight as we continue on in Committee!

I hope that as you read this you are safe and warm!  We now have a LOT of snow in New England, after what has seemed like months of a non-white winter.  Worcester got hit with a record-breaking 33.5 inches, and apparently more snow is on the way!

Since Holy Cross’ campus shut down on Tuesday, I read applications from home (and shoveled out my car as a reading break!).  As I worked through my virtual pile of files, I could not help but think about how students might be enjoying their day off–the main dining hall, campus center, libraries, and rec center all closed by 7pm on Monday and reopened on Wednesday.  With that in mind, what did students do on Tuesday?  I asked some of our social media interns to send me a picture and tell me how they spent their snow day on Mt. St. James (I believe it was the first in about 7 years!).  Here are their responses:

Natalie Correa, ’17: I spent the day catching up on homework and binge watching Netflix with my roommate!

Maddy Smith, ’17: Played in the snow for a little until I was told to go inside! Then watched a movie and had cocoa!

Mackenzie Horl, ’17: Upon waking up Wednesday morning, many ‘Saders could not wait to venture outside and see how much snow Mt. St. James had received. When the “shelter in place” was lifted….student put on their Bean boots and puffy winter coats to go…conquer the many hills around campus

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I love that the students stayed safe but still enjoyed the winter wonderland that the campus must have become!

Winter scenes 2014    Scenic Photos,

As of 1:54PM today, we have 34 hours, 5 minutes, and 21…20…19 seconds until 12:01AM on Thursday, January 15, 2015.  That means applicants have only a few more days to submit their applications to most colleges and universities, including the College of the Holy Cross!  We in the Office of Admissions are so excited for reading season because now is when we get to see applicants in their entirety: their essay(s), their transcripts, their letters of support…all of those pieces that have taken students, their families, and their teachers/coaches/supervisors so many months to put together.  We applaud you for your efforts and look forward to seeing the final result!

Looking for inspiration for this first post of 2015 I went back again to the blog archives and found some great advice from a former colleague that I would like to share with you here.  Without further ado, here are some words of wisdom from last January:

“The anxious tone of recent phone calls and e-mails has me wishing I could stand in front of each and every one of you to look you in the eye, ask you to take a deep breath, and remind you that it will all work out. And with this calmness comes a clear mind and keen eye, eliminating the chance for sloppy mistakes or rushed writing. Yes, every piece of the application is vitally important; however, if your mind is frantic from the stress of attaining perfection by a deadline, you can easily lose your footing as you try to put your best foot forward.  [So] take a walk in the brisk winter air. Eat dinner with your family and talk about something other than college applications. See a movie with your friends. Read a book for fun. Before you know it, the chaos inside your brain will settle, the stress will float away, and the final days before a deadline will feel much more manageable.”

I hope that you will take this advice to heart….I know that I will as I begin to think about all of the application files I need to read!

Another thing to mention: it is not too late to send us supplemental information!  If you would like to send us an additional essay, an update on your activities, or perhaps a paragraph or two on why you love Holy Cross, please do.  We may be reached at, and we would love to hear from you!

As my colleague tweeted earlier this month, 50 students will be spending part of their winter break visiting their former high schools as a way to help promote the College!  We in Admissions are so fortunate to have many great volunteers helping us.  Students serve as greeters in the waiting room talking to prospective students and their families; as tour guides trekking across campus with large groups of visitors; and now as ambassadors speaking to college counselors and students at their old high schools.  I wanted to share with you some of the responses that we received from students applying to participate in the admissions ambassador program.  On the maps below I have marked the ambassadors’ home states and countries!




- sophomore from Illinois: In just a few semesters, Holy Cross has challenged me academically and personally, pushing me to discover who I am, reflect upon what I want to be in the world, and search what I can do for those most in need. I have found on Mount St. James a tight-knit community and a supportive, warm environment.

sophomore from Minnesota: Not only has living on the East Coast…been a great learning and cultural experience, but I have also come to appreciate all of the aspects that make a Holy Cross education so worthwhile: small class sizes, diverse subjects, close relationships with professors, undergraduate research, and most importantly, a commitment to cultivating “men and women for and with others.”

- junior from Texas: Holy Cross has given me opportunities that I never imagined I would have. I will be studying abroad in Argentina in the spring, I participate in psychology research, I made m[y] own student organization, and I have met and dined with physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.

senior from Arkansas: I have loved living in a new part of the country, getting to travel around the Northeast, go to a college that has rigorous academics, play volleyball with my best friends while representing the college, and so much more.

junior from Georgia: Since coming to Holy Cross, I have risen through the ranks of The Crusader and will be one of the Co-Editor-in-Chiefs next semester. Also, I have strengthened my spiritual life while serving as the Communion Ministry Coordinator as well as participating in immersion trips. My love for biology has been strengthened through on-campus research investigating diabetes–the skills I acquired…helped me land an internship over the past summer…at Emory University Medical School.

senior from Washington: I have been exposed to many different fields in my studies, but all of these challenge you to develop your ability to reason, write, and express yourself.  Furthermore, my experience in the Washington Semester was invaluable.  Not only was I able to apply my classroom knowledge in a professional capacity at the State Department, but I was able to interact with policymakers, United States Senators, and Supreme Court Justices.

first-year from China: Because I am an international student and an ESL as well, I got extra help on my writing from professors and writer’s workshop. I felt like HC really cares about its students. In this semester, I met with my peer mentor…once a week, my advisor…twice a month,…and [my] class dean once a month. [They] not only cared about my life [at Holy Cross], but also they provided constructive suggestions.

sophomore from Japan: During classes which revolved heavily around student and faculty discussions, from my psych class to even class about Buddhism, there were plenty moments where I was able to offer an unique set of perspectives, just because I grew up in a completely different kind of society with differing tradition, values, and identity. I strongly believe that with the rise of transparency and globalization, willingness to suspend your ideology and values while trying to understand the complete opposite of it is an important skill to have…My time at Holy Cross has been a wonderful one so far, and I’m very proud to be here.

In thinking about what to write for the blog this week, I looked for inspiration in our blog archives (which, if you have not checked out yet, is a treasure trove of interesting stories and helpful admission tips!).  I came across a post that one of my colleagues, Lynn, wrote about our annual holiday card and important deadlines.  I couldn’t help but smile: five years later I find myself in the same spot!  I am helping with the office’s annual holiday card this year, which seems to be a similar process to what Lynn described back in 2009.  We’ve been working hard to find a time that works for everyone in Admissions; choose a festive, picturesque spot for the shoot (which is hard because we have a lot of great options! For examples, please see our photo blog, our YouTube page, and our Instagram account.); arrange for one of the campus photographers to capture a fun shot of us; and gather the list of recipients for the card.  I look forward to the finished product!

Reading Lynn’s post made me happy because it reminded me of the cyclical nature of admissions, which is just one of the aspects of my job that I love!  Her post also reminded me that we are now at the point in the year when we are thinking about deadlines:

– our Early Decision deadline is this Monday, December 15th

– our last on-campus interview date is next Friday, December 19th

– our last tour is at the end of the month on Tuesday, December 30th at 3pm

– our Regular Decision deadline is Thursday, January 15th!

I hope this helps you as you plan your end-of-the-year activities and cross items off of your to-do list.  Be safe, keep warm, and good luck!

Oh, and if you would like to see some of the holiday photos from years past, here are the ones I could find:








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Today feels like an important day.  It is Monday, which marks the beginning of a new week: new to-do lists to make, new appointments and meetings to attend, new weekly goals to set.  It is also the first day of December, which means only two weeks left until the Early Decision pool is closed (on December 15!).  Fall seems to be wrapping up for the year, and winter approaches.  With the new season comes more application reading, more decision-making, and more future Crusaders!

During this time of year, our office fields a lot of calls about applications, and I thought that it might be helpful to address some students’ and families’ questions here.  Below are my thoughts on what to know:

1. We offer some helpful application tips here.  When it comes to applications, every material a student sends us is reviewed and every application is read by two different counselors (we try to read by region).  Our staff collectively looks at each file during committee and every staff member’s opinion matters in the final vote.

2. The high school transcript is the most important item in the student’s file.  We contextualize each student within their high school and note the various course offerings and the individual student’s level of rigor at their particular school.  Students at Holy Cross will be challenged academically, so we admit students who have pushed themselves in high school (whether that’s taking honors, accelerated, AP, or IB classes).  Senior grades are important, but we do look at the overall high school performance.

3. The essay is, for many readers, the favorite part of the application.  We read about all kinds of high and lows in school, such as adventures abroad in new and exciting destinations, or setbacks and how students bounce back from disappointment.  Although it is only a few paragraphs, the essay is completely under the control of the student and an opportunity to speak directly to college counselors.  For those students who have not written their essay yet (not to worry, you still have plenty of time!), please keep this in mind and try to think of a creative way to tell the reader an interesting personal story.

4.  We do track student interaction.  By this I mean that we add emails to students’ files, we look at whether or not the student has visited campus for a tour or stopped by a college fair to say hello, and we highly recommend interviews.  The Office will be closed December 24 through 26, and on December 31 and January 1, but please do come in sometime this month if you are able!

Have a fantastic week, and please do feel free to contact us if you have any questions. We look forward to hearing from you!

(photos by Xiaofeng Wan)

A few weeks ago, I asked a current student to send me her story about applying ED.  She wrote a lovely response that I wanted to share with you here:

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Two years ago, I was in a place of incredible uncertainty regarding where I would attend college. In February of my junior year, I came to Holy Cross for an information session and tour.  Holy Cross was the first campus that I visited, and I was unsure of what I was looking for in a college.  After just a short visit to Holy Cross, however, I knew it was where I wanted to be. Despite all of my previous uncertainty, I felt a tangible sense of community on the Hill: students said “Hi!” to each other on their way to class, spent their free time volunteering in Worcester and other parts of the world, and supported each other in an academically rigorous environment.  It was not just the beautiful campus (although that certainly did not hurt!); I felt drawn to the personal connections and the dynamic community.  That is what made Holy Cross so exciting.

When I became a high school senior, I knew Holy Cross was the college that I wanted to attend. Because I was so sure, I applied Early Decision to Holy Cross.  Early Decision seemed very attractive to me; if accepted, I would know where I was going by the end of that fall.  ED is, however, a huge commitment. If you know Holy Cross is the school for you, then go for it! That being said, do not feel obligated to apply ED, as it is a decision for which one has to be ready. It was the right decision for me, but it is not the right decision for all.

About a month after I had submitted my application, I was deep into an American Government paper when I heard my phone ring.  The caller introduced herself as a Holy Cross Admissions counselor, and I immediately worried that I had forgotten something on my application. Before I had the chance to react, the Admissions counselor told me I had been accepted to the Class of 2017!  My initial confusion switched to happiness, delight, and pride.  I excitedly thanked the woman on the phone a million times, and then called my family and friends to share the great news. It is a moment I will never forget.

Despite my elation, it is important to recognize how applying Early Decision impacted the rest of my senior year. Although I enrolled in Holy Cross in late December, and I felt relieved of a tremendous amount of stress regarding my college choice, I did not let this affect my academics. If anything, it inspired me to continue to prove that I belonged at Holy Cross.  With that I worked to finish my senior year on a high note.  If you are accepted ED, please do not let “senioritis,” “the senior slump,” or whatever you may call the lack of focus during senior year of high school get to you!

On the back of the Sader Nation T-shirts for the Class of 2018 reads the following quote, “From this point on, there is no turning back, no copping-out.” Spoken during the 1970 Commencement by Father Swords, the President of the College, these words symbolize the commitment I made to Holy Cross and my personal growth when I chose to enroll here.  Never do I regret my decision to come to Holy Cross, and I believe that if you make the same commitment I did, neither will you.


(photos of Meghan by the Web Communications Team, photos of campus by Xiaofeng Wan)

fenwick              xwan

by Sarah Gale

I received today my first email from a parent, and I must say, it made me smile.  Working in admissions, counselors often get phone calls and emails from parents about the admission process, facts and figures on the College, safety on campus and in Worcester, career services, and residence life.  One of my colleagues, in fact, wrote a post about the role of parents back in 2013.  For me, getting a note from an excited parent is really one of the highlights of my job (along with receiving notes from excited students, reading thoughtful and thought-provoking application essays, seeing the familiar faces of prospective students at multiple events both near and far, discussing admission decisions with my colleagues, enjoying fantastic campus programs and savoring free food on campus…I could continue!).

As hard as we work in the Admissions office to recruit future Crusaders, and as hard as students work to finish their applications, I would also like to recognize the support of families in this process.  Parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles, and cousins can all play a role in a students’ college application process.  Family members take prospective students to campuses for seemingly countless tours, information sessions, interviews, and Open Houses (shameless plug here, our last one of 2014 is this Sunday!).  They save the glossy college brochures and place them on the refrigerator next to old art masterpieces, recipe ideas, and cut-out news articles.  They look over numerous drafts of personal statements and help their students decide which teacher to ask for their recommendation letter.  They reach out to anyone in their own community who may have attended the student’s college of interest or know someone who did.  The parents and other family members of students are their cheerleaders, their counsel, and their source of strength.  Getting the opportunity to see such incredible examples of that kind of support in my work here at Holy Cross is a wonderful reminder of how important family is.

So I want to say thank you.  Thank you to the families for bolstering your students throughout this process.  Thank you for supporting them, for driving them (and arranging for planes and trains if necessary), for reading over their work a hundredth time, for reminding them that their off-campus interview is at 6pm, for bouncing off essay topics in the car, and for guiding them through a process that may at times feel overwhelming, complex, and nerve-wracking.  We are so excited about the students who apply and enroll here, and we know it is in large part to your help!

(photos by Sarah Gale and Xioafeng Wan)


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It’s almost mid-November.  Halloween has come and gone, and now thoughts have shifted to Thanksgiving recipes, holiday gifts, and, of course, Early Decision!  I mentioned in my last post that the office is just beginning our reading season for the 2014-2015 cycle.  After going through application review training, I am very excited to sink my teeth into applicants’ files!

A part of some of these files includes SAT or ACT scores.  The question around whether or not to send standardized test scores often arises in admissions.  At the College of the Holy Cross, test scores are not required for students, with the exception of the TOEFL and IELTS for non-native English speakers or students who have spent less that four years taking classes in English (for more on the TOEFL and IELTS, please go here).

So if you do not have to send your scores, should you?  Why would you?  In a blog post from November 2008, our Director of Admissions, Ann McDermott, wrote that “if you feel your testing says something about you and your abilities, feel free to send them along. We will look at them in conjunction with your transcript, your recommendations, essay, and interview (if you have had one) and make our assessment.  If, on the other hand, you feel that your test scores do not represent you well, then do not hesitate to withhold them. We will not make any assumptions about your testing, and will focus our attention on your transcript and the other accompanying credentials that are contained in your application.”

In other words, we at the College of the Holy Cross are test optional because we have found that a student’s academic history in high school is a better indicator of their scholastic ability than an exam taken on a singular Saturday morning (or taken on a few Saturday mornings).  Please go here for more about our policy regarding testing.

P.S. For more admission information, as well as updates from current students, please check out our Twitter and Facebook pages!

(photos by Xiaofeng Wan)

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