The Calm Before the Storm

Now, all that’s left to do is to wait.

All the decisions have been made on first year applications and the decision letters will be released through the mail in 24 hours.  For the first time in 180 days, there are no transcripts waiting to be evaluated, no essays waiting to be read and no applications waiting for a vote by the committee.  The silence is eerie.

Like bakers who arrive in the middle of night, for the past six weeks, we’ve been doing all our work in private – very precise measuring, some skillful adding, delicate mixing, artful shaping and now, waiting.

To those students who will receive disappointing news from us, know that we appreciate your interest in Holy Cross and that we take our decision making responsibility very seriously.  It is the most important and the most difficult part of our job.

To those students who will receive good news in the mail from us – congratulations.   You’ve impressed us with your record as committed students, passionate volunteers, standout athletes and even better people.  You’ll be faced with a decision soon – we hope you’ll come visit.  We’ll be waiting for you.

Andrew N. Carter
Associate Director of Admissions

Copernican Principle

Until Copernicus and Galileo proved differently in the 1500’s, the Earth was believed to hold a special place at the center of the universe.  But then through research and scientific calculations, it was proven to be, in the words of the PBS show Nova, a “tiny speck in an unremarkable location.”  Scientists call this the Copernican Principle.

When you work in college admissions, it is easy to stay within your own bubble and to think that your own school is the center of the universe.

But, the truth is, there is (or should be) a Copernican Principle of college admissions.

Here at Holy Cross, we are but one school out of thousands in this country – one star in a nighttime sky full of stars that all shine in unique ways.  And while anyone who has taken our campus tour and navigated all of our stairs knows full well that this is not an “unremarkable location,” we do think it’s important to keep perspective in this process.

You’re torn between so many good options for college?  Of course – we understand.

Holy Cross is your favorite school?  Great – we’re glad you think so.

You found another school that matches you better?  Wonderful – we support you.

Our staff of thirteen admissions counselors believes wholeheartedly in this place, our mission and our students.  We wear purple and we make it look good.

But, at the same time, we understand that there are so many other wonderful colleges and universities out there and we invite you, we encourage you to explore and research and do the necessary legwork until you find your tiny speck, your star, your home for the next four years.

Andrew N. Carter
Associate Director of Admissions

Holy Cross Greets Students With Open Arms

For the first time in awhile, I was on campus for freshmen move-in day.

It is quite a sight to behold — car after car arrives and a swarm of current students, faculty and staff greet the freshmen and their families and immediately take all of their belongings up to their rooms.   As you can see in the video, it is a tradition for current students to greet the freshmen with the same open arms with which they were greeted when they first arrived on campus for their first day.

If this is a tradition that repeats itself year after year, then someone had to be the first to experience this ritual.  This got me to thinking about Holy Cross alum James Healy and his first day on campus — most likely he was filled with a blend of nervousness and excitement just like this year’s freshmen.

But there must have been a special anxiety to his first journey to campus.  James was born in Georgia in 1830, the son of an Irish immigrant plantation owner and a female slave.  At the time, Georgia law dictated that a child of this type of union was a slave.  But James would go on to become the very first valedictorian at Holy Cross in 1849, the first African-American Roman Catholic priest and the country’s first African-American Catholic bishop.

What must it have been like when he first arrived Holy Cross?

I can imagine what he saw – the lush, green hillside of Mount Saint James, the babbling brook at its base, the seven hills of Worcester and their inspirational vistas.

But I can’t imagine how he felt.   I do know that he was welcomed with the same open arms that this year’s freshmen were and perhaps then, a tradition began.

Andrew N. Carter
Associate Director of Admissions

When Writing your College Essay, How Much Proofreading is Too Much?

It has been said that the Shakers deliberately introduced a tiny mistake into everything they made.

Why would they do this?  As furniture-makers, they were renowned for the integrity of their work and the excellence and precision of their craftsmanship.

The answer is that they did this to illustrate that man should not aspire to perfection – that perfection belonged only to God.

I’m no Shaker and, truth be told, I think perfection can be found in the first bite of a well-made maple-frosted doughnut; but I do think there’s an important lesson to be learned and perhaps even applied to the writing of the college application essay.

Applicants and those advising applicants place too much emphasis upon proofreading.  Now, I’m not here to suggest that proofreading isn’t important and valuable — but I think that by placing so much emphasis upon proofreading, we send students the message that their only goal is to produce a perfect essay.  In pursuit of this perfection, students often shy away from a riskier but perhaps more rewarding writing style.

In college admissions, the reality is this — every year, there are applicants who forget a comma or misspell a word in their essay yet still gain admission to their dream school; and every year there are applicants who submit flawless essays but are still not admitted.

We’ve just recently seen this example played out in the Olympics.  Gabby Douglas won the all-around gold medal for women’s gymnastics not because her routines were flawless (which they weren’t) but because she took chances and because her performances were inspired.

Leave behind the obsession of your essay being immaculate and take some chances – you just might stick the landing.

Andrew N. Carter
Associate Director of Admissions

Why Holy Cross? The People.

When no one is watching, in the dim early morning light, employees scurry around this campus like parents on Christmas Eve.

Some are planting perfectly placed impatiens on Linden Lane while others apply the final glaze to the decadent chocolate doughnuts in Kimball Dining Hall.  Other times of the year they might be sanding and salting sidewalks in front of Dinand Library or delicately seasoning the clam chowder at Crossroads.  Perhaps my favorite would be this – on mild spring mornings, as the sun rises and warms O’Kane Hall, I look out the window of my office and see one veteran school employee turn on the fountain in Memorial Plaza so that when students parade to class an hour or two later, they might be soothed by the sound of the bubbling water and tempted just for a minute to test the temperature with their hand.

No matter the time of year, each and every day, while students sleep, there are literally hundreds of people preparing this campus and this school just for them.  I’m often asked what my single favorite thing about Holy Cross is and I know for a fact that I’ve given more than just one answer to that question.  But if someone asked me today, I’d say this: my favorite thing about Holy Cross is the people – those employees who care enough to make sure the flowers are perfectly aligned and those curious students who stop just for a moment to run their hand through the warm water of the fountain and appreciate where they go to school.

Andrew N. Carter
Associate Director of Admissions

The Invisible Gorilla

Many people have seen the well-known “Invisible Gorilla” experiment on YouTube.  Viewers are instructed to watch a short video clip with two groups of people – some wearing black shirts and others wearing white shirts.  Both groups of people move around in a seemingly random, jumbled fashion and the challenge for the viewer is to count how many times the participants wearing white pass the basketball. 

The answer is fifteen.  But that’s not the point. 

The point is that in the middle of the clip, a person wearing a gorilla suit enters the frame and most viewers are paying such close attention to counting the passes that they simply don’t even see the gorilla.  It’s a wonderful study in “looking without seeing” or how our focused attention can cause us to miss obvious realities that are staring us in the face (and pounding their chest).

While traveling this fall to meet with students, I’ve heard the following statement several times:

“I love that college – the tour guide was awesome!”

When I hear that, I think to myself – they missed the gorilla.

Taking an official campus tour is a valuable part of the campus visit.  But, when walking the campus, you should not only pay attention to the tour guide, but also to all the information you can gleam from your observations of the campus, the environment, the students, faculty and staff that you may notice during your tour. 

During your college search, tour guides (and even admissions counselors like me) can help relay important information about a college but we are merely basketball-passing conduits.  It’s only when you slow down on your visit and take the time to notice all that’s around you that you’ll see the gorilla and gain true insight into how that college might fit for you.

Andrew N. Carter
Associate Director of Admissions

How to Choose the School for You

For high school seniors, April is the month for decisions. Once acceptance letters have been received, students spend time on college campuses, taking and re-taking tours, sitting in on classes and doing their best to find differences amongst schools that have so much in common. Some students will ask their friends or look for insight from social networking websites.

So how should they decide? What’s the best way for a student to decide amongst more than one quality choice? Conduct a poll on Facebook? Conduct a poll at the dinner table? Conduct an imaginary battle between mascots?

The answer is in the dressing room.

When we’re shopping for clothes, we all have that moment just after we’ve buttoned up a pair of pants – we take stock, we look in the mirror and we make a gut decision based upon how those pants fit us, how they suit us and how they feel.

And when we emerge from the dressing room and find family or friend waiting for us, they are sure to ask that one-word question — “Well?”

Buying pants, in that way, is similar to choosing a college. There are so many places and people to whom we can go for information or opinions. But what matters most is how a college feels to a student and what their gut is telling them.

So to all those students destined to wrestle between two or more quality choices, I encourage you to leave the websites and on-line polls behind and take a moment in the “dressing room” by yourself – go with your gut and choose the college which fits you the best.

Andrew N. Carter
Associate Director of Admissions

Happy Deadline Day!

I’ve just stepped away from all the Deadline Day festivities here in the Admissions Office at Holy Cross (sorry for all the noise) so I’m going to make this entry brief. I have to rush back to the party as the Deadline Day piñata is just about to get smashed. If I don’t get there in time, everyone else will gather up all the AP Bio’s and captains of mock trial before I get any.

For the most part, our Deadline Day celebrations are probably much like the ones that you’ve had your entire life – we show up to the office in our jammies, sprint around the file room looking to see what the Deadline Day elves have left us while we’ve been sleeping. It really is quite a thrill.

But, more importantly, Deadline Day reminds us that we’ve got a big job ahead – logging all these applications and documents into the computer system, reading them and then voting a decision. Tough work, indeed, but one we’ve been looking forward to all fall.

Oh, wait, I’ve got to run. I can hear the rest of my co-workers beginning to sing my favorite Deadline Day carol – O Deadline Day. Will you sing it with me? (remember, it’s sung to the tune, O Christmas Tree . . . or O Holy Cross, whichever you like)

O Deadline Day! O Deadline Day!

More a postmark than an actual day.

O Deadline Day! O Deadline Day!

PC, Mac or handwritten.

From near and far students submit

Letters of rec and transcripts.

O Deadline Day! O Deadline Day!

Reading them all to find a fit.

Andrew N Carter
Associate Director of Admissions

I Read My First Application Today

I read my first application today.

I de-constructed the transcript.  I read, evaluated and summarized the recommendations.  I read through the interview evaluation.  I summarized the extra-curricular activities.

And then I got to the essay.

It was at that point that I turned the calculator off; I pushed my laptop to the side.  I minimized the spreadsheet and put my pencil down.

I sat back in my chair and I read.

Up until that point, I’d been evaluating data and building a composite of who this student is, using a collection of sources, mainly other people’s voices.  The essay was my first chance to hear the student’s voice.    I was making a painting of the student and all of a sudden, the paintbrush was in the student’s hand.

Suddenly, the rest of the file made sense.  Suddenly, I had a sense of who this student is.   Suddenly, it was time to pick up the pencil, turn on the calculator and move on to the next application.

Andrew N. Carter
Associate Director of Admissions

Most Frequently Asked Questions from the Road

The last few weeks have been exciting and rewarding as all of us in the Admissions Office have been traveling the country, meeting with students in their hometowns and in their high schools.  After traveling for a few days, it becomes apparent that many students tend to ask the same questions in town after town.  Here below are the most frequently asked questions with my answers.

  1. 1. “Is ___ a good topic for my essay?”

Yes — if that’s the topic you’ve selected.  No – if someone else told you to write about it.

2. “Are interviews required at Holy Cross?”

No, but they are strongly recommended.  For more information regarding interviews, click here.

3.What’s that on your shirt?

Ketchup.  Or salsa.  Or both.

4. “Do you offer Early Action?”

No.  But we do offer Early Decision.  For more information, see here:

5. “What’s your single favorite thing about Holy Cross?”

The people.  The food.  The Jesuit mission.  The Admissions Office.  Worcester.

6. “Isn’t that more than one?”


7. “Should I submit my SAT scores?”

That’s a great conversation to have with your guidance counselor but know this – in our review process, we are going to focus on your accomplishments over the course of four years, not four hours on a Saturday morning.

Thanks to all those who have come out to meet with us on the road this fall.  If you still have more questions or just want to learn more, we hope you’ll be able to attend one of our two Fall Open House events.  For more details, see here.