North Central College - Naperville, IL

How do you become more selective, without becoming more exclusive?

“Could I get into North Central College today?”

Reading the newspaper stories this spring about the record percentage of turn-downs at the Ivy League schools — and aware that North Central is experiencing a 15 percent increase in applications over last year’s pace, which was already a record — I am hearing this question more and more frequently from alumni.

As our applicant pool grows, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Marty Sauer has an interesting challenge. How do you become more “selective,” without becoming more “exclusive”?

Some schools define selectivity almost solely by the test scores and class rank of entering students. In determining a freshman class, we think a little differently. Our goal is to find the ideal mix of young men and women to take maximum advantage of, and make the greatest contribution to, the College’s unique learning environment.

Harvard University Professor Howard Gardner is well known for his theory of multiple intelligences. A few of the categories he has identified, such as “linguistic” and “logical-mathematical,” relate directly to what is measured by ACT and SAT tests — the scores sometimes used by colleges to show how selective they are. But what about other kinds of intelligence Gardner has described, such as “musical” and “bodily-kinesthetic” (athletic) and “interpersonal”? At North Central, these (and other) intelligences are also an important part of the excellence we look for when we recruit new students.

We want an entering class that is diverse not only in ethnicity and background but also in the mix of capabilities and qualities of excellence students bring to the campus community. To be sure, we always want — and need — some future brain surgeons. But if every student were a potential brain surgeon, we would be a very different institution … and not necessarily a better one.

The trick in admissions is to match what North Central does best with the students who can take best advantage of what we do. We want — and need — to keep expanding the pool of applicants. We want to be — and are becoming — more selective. But we don’t want to become more exclusive. As the pool of applicants grows, we need the sensitivity to select not just diamonds, but diamonds-in-the-rough … that is, to create future alumni success stories just like the successful alumni who wonder if they would be admitted to today’s North Central.

So the short answer to the question I began with is “yes” (if we’re doing our job right). As was stated at a recent meeting of the admission staff:  “We want to keep raising the bar, but never bar those who want to rise!”

Harold R. Wilde

North Central Now, June 2006