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Strange Days

Posted by on Friday, March 27, 2020 in Admissions Life, General Information, Vandy Bloggers.

The leaders of our office, John Gaines and Doug Christiansen, recently sent the following message to our partners in the college admissions process, your high school counselors. We want students and parents to be able to read it too, so we’re posting it here:


The chorus of the John Lennon song “Nobody Told Me” (Google it!) includes the refrain:

Nobody told me there’d be days like these, strange days indeed, strange days indeed.

But even a talented bard like Lennon would’ve had trouble predicting the strange days we currently find ourselves living.

As higher education professionals dedicating our careers to helping students in the high school-to-college transition, we are, indeed, in strange days. The conventions we’ve created and honored for years are suddenly changing, shifting under our feet, and evolving as we each deal with the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic in our schools, our communities, and even in our own families.

So, while these strange days may have us questioning, adjusting, and even scrapping time-honored traditions and ways of business, please know that – in admissions at Vanderbilt – the following values remain true:

1. Context matters. There’s no doubt that high school transcripts for this year’s and future year’s applicants will look different. There will be pass/fail grades where there once were As and Bs. There will be tests untaken, chances to improve foregone, and letters of recommendation truncated. But as it always has been at Vanderbilt, context dictates how we read files. And in unprecedented times, context will take on unprecedented importance. You have our pledge that as this crisis evolves, so too will our use of context in the admissions process. But it will never relinquish its central place in our evaluation of the files of your students. Holism has, and will remain, the byword of our admissions process.

2. Community matters. Never has this been made more apparent than in the last two weeks as we watched our students leave campus, fail to return from spring break, or be placed in lockdown in their hometowns. Vanderbilt’s commitment to the ideals of residential education remains strong and undiminished. What this means in an era of pandemic remains to be seen. Just as you are finding ways to build community virtually, so is Vanderbilt. As it relates to the college search, this means new (and exciting) online technologies are being employed – stretching us beyond our comfort zones and forcing us to become as adept with technology as the digital natives we seek to attract to campus.

3. Involvement matters. Sure – your applicant’s extracurricular charts will look different in coming years. No future applicant will have had the lead in the school musical in spring 2020. No one will be regional tennis champ in spring 2020; no one will have won an election for junior class officer in spring 2020. But that doesn’t mean they won’t be making impacts in the new environment. Some applicants will actually have time to play music, create, read for pleasure, or develop new and interesting hobbies. Some will find themselves with increasing family responsibilities or the need to undertake a part-time job. Regardless of the circumstances your students find themselves in, we’ll understand. It all goes back to context. How future applicants cope with this period of pandemic will certainly be a topic on which we will read many essays in the coming years. Reassure your students that we get it. We understand. And we can’t expect extracurricular activities grids to look the same in the near future.

4. Connection matters. In this increasingly complex and ever-evolving crisis, our commitment to be available to you and your students is as strong as ever. Through email, phone, and video conferencing, we pledge to serve you with as much vigor as we ever have. Though our team is currently working remotely, you should feel free to call or email us if you have questions about our process. Encourage your student – and yes, even their parents – to call or email. We’ll give every answer we can, and if we don’t know the answer because of the constantly changing coronavirus landscape, we’ll seek it out or tell you we simply don’t know right now.

And finally,

5. We are all in this together. And that’s the irony of the current social distancing we are all practicing. Even in our physical separation, we are all connected – globally – by this unprecedented health crisis. And like all folks in isolation, we find ourselves taking stock, assessing our place, and figuring out a new way to move forward – for ourselves and for our students. This must be as true for you as it is for Vanderbilt. We are all looking for different ways to connect and to be as productive as we’ve been accustomed to being.

We look forward to a time when we can again welcome your students to campus, visit your schools, and attend conferences with you. In the meantime, we hope you’ll stay safe, wash your hands, and listen to some good jams. Lennon’s a great place to start!

John & Doug

John O. Gaines
Director of Undergraduate Admissions
Douglas L. Christiansen
Dean of Admissions

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