Thursday, September 18, 2014
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Bryn Mawr College admissions officers weigh in on Tina Fey movie

Bryn Mawr College admissions officers went as a group to see the new movie, "Admission." Check out what they had to say.

Bryn Mawr College admissions officers weigh in on Tina Fey movie

This film image released by Focus Features shows Tina Fey, left, and Paul Rudd in a scene from "Admission." (AP Photo/Focus Features, David Lee)
This film image released by Focus Features shows Tina Fey, left, and Paul Rudd in a scene from "Admission." (AP Photo/Focus Features, David Lee)

UPDATE: Temple University's director of undergraduate admissions, Karin Mormando,  offers a comment on "Admission" movie.

"What I like about 'Admission' was that it captured that sense of advocacy — albeit in an exaggerated, Hollywood way — both on the part of admissions officers, who advocate on behalf of the students they want to admit, and on the part of the high school counselors, who advocate for their students to help them find the best fit. That advocacy is a big part of why I like my job. You meet families at open house, you advocate for them, and then if you're lucky, you get to see them again on move-in day.

"What was disheartening about the movie was when the counselor didn't get the response she wanted about her son, she snuck into the computer and changed the decision. That made my heart sink. That's not how an admissions officer works. That was disappointing. We would never do that."

From Princeton: The university acknowledged that its dean of admission, Janet Lavin Rapelye, briefly appears in the movie, but noted through a spokesman: "We do not have an additional reaction to contribute to the story."

Earlier: Still amidst the frenzy of the college entrance season, the admissions team at Bryn Mawr College took a break Wednesday night to go as a team to see the movie about their profession, starring Tina Fey.

They generally liked “Admission” in which Fey plays an admissions officer at Princeton, but thought that some of it was far from real life in a college admissions office.

“Too exaggerated. Way too exaggerated,” said Nate Hall, former admissions officer, now assistant director of college counseling at the private Baldwin School. “I don’t think we have relationships like that between the counselors and the admissions office.”

In the movie, Fey gets involved with the head of an experimental school, who is trying to get a student into the Ivy League Princeton.

“I definitely don’t go out and hold umbrellas for admissions officers that come visit me,” said Hall, who has seen the process from both sides - as a college admission counselor and now a high school college counseling director.

Bryn Mawr, a women’s college and part of the elite Seven Sisters, offered admission to 1,057 students for fall 2013, about 39 percent of applicants. Decisions were announced online last week and packages were mailed out Monday. The college, which has 10 admissions officers, saw a 3 percent increase in applications this year.

Madeline Birkner, admissions fellow at Bryn Mawr, was struck by how “mean and hostile” some of the Princeton admissions directors were toward parents and students.

“Nobody’s that hostile. You want people to come to your college,” she said.

Laurie M. Koehler, dean of admissions and interim dean of enrollment, agreed. She also used to work at Cornell, another Ivy.

“We know folks at Ivies. Folks care about students. I felt like it didn’t paint an accurate picture about why folks get into this field,” she said, however, noting that Fey’s character offered that perspective.

And the part where Fey risks and ultimately loses her job to unethically help a student also rang hollow, they said.

“Would anybody here jeopardize your job for a student?” said senior assistant director of admissions Kimberley Lewis to the nearly dozen colleagues who joined her at the film.

There was a resounding no.

But there were parts of the movie that seemed very real.

“The part where you get really passionate about a student was accurate,” said Liz Jacobs, an admissions fellow. “I definitely think I teared up a little bit after reading an application because it was so powerful.”

Koehler noted that, indeed as the movie depicted, there are cases of students with extreme attributes - often known in admissions as “the hooks” - who get attention from a committee.

“It sounded really hyperbolic, but it’s not,” she said. “It’s all those crazy hooks. At the very end, we can keep five of these. Do we keep every unique remarkable story you can come up with?”

The movie also had some of the dialogue down right - “Right fit.” “Show your passion.” “Be yourself.” The scene where the admissions committee makes final decisions also rang true, the staff members said.

“In committee, you have to present quickly,” Lewis said.

Sheila Gillin, assistant director of admissions, said she was happy that people can see a movie that gives a glimpse into the highly competitive admissions world.

“I think it’s great to show people what it’s really like to give them an understanding of what we do. Yeah, there were things that were really off, but there are ones (applicants) we fight for, for sure,” she said.

I will be asking for comments from admissions officers at other area colleges who saw the movie. So check back later today.

Susan Snyder
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CampusInq provides higher education news about colleges and universities throughout the Philadelphia region and beyond. Look here for breaking news stories, features and newsy nuggets that might or might not appear in the print version of the Inquirer.

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