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The Bruno Brief: a glimpse behind the scenes of Brown admissions

In this week’s episode of The Bruno Brief, we peel back the curtain on Brown admissions during the COVID-19 pandemic. We talk to Senior Staff Writer Will Kubzansky, who spoke with two University admissions committees about how life has changed during a year of unprecedented applicant numbers and a public health crisis. 



Subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or listen via the RSS feed, and send us tips and feedback for the next episode: herald@browndailyherald.com. The Bruno Brief is produced in partnership with WBRU.

Ben Glickman 

I'm Ben Glickman, and you're listening to The Bruno Brief, from The Brown Daily Herald and WBRU. Each week, we take you inside one of The Brown Daily Herald's top stories. By April 6, 46,000 prospective Brown students must be sorted into one of three categories: rejected, waitlisted or, for the lucky few, accepted. Behind these 46,000 decisions are just 20 admissions officers. This week, Senior Staff Writer Will Kubzansky gives us a rare glimpse into their lives during the pandemic. Will, thank you so much for talking with us.

Will Kubzansky 

Of course, glad to be here.

Ben Glickman 

Can you tell us about what the normal, pre-pandemic day of an admissions officer looks like?

Will Kubzansky 

For sure. So, the admissions process is sliced up into a couple separate parts, the same way it is for applicants. So in the fall, if you're an admissions officer, you're going to be crisscrossing the country. Every admissions officer has a specific part of the country that they read for. For one of the officers I talked to, that was West Los Angeles, some parts of Manhattan, Hong Kong and Singapore. So you're going to high schools, talking to prospective applicants (and) making the case (to attend the school). In the part of the year when the applications come in, when applicants hit that big Submit button on the Common Application, then that starts what's called a reading season, where admission officers are going through applications, reading essays, looking at transcripts, standardized test scores, marking up applicants and deciding “who are the applicants that we're going to take to a committee meeting,” which is the next part of the process. And that is effectively when they bring in the applications of the applicants they like the most, and they vote as a group. So it's very different month-to-month. 

Ben Glickman 

So it sort of sounds like it involves a lot of meeting with people, a lot of traveling, all stuff that can't really happen right now.

Will Kubzansky 

Yeah, for sure. The one exception is the reading process, where normally you actually can do that from home. But yeah, most of the time as an admissions officer, you are talking to prospective applicants in person, you are meeting with your colleagues in person.

Ben Glickman 

So, tell us about how this year's admissions process and this whole month-to-month affair that you told us about is different.

Will Kubzansky 

So I met with the admissions committee. We were in a Zoom together. I was just sort of talking to them about their lives, collectively. Admissions officers, like everyone else, are at home all the time. That means that high school visits took place over Zoom. That meant that the large information sessions that normally bring hundreds or thousands of students into an auditorium, those also took place over Zoom.

Ben Glickman 

Here is admissions officer Katrina Souder.

Katrina Souder 

I had 2,000 students and their families from Manhattan in my living room. Usually in admissions, you would never see your admission officers choice of paintings or wall art.

Will Kubzansky 

You also have the lack of standardized tests this year. And then, most notably this year, there was a massive uptick in applicants. We saw almost 10,000 more applicants than we did last year. And then compared to the class of 2023, which was the previous record, at least 8,000 more.

Ben Glickman 

Could you tell us more about how removing a standardized test requirement has affected the jobs of these admissions officers and what kind of work they're doing? 

Will Kubzansky 

The SAT score and the ACT score is a contextualizer, right? There are very few times where someone will look at an SAT score and make a decision on an applicant. As an admission officer, if you don't have that piece of context, you would imagine it would make the process harder. You have less information to work with. It might have taken a little longer, you might have had to think harder about the applicant's academic credentials. That being said, I didn't speak to any Brown admission officers specifically about that subject. 

Ben Glickman

So let's say that you're an admissions officer for Brown, and you've just received 25 percent more applicants than you did the year before — a pretty big increase. How does the process of making the class of 2025 change, and what does it look like, especially in the middle of the pandemic? 

Will Kubzansky 

The actual process itself didn't look a lot different. You're not going to fundamentally read applications a different way because you have more or less, but there are a whole lot more and it just took longer. The hours were longer, days just stretched out. You had just a lot more to think about, a lot more to compare to. And the other interesting thing, and I heard this from Pat Rounds, who's an admission officer who covers parts of Pennsylvania, as well as some other scattered territories, he said just there's more heartbreak.

Pat Rounds 

Given how competitive the pool is and you get really attached to some of these students, and just having more of them inevitably, you know, I feel like this year — the taking longer for me was just because there were more students, it makes it a lot more difficult to have that very, very small, small sliver of the population.

Will Kubzansky 

So it is really this process of proverbially falling in love with an applicant, falling in love with an essay, and then having to come to terms with the fact that you can't admit this person for whatever reason. 

Ben Glickman 

You mentioned that admissions officers have had to work longer hours just because of the volume of applicants. What was this cycle like for them on a more personal level?

Will Kubzansky 

So one thing that I found really interesting is that admissions offices are, in a way, very similar to other workplaces where it's a human process and work happens in the margins.

Ben Glickman

Here is admissions officer Matt Price.

Matt Price

Now when we're normally in the office, one of our colleagues and I, usually at least once or twice a week, take a walk downtown for at least a half hour, 45 minutes. We start talking about work and then we start talking about other subjects, so we've had a semi-regular schedule of Zoom calls like that, where it will start off where we'll talk about something or a pile that we've read or an essay that we've read and that'll just turn into personal talk like the old days.

Will Kubzansky 

The decisions that admission officers make aren't just made in a vacuum. They're guided by colleagues and informal interactions. 

Ben Glickman

Here is Katrina Souder again.

Katrina Souder 

So I think for us, a level of it was what a lot of folks already went through, which was just having to learn how to make the technology work for you in a less formal way. So I think, you know, we use Zoom a lot, but just to G-chat someone, say, “Hey, can I just, you know, jump on a Google Meet with you really quick, just to chat,” or, you know, FaceTiming someone as you're making your lunch or that sort of thing.

Will Kubzansky 

And then from a pure sort of personal life perspective, these people were doing their jobs at home with their pets, and living with young children in their apartments in some cases, and navigating moves. And it's tough, it's tough to work like that in any job. In admissions, where you have this massive pile of applications staring you in the face, I would imagine that it gets more daunting.

Ben Glickman

Here is Admissions Officer Chrissy Fulton.

Chrissy Fulton

I have appreciated the flexibility that we had while working from home to find ways to take care of ourselves. And so for me, that means not starting work at, say, 5 a.m., or 6 a.m. It means getting up at 6 a.m. and taking my dog for a really long walk, and getting that fresh air, and seeing her really happy and then hopefully also tired out so that she won't bark while I’m on Zoom meetings later that day.

Will Kubzansky 

You're navigating these new social dynamics while you are making what does come out to a really consequential decision for applicants.

Ben Glickman 

Tell us more about what these committee meetings look like, where admissions officers take the applicants that they've selected to go to the next step and everyone talks about them. What does that look like during the pandemic?

Will Kubzansky 

Yeah, so first, just to activate my inner Dean (of Admissions Logan) Powell here, he always emphasizes there's no cutoff, there's no formula as to who goes to a committee meeting, nor is there any formula as to who gets a yes vote for admittance. That said, in a normal year, you finish up your reading process, and then you sort of have a committee meeting where you march triumphantly down the hallway from your office into like a conference room.

Ben Glickman

Here is Chrissy Fulton.

Chrissy Fulton

I do miss just the feeling of community. It feels like your real team, when you all marched down the hallway into the committee room with your laptops and your papers and your mug and your water bottle, and usually someone brings some delicious baked good or something. And I do miss that feeling of camaraderie that you get in person, when you’re like “OK, it’s time for committee.” Logging onto Zoom just does not recreate that same feeling of solidarity. 

Will Kubzansky

Something that came up that was really interesting is that you have someone go up and make the case, you know, here's Ben Glickman applying from New York, and here's why I think we should let them in. And then there's an awkward silence. That said, Zoom has made everything more awkward. And so that awkward silence just gets magnified.

Ben Glickman

Here is Matt Price. 

Matt Price

So we'll usually go on for 90 seconds talking about the merits of the case, and then you'll be greeted with complete silence from your colleagues. And that's kind of awkward in person, and it's even more awkward over Zoom. 

Ben Glickman 

Yeah, I think we're all a little familiar with awkward Zoom silences by now. So you've told us about how the process of many of the different duties that admissions officers have had to change in a real way because of the pandemic. Were there any benefits to this change? 

Will Kubzansky

Yeah. So for one thing, when you're going to high school visits as an admission officer, you are, as one officer said, you're bolting out the door. You are desperately trying to get from school to school to school.

Ben Glickman

Here is Pat Rounds.

Pat Rounds 

You're really scheduled in. You're like back-to-back-to-back, like “OK, we're at this school. And we'd just have enough time to drive there safely to get to the next school and have that.” So it was nice that, you know, you didn't feel in the same way that you were like, having to bolt out the door to get on to the next thing, because you had that ease of being virtual. And it's like, unless you had a meeting coming up right after that, you could really take the time. So I think in some ways, I think personally, I felt like I was able to have more prolonged discussions with some of the students who wanted to chat, which was, which was nice. 

Will Kubzansky

You know, the interesting thing was that because reading season, which is by a lot of accounts, not necessarily Brown admission officers, but people who have written about being admission officers at other schools before, reading season is known as the most grueling part of the year. But this year, it actually felt normal, because it's not an uncommon practice to let admission officers read from home and just sort of build their lives around reading as many applications as you can.  

Ben Glickman 

Will, you've been covering admissions and financial aid for just over a year now. What changes have you seen personally about the admissions process and the office since the pandemic began, and since you started reporting on this?  

Will Kubzansky

I think, as with almost everything else, COVID has inspired them to try things that they just wouldn't have considered before, to look at the application process in a way they never have before, especially in terms of outreach to students, they've introduced ways to get to students who, you know, in a world where the best way to learn about Brown is by showing up on College Hill and taking a tour and going to an info session, those students might not have made it. There is an added level of accessibility that's come along. And they're talking about keeping those changes. And then the other thing is, I think if you had said to me (in) January 2020,
“Hey, the University is going to go test optional for the next two years,” I would have been pretty confused. I wouldn't have really believed you. They've made a lot of changes that people have been asking for for a while pretty quickly as a response to COVID. If those changes stick around into a post-COVID world — that's a question that really we're going to have to wait to see.  

Ben Glickman 

Will, thanks so much for being with us. 

Will Kubzansky

My pleasure. 

Ben Glickman 

In other news, four bills introduced by state senators Jonathon Acosta and Joshua Giraldo last month would ban for-profit prisons and institute other prison reforms in the state of Rhode Island. If passed, one of the bills, Senate Bill 399, would mandate that private prisons in the state, such as Wyatt Detention Center in Central Falls, close by 2028. 

This has been The Bruno Brief. Our show is produced by Livi Burdette, Corey Gelb-Bicknell, Gaya Gupta, Gabriella Sartori and me. The Bruno Brief is an equal partnership between WBRU and The Brown Daily Herald. I’m Ben Glickman. Thanks for listening. 

This will be the last episode of the semester from The Bruno Brief team. Thank you for sticking with us for our first season. We’ll be back in the fall with new episodes. See you then.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

____________________

Produced by: Olivia Burdette, Ben Glickman, Corey Gelb-Bicknell, Gaya Gupta and Gabriella Sartori 

Music: 

Denzel Sprak (www.sessions.blue)

Watermarks (www.sessions.blue)

The Records (www.sessions.blue)

Special thanks to Emily Teng and Olivia Burdette for cover design.

Correction: A previous version of this episode and transcript misidentified a clip of Chrissy Fulton speaking as Katrina Souder. The Herald regrets the error.



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