Today, learn more about topics and research in higher education from John McLaughlin, Penn Admissions Officer.
After graduating from the University and working as an Admissions Officer post-graduation, John went on to complete an MSc and Ed.D. in Higher Education. John is now returning to his alma mater to engage higher ed research with Penn admissions policy. (Think theory to practice.)
Through the lens of these experiences, John speaks about fit, access, application tips, and Penn.
Can you discuss your research?
JM: I’m fascinated by the way students make decisions on how and why they apply to college. I am also fascinated by how institutions can inform and influence student decision making. My research focused on the relationship between these two groups and the role of admissions policy. The goal of this research is to help students find a place that is right for them. Specifically, how, by reducing barriers to applications, can it be easier for students to apply to college?
Can you provide an example of an admissions policy that influences students’ college search?
JM: Clarity and transparency around financial aid. Financial aid is a huge lever to apply and enroll at any university. For example, Penn has a no loan financial aid policy; not only having a policy like this but also promoting it is essential. Financial aid benefits students directly and benefits universities by widening the application pool.
What do you hope to work on in your transition back to admissions?
JM: Having spent the last six years working with admissions data and asking broad hypothetical questions, I am really eager to take these skills and apply them to an institutional context. In the course of my research, I have evaluated data retroactively. Returning to admissions, I appreciate the opportunity to inform future policy based on research and careful consideration of data.
Do you have admissions tips for students and families?
JM: As an admissions officer and analyst, I am interested in the idea of fit between an institution and student. I think information and transparency helps students understand the quality of that fit. Students should find as much information as possible about universities, why these schools might be right for them, the extracurricular activities they hope to engage with, and professors they want to work with. In doing so, students can not only present themselves better in the application process, they will ultimately be happier in the school that they enroll.
Additionally, college searches are starting earlier and earlier. There was a time not too long ago that senior year was when you started thinking about your college process. Now its junior spring, sophomore year or even earlier. If college is going to be a natural step after high school, then students should begin to think earlier about what college is right for them and how to get to where they want to be. A little planning a bit earlier is a way to reduce any pressure that may come with the process.
Favorite part of the application process?
JM: I love reading students’ essays. This is the chance for us to get to know prospective students as well as we possibly can.
As a ’05 graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences, why did you choose Penn?
JM: I remember I came to campus in 2000 as I was looking at colleges. I loved the academic element and the history around the campus (literally centuries of people had gone to Penn before me!). I wanted to be part of that history and tradition. Meanwhile, I was drawn by the extracurricular opportunities. At Penn I could get a superlative education without sacrificing any of what I viewed as essential elements of the “traditional college experience”. It is a balance that I still see Penn has today; students can have an incredible academic experience and maximize opportunities within and beyond the classroom.