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How Midlanders stand out in college admissions
After 20 years as Midland’s college counselor, I have almost — but not quite — begun to take the stories of Midland character for granted. What thrills me even more is the hope that our students give to the college representatives who meet them.
Here’s one example that has become a bit of a legend within a small circle of selective liberal arts colleges: a Midland student was on his way out of a college dining hall during a campus visit when he noticed that a group of students had left their table a mess. He went to the kitchen, asked for a rag and a broom, and cleaned up the mess. It was a simple act, one that any Midlander might have done, but one that stood out to the admissions officers who, unbeknownst to our student, watched from the other side of the dining hall. Our representative called me to let me know how much they appreciated hosting our student. “It wasn’t even his mess! It’s moments like these that make me love my job,” she said.
College representatives have the same reaction whenever they are lucky enough to schedule their visits at the lunch hour. Often, they’ve already toured our campus, learned about the high level of academics we offer, and let their mouths fall open when they learn our students live happily without cell phones. Toward the end of lunch, I’ll interrupt our conversation to point out that someone has just yelled, “Dishes to Dish House!” I invite them to watch as the entire lunchroom stands up and takes their dishes to Dish House. A handful of students grab brooms, someone turns on a playlist in the Dish House, and the Hobart machine starts steaming. By the time I have finished fully explaining the intricacies of our Jobs Program, the dining hall is clean. And, importantly, no adults helped. As we leave Stillman Hall, I point out that what they have just witnessed happens three times a day, every day. Invariably, the last comment I hear as we say our goodbyes is some version of, “I wish every school was like this.”
What happens in the Jobs Program is, indeed, remarkable, and it stays in the minds of college representatives. Our students live in a space of community responsibility and engrained work ethic. It’s honored on campus, but we often can forget how remarkable it is for a high school student — for anyone, really — to take the time out of their day to leave a place better than they found it. Visitors to Midland’s campus leave knowing that all students have jobs, all will get dirty, and all will do the work day after day. Midland ingrains in our students the importance and relevance of just showing up.
I love that I can share the magic of Midland with the wider world. I feel lucky when a college representative takes the time to call and thank me for writing “the best recommendation letter I’ve read all year;” she doesn’t know that the letter practically wrote itself because the students offer so much good material to write about. I smile when I hear a college representative, who continues to stay in touch as she has transitioned through three selective liberal arts colleges, remind me that before she came to Midland she had never tasted an heirloom tomato; together in the farm we had picked a dark green tomato with stripes, and it was the best she had ever tasted. I love that we build relationships fueled by care — literally, in one instance. An admissions dean was visiting Midland for dinner and realized, only after she had driven five miles up a winding mountain road to our campus, that she had run out of gas. Within minutes, one of our faculty members found a gas can, filled it up from the tank we use to fuel our ranch vehicles and soccer-field-mowers, and sent her on her way.
In this era of college admissions when character and values matter, those things can help tip a student’s application decision. Grades and test scores are important — they signal that a student can do the work — but colleges also want to create a strong, functioning community. The conversation happens in every admissions office, and is helped along through research like Harvard’s School of Education’s report called “Turning the Tide,” which encourages a greater focus on character and values in admissions.
At the most recent National Association of College Admissions Counselors conference I attended, I wandered into the middle of a conversation between about eight college admissions officers. They had been sharing career highlights, and I caught the tail end of a story about a prospective student who had visited in the fall of 2015. Incredibly, he had taken the time to clean up someone else’s mess in the dining hall. Luckily for the college, he applied, was admitted and awarded their highest scholarship — $10,000 in addition to full tuition, room, and board — and had used the funding to spend two summers installing the internet for an entire community in a remote town in Mexico. One member of the group noticed me. “That was your student, wasn’t it?” I nodded and smiled proudly.
By Lynda Cummings
Director of College Counseling
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