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Your Friendly Neighborhood Dream-Destroyer by DJ Rock

"How Could You Work There?"

It was 8:00pm on a Thursday night when I received a text message from a buddy who wanted to hang out. Since I was a college admissions officer in the month of April, naturally, I was at still at work. I was helping coordinate the opening show for our Campus Preview Weekend – a super fun and exciting event where all admitted students who come to campus get together for the first time. The Logarhythms were preparing for soundcheck and Mocha Moves, one of our amazing hip hop dance groups, were practicing their choreography on-stage when I responded to my friend:

  • Me: Hey! I’m just organizing this big event at work right now.
  • Him: Ohhh. A big rejection party?
  • Me: We’re actually celebrating the students who were accepted and trying to help them build community!
  • Him: Lol. Hmmmm. Acceptance for some. Rejection for most. How could you work there?

It’s definitely wasn’t the first (or, unfortunately, the last) time that I would have such a reaction when I informed people about what I do for a living. And yes, turning down applications is a huge part of the job. However, when I think of the colleagues I work with on a daily basis, none of us particularly enjoy the rejection part of our job. And none of us are the evil, cynical monsters I think we’re sometimes thought of as. So, I thought it’d be helpful to tell you all a bit about how I got to MIT and answer “how I could possibly work here.”

If we rewind to when I was in high school (a much simpler time when Tyra Banks was the only host of America’s Next Top Model and RuPaul hadn’t purchased HD cameras yet so her entire show was filmed with a vaseline-like filter), I was quite confused during my own college application process. Although my parents were incredibly supportive of my dreams and aspirations, neither had attended college themselves and couldn’t be as helpful as they wanted to be when it came to making a college list or completing an application. I had a guidance counselor at school, but with over 300 students on her caseload and no one specializing in college applications, I was pretty much on my own. I only went on two college tours and thought I had to apply Early Decision to the second school I toured; that’s where I ended up, even though the financial aid package offered was unaffordable for my family.

During my time in undergrad, the Admissions Office became a second home for me on-campus. My supervisors, amazing women of color who came from similar backgrounds as myself, helped me when I struggled with the racial climate of my school or family pressures. When my dad lost his job halfway through my undergrad experience, these mentors helped me figure out a way to graduate a year early because I couldn’t afford to attend school any longer.

When I started looking for jobs, I ended up working as a College Access Counselor at a community-based organization called Bottom Line because I wanted to continue to help first-generation students through the college application process and think about financial planning. After counseling two cohorts of students (yes, that means I completed over 120 FAFSAs over 2 years – I feel your pain), I became increasingly interested in the college process. Why were some of the students I loved not being admitted to their favorite schools, and why were other students being admitted when I didn’t think those schools would give them a chance? There would be only one way to find out – so I threw my application into the running and here I am at MIT.

Yes, selection is a huge part of our jobs and takes over our entire lives for many months out of the year. However, my goal when reading an application is never to just find a reason to deny. My goal is to hear your stories, learn about your dreams and aspirations, and read the amazing things your teachers and counselors have to say about you.  When we move through the committee process, our goal is to look at all components of your application and try to holistically understand the world you come from and how you navigate that world. We get emotionally attached to applications, even though we know we shouldn’t, and lose sleep over students whose stories impact us (and sometimes, because of our committee-based process, those students don’t get in).

Additionally, there is so much more to my job than selection. We get to present information sessions both here in Cambridge and on the road to share accurate information about applying to our institution, we give your counselors and teachers advice about their recommendations for you, and some of us even write blog posts to inform you about what we’re thinking! I also love supervising our student employees because I hope to be a resource to them as someone who has navigated college as a first-gen, Black and Puerto Rican, queer student.

I don’t view my job as denying people – I view my job as advocating for students in our admissions process. I relay information to prospective students to alleviate their stress and guide them on a successful path to admission. I sweat, bleed (paper cuts are REAL!), and cry at work not because I love being mean and denying people, but because I don’t want any of you to make the same mistakes I did going through my college application process and I want to make sure we are making ethical decisions as we select our incoming class.

Does any of this make getting rejected from MIT any easier? Probably not. But when you meet us on-campus, on the road (over the next several months, I’ll be in Philadelphia, NYC, St. Louis, and many places in between), or over the phone, know that we are here to help you. In fact, that’s why I got into this line of work! Many of us were once just as confused about college as you might be now, and most of us just want to make the process less daunting for you (at least, as much as we can). And know that we are not hired to be dream destroyers – we’re hired to make MIT’s application more accessible, to find new and innovative ways to communicate our mission, and to support students once they’re on our campus.