Stanford Report Online

Stanford Report, December 13, 2000
Steady increase in applicants poses challenges, new admission dean says


In the last five years, the number of undergraduate applicants to Stanford has grown from about 16,360 to 18,360. In that time, the percentage of applicants admitted has dropped from almost 17 percent to 13.2 percent, increasing the university's selectiveness. And Stanford's yield rate -- the percentage of applicants admitted who choose to enroll here -- has jumped from 61.3 percent to 66.1 percent.

With such glowing statistics, what goals are left for new Dean of Admission Robin Mamlet?

Mamlet -- who began work at the Farm last month after serving as dean of admissions at Swarthmore College, a small but highly selective school in Pennsylvania -- says Stanford does, in fact, have some challenges to face in admissions.

"I think that the biggest challenge of the job comes from the fact that Stanford is such a strong institution that it can really have any kind of student body that it wants," Mamlet said during a recent interview in her still sparsely decorated office in the Old Union. "So the challenge is building consensus among all the constituencies about what kind of student body we want."

Since her arrival on campus, Mamlet has been reaching out to the faculty -- in e-mails, at the Committee on Undergraduate Admission and Financial Aid (C-UAFA) and in brief remarks at the Nov. 30 meeting of the Faculty Senate.

"I believe firmly that the extent to which an admissions dean is plugged into the faculty is the extent to which admissions is connected to the heart of the university," she said at the senate meeting. "And I think it's central to doing the job truly well."

David Palumbo-Liu, comparative literature, said at the meeting that one of the areas C-UAFA wanted to look into this year is how the faculty can be more involved in admissions.

In the interview, Mamlet said she was interested in getting the faculty involved in the admissions process at the policy-setting level. In order to build a consensus on the kind of student body the university would like to have, "I think faculty involvement should be in discussing that frequently and quite specifically, and that there should be information available to faculty on the kinds of decisions we're making and why and how" they are being made, she said.

The admission office also will be asking faculty to remain involved in helping recruit top students to campus, she added.

"For good or bad, this is a generation of students that expects they will have access to faculty when they are here, and therefore they want to see some evidence of that as they look at colleges. So more and more I think faculty are being called on -- and many are glad to do it -- to reach out to students who are particularly talented before they make their decision."

Making sure applicants have the most accurate image of the university as possible is obviously important when they're deciding whether to enroll at Stanford or elsewhere. Mamlet said she hopes the image some people have of Stanford as a "playground" campus "gets mediated somewhat so that people have a better picture of what this place really offers."

On the East Coast in particular, she said, people "find it hard to believe that fun and intellect can go together. . . . I do think that there's a strong sensibility at Stanford not only that learning can be pleasurable but that life as a part of the community can be enjoyable -- that this should be an enjoyable time for students. That's a sensibility that doesn't exist in this way on the East Coast at our peer institutions and that at times can be misunderstood."

And while Stanford's ties to Silicon Valley seem obvious here, from Mamlet's outsider perspective those connections are not as well known in other parts of the country. "I think it registers in the idea that Stanford is exciting and that it's cutting edge, but it's at a very superficial level, at least for 17-year-olds," she said.

The very success Stanford enjoys presents yet another challenge, she said: being able to choose whom to admit among so many qualified applicants. "It's the same challenge that's always been here, but that continues to grow the more selective we are, which is that even though Stanford has a large freshman class, with 18,000 to 19,000 applicants for 1,600 spaces, the demands on those spaces continues to grow," she said.

But Mamlet has been heartened at the care with which the relatively small admission office staff at Stanford handles the mountains of application materials received every year. "It's really mind-boggling how they do it, and I've just been completely impressed with all the work, from seeing how the admission staff reads and evaluates and selects applications to the way financial aid works here," she said. The admission office staff in recent weeks has been hunkering down with 2,227 Early Decision applications -- up from 2,087 last year.

Mamlet, 40, has spent much of her career amid admissions files. Before spending four years at Swarthmore as dean of admissions, she was dean of admissions at the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey and dean of admissions and financial aid at Sarah Lawrence College. At Sarah Lawrence, she was former Stanford admission dean Robert Kinnally's boss. Kinnally left Stanford over the summer to study to become a Catholic priest.

Mamlet, who grew up in Santa Barbara, began her admission career at Occidental College in Los Angeles, where she earned a bachelor's degree in English in 1982. She was associate director of admissions at Pomona College from 1984 to 1987.

Once she focused on the possibility of working here, "I was really captivated by not only the institution but to what admission to Stanford stands for on the West Coast entering the millennium, really epitomizing the future," she said.

"Stanford has really taken bold stands on a number of issues in higher education, like affirmative action. The fact that the job [here] is a pulpit is really appealing."

Mamlet has been active with the College Board and the National Association of College Admission Counselors. "I've been fortunate to be at the table for some conversations about the future of admissions that take place at the national level," she said. The top issues in admissions these days are access and affordability as well as the stress level high school students are under "because of what they think they need to do to get into a university like Stanford."

Stanford's financial aid program also is among the things that drew Mamlet here, she added. "There is a tremendous commitment from the top to remain aggressively need-blind" in admissions, she said. "It's just very clear that's not going to become a place of vulnerability for us."

Joining Mamlet at Stanford is her husband, Charles Brown, who came from Johns Hopkins University to become the Medical Center's director of medical development. They have their hands full with a 3-month-old son, and their 7-year-old daughter reports that conditions for Razor scootering in Palo Alto are superior to those found in Pennsylvania.

Robin Mamlet
photo: L.A. Cicero