College applicants are getting harder to judge

Santa Clara Magazine recently published a brief interview of Sandra Hayes, who not long ago retired after spending 25 years at Santa Clara University, 15 of which were spent as Dean of Undergraduate Admissions. In her interview she spoke of changes at Santa Clara and in admissions generally, and I found these comments of hers to be especially relevant for high school students:

Recently, I came across an admission report from 1980 and I realized the kinds of things that were being tracked then we really don't track anymore—things like how many applicants were student body presidents or were editors of school newspapers. Whereas now those activities are so common that they don’t necessarily distinguish a student as a standout. You and 80 percent of the other students who are applying are also either president of the student body or have some kind of leadership position at school, whereas at that time, that level of engagement really was exceptional.
Even activities—I think fewer students were actively involved in volunteer work then, whereas now it's the exception if you're not. So we really have to look very closely not just at whether you were student body president, but what are your recommenders saying about you? It's that kind of discernment that my colleagues and I spend more time on now than we would have 15 years ago.
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