With all of this attention to craft a well-rounded class, many assume it's essential to be a well-rounded student. Wrong. "We need kids who excel in certain areas, in addition to the well-rounded ones," said Beverage. That excellence might be in music, the arts, writing or athletics, to name a few areas.
When students submit slides of their art work or a CD of their musical ability (Ruthruff's harp talents, for instance) as part of their application, the materials are passed on to the appropriate academic department for review. Music instructors or art professors rate the applicant and provide a written evaluation.
Steven Saunders, associate professor and chair of the Music Department, says he sends a wish list of the very best of the best musicians back to admissions. "We naturally don't advocate for academically marginal students," he said, "but hope to make a difference for students who fall right on the admissions cusp and who would bring to campus unique artistic talents."
As is true for harpists and sculptors, athletes' achievements can be a "tip factor." With the publication of The Game Of Life and Reclaiming the Game, which looked at athletics at Division III schools, including Colby, the role of athletics in admissions has been the most publicized and controversial talent area recently. But Bertelsen, who acts as the liaison to coaches who recruit and rank athletes, says there is no truth at Colby to the stereotype of athletes who can't compete in the classroom.
"I think it's a pretty broad brush that everybody paints about kids who are athletes," said Bertelsen. "If the kid's not there academically, it doesn't matter where they are with athletics."
Prospective students and their family members attend an information session during a campus visit.
If a rated athlete is in the academic ballpark, though, admissions may consider whether his or her talent is so exceptional as to make a significant contribution to the team. However, Bertelsen is quick to point out that "a whole bunch of those kids are very strong students who will get in on their own totally unrelated to their athletic ability."
Bringing athletes, writers, mathematicians and others to Colby benefits sports programs, academic departments and campus life. Admissions benefits from the professional judgment of faculty and coaches who can identify which students have truly extraordinary accomplishments. But the contact between coaches or professors and applicants has another benefit,it increases "yield," the probability that an accepted student will choose to enroll at Colby. "The more personal contact and connection there is, I think the more likely it is that a kid will enroll," said Bertelsen.
Beverage says the coaching model clearly works in yielding top students, and he'd like to replicate that contact more formally with academics. If a student who's an obvious admit expresses interest in environmental science, Beverage says he might ask David Firmage, Clara C. Piper Professor of Environmental Studies, to e-mail the applicant about Colby's offerings. "The hope is that you become enamored of Colby if you've heard from Colby all along," said Beverage, and that come April that top-notch admitted student will choose Colby.