We met with Martha Allman to discuss the future of college admissions, ways in which a student can convey soft skills in their college admissions journey, and much more. Enjoy!
Martha Allman from Wake Forest University discusses her history in college admissions along with what she foresees for the future of this process. With College Board discontinuing their subject tests, it seems many universities are moving away from standardized tests. Wake Forest University specifically found little difference in GPA and graduation rate between students who submitted scores and those who did not. Follow along as a former Dean of Admissions discusses what these changes may mean for an applicant as well as what a student can do to convey the ‘soft skills’ universities are looking for.
"Admissions offices will be looking for more and more information about a student to make up for just a number."” – Martha Allman, Former Wake Forest Dean of Admission
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Want to hear more from Martha Allman? Check out Dr. Jed Macosko’s interview with Martha Allman here.
View our other interviews from influential college admissions experts here.
(Editor’s Note: The following transcript has been lightly edited to improve clarity.)
Karina Macosko: Hi, my name is Karina Macosko, from Academic Influence, and I’m here with Martha Allman. And you also work at Wake Forest University, and we have been talking to a lot of people involved in the college admissions process and Dean of Admissions or former Dean of Admissions, like yourself. So we just wanna know, just first off, how did you get into this kind of college realm, the realm of college admissions? [chuckle]
Martha Allman: Quite by accident. I started in the admissions office in 1982, which was long before there were educational tracks in colleges for those who wanted to study higher ed, or even admissions. I was a History major, I came from a long line of teachers and thought I wanted to teach high school too. And when I did my student teaching, I decided that really wasn’t the best fit for me, but I knew I was interested in an educational career.
I loved college, I loved college age people, and so a mentor at Wake Forest, a faculty member, said to me, You know, the Admissions Office hires admissions counselors for two-year terms, to talk to young people about Wake Forest and to help them through the application process. Maybe you’d like that.
And so, just kind of on a lark, I applied for the job and got it, and then the rest was kind of history. I really liked it, the admissions landscape grew, the admissions profession grew. And so I was curious, I investigated a lot of things in the office and about financial aid and marketing, and so I kept getting promotions and the office kept growing, and I ended up as Dean of Admissions.
Karina: Wow. And look, look where that has taken you, such a happy accident. [chuckle] And so Wake Forest became test optional, kind of in the recent years, and college board recently just got rid of their subject test, so it kind of seems like a lot of colleges and college application processes are moving away from more standardized tests. Do you think that a lot of colleges are gonna follow in this same pattern?
Martha: Well, there is certainly a lot of research that calls into question standardized testing. And with COVID, many, many colleges were forced to be test optional, or decided to be test optional at that time. At Wake Forest, we did a lot of research on comparing the students who submitted tests and the students who didn’t submit tests and found very, very little difference in GPA or graduation rates. And that seems to be a standard experience in other colleges throughout the country, so I think that the gathering data and the gathering experience is going to cause a lot of colleges to look at it very seriously.
Karina: That is so interesting, as somebody who’s just about to start on this process. And so, if more colleges do move away from tests and standardized tests, especially, what do you think they’re gonna be looking for in the application? Where do you think all of that pressure on your application is gonna fall?
Martha: I think a lot of the pressure is going to fall on high school record. It’s going to fall on class selection, on curriculum selection, rigour of curriculum, as well as performance in classes. And then, the more soft skills and the more soft information, extracurriculars, talents. At Wake Forest, we ask students to interview, we have a very robust application that we ask a lot of questions about you. So admissions offices will be looking for more and more information about a student to make up for just a number. Just a school.
Karina: Wow. And so, as a former Dean of Admissions, what was it that you were looking for in these soft skills in students? What made you really think about an application, Wow, they would be a great fit for Wake Forest?
What do you look for in an application?
Martha: Well, we looked at the class as a whole, because we didn’t want every student to have the same talents and the same skills, and to come from the same part of the country and have the same kind of background. We wanted a really nice mix, because we’ve always believed that diversity was so important for a student’s experience at Wake Forest.
And so, we looked for students who were great artists, musicians, we looked for obviously strong athletes to field our teams. The underlying thing, of course, is students who really love to learn, who were intellectually curious and also people of character, people who cared about the world, who cared about other people, who cared about justice and doing good. And so, when we formulated our application questions and our interview questions, we made sure to try to get at all of those things.
Karina: Oh, that is so interesting, and I love what you said about really enjoying learning, enjoying to learn, but that is something that is so hard, not only to convey on an application, but also to figure out if a student really does love to learn or if they’re just doing it for the credit. So what are some ways that, as a student, they can convey that they love to learn or that applications will be looking for that?
Martha: Well, I think the way you answer questions on the application, or if you’re applying to a school that does an interview, is really important. One of my favourite application questions was always, Give us your top 10 list. And if that top 10 list is academic, or if it’s service-oriented, or if it shows love of learning, concern for others, or if it’s just your top 10 ice cream flavours, that tells you a lot about us students, so there are subtle ways that students express that. We like to say we can really tell it. You know, we can tell it from letters of recommendation, we can tell it from what your teachers or your counselors say about you, we can tell it about the courses you select. Do you take academic risks, or you just stick with advanced courses and the things you’re good at? When you write for us, do you convey that you’re looking forward to college as an experience to grow, not just as an experience to have a good time?
Karina: That is so interesting. And what do you think your top 10 would be, if you were a student going through this?
Martha: That’s been a fun exercise for me. On occasion, I have done that and tried to select 10 things that really define me, the things that are most important in my life, from family, to church, to community, to my heritage in the Appalachian Mountains, to music. Those things that I think make me different from another person.
Karina: Well, and that is so fantastic that you say that, because a lot of the other people who we’ve been talking to about college really say, Find your niche, find what makes you special, and really just go off of that and make sure your application conveys that. So thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me, it’s really just so interesting hearing all these perspectives as I’m going through this, and I mean it is a very stressful process too, so...
…be yourself. Be genuine in your application and colleges are gonna love that.” – Martha Allman, Former Wake Forest Dean of Admission
Martha: And good luck to you.
Karina: Thank you.
Martha: And I would say, be yourself. Be genuine in your application and colleges are gonna love that.
Karina: [chuckle] Well, thank you so much. And I hope that this video really helps people kind of get an idea of what colleges are looking for and how they can really stand out on their application. So, thank you so much.
Martha: Thank you. Thank you.