James G. Nondorf, The University of Chicago

James G. Nondorf

Each month we'll pose five questions to a Dean of Admission. We may ask their best advice for applicants, how their office reads applications, their favorite thing on campus, or the most surprising fact about their college or university. If you'd like to pose a question to a Dean of Admission or if you'd like to nominate a Dean for us to feature, please email us at authors@collegeadmissionbook.com.

We are proud to present our first interviewee from the other side of the desk -- James G. Nondorf, Vice President and Dean of College Admissions and Financial Aid at The University of Chicago.

1. How can a student stand out when applying to the University of Chicago?

Many qualified applicants to the University of Chicago have excelled academically, have challenged themselves with rigorous coursework, and are engaged in extracurricular activities and the community. The students that stand out are the ones who demonstrate a level of intellectual curiosity, creativity, and honesty in their applications.

Chicago students love to learn, both inside the classroom and beyond in discussions with friends on the quad' in the dining halls, and late into the night in the dorms, engaging on every topic from astrophysics to existentialism to pop culture. The really defining characteristic of our student body is its passion for bringing intellectual curiosity to every endeavor - every extracurricular activity' every community service project, every research opportunity.

Of course, the best place to demonstrate that curiosity and creativity is in the essay. At Chicago, we pride ourselves on providing engaging essay prompts that allow applicants to open up and explore a topic, exercise their imagination. and hopefully have a little fun as well.

2. What is your favorite thing about University of Chicago?

Well, it's hard to choose just one. Of course, as the Dean of Admissions, one of my favorite things is to see the incoming class thrive every year. It's always very exciting and impressive to see just how much students are able to accomplish as undergraduates - everything from putting up award-winning plays to contributing to groundbreaking research.

We also host the largest scavenger hunt in the world every year at Chicago, which is always an incredible (and often hilarious) event to witness. This year, one of the challenges required students to design a miniature Chicago skyline in front of the Admissions Office, dress up as monsters, and - in a wild, Godzilla-like performance - smash the entire skyline to the ground. That certainly added some color to my day.

I also have to mention one of my favorite traditions - $1 Milkshake Wednesdays. It's exactly what it sounds like. I always send some of the students in our office to get milkshakes on our dime (and, of course, I sometimes ask them to bring me back one, too).

3. How do you read applications? Do you personally – or does the Chicago staff – have any "reading rituals"?

I'm proud to say that every last application from our annual pool of roughly 22,000 is read by not just one, but multiple admissions officers.

We read applications holistically, which means we consider every part of your application when making a decision. First, the counselor in charge of your region reads everything you've sent in. Next, another reader takes a look at your application and the comments written down by your regional counselor. Sometimes the application is read by a third person if your counselor and second reader disagree. Finally, all applications are reviewed by a committee of officers (including your regional counselor); and the committee makes the final decision.

It's a long and very involved process, but we want to make sure that all of the hard work you put into your application gets considered and we get the best picture of who you are and how you might fit in at the University of Chicago.

As for reading rituals, I'm sure each of my counselors has his or her own way of doing things. We read our applications electronically and we give our officers the opportunity to read from home, which allows them to be more comfortable and stay warm and cozy during Chicago's winter months. I've heard that some members of my admissions staff have their "reading sweatpants" that they like to wear while reading, though I can't attest to this myself.

4. What do you most want applicants to the school to know?

We understand the college application process can be difficult and a little stressful at times. But remember: as admissions officers, we're not just here to read your applications, we're here to help you in any way we can. So please don't hesitate to pick up the phone or draft an email or even visit us in person with any questions you may have.

5. Is there anything in particular you want to say to college counselors?

First and foremost: thank you. You are an invaluable resource both for your students and for college admission officers. Without your efforts, we would never be able to gather such a vibrant, talented community of undergraduates on our campus. Though we are on opposite sides of the desk, we are truly on the same team. The job of both college counselors and admissions officers is to help students find the schools that best fit them. Anything we can do to stay on the same page and work together to achieve this goal is important to me and my staff.

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