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Assembling the Freshman Class, One Student at a Time

By Chris Lydgate ’90 on September 06, 2016 09:26 AM

Dean of Admission Milyon Trulove bears the awesome responsibility of assembling the freshman class.

School is back in session. First-year students roam the Quad clutching copies of the Iliad, frisbees arc across the Great Lawn, and Commons echoes with talk of teleology and telomeres. No one revels in that sense of exuberant possibility more than Milyon Trulove, vice president and dean of admission, who shoulders the formidable responsibility of assembling each year’s crop of new Reedies.

So how do you go about selecting students for one of the most rigorous and distinctive colleges in the nation?

When Trulove first arrived on campus two years ago, he asked his student tour guide how she first heard about Reed. Back in high school, she had been talking about her college search at a restaurant. The waitress overheard her conversation and wrote a suggestion on a paper napkin. It was Reed, of course.

“I think about that story a lot,” Trulove says. “There’s this recurring narrative that students will just find us organically, that students will just stumble upon Reed. And some of them do. But the reality is that many of them will never learn about Reed unless we make an effort to reach them. I just don’t have enough napkins to get the word out.”

“Reed is so distinctive. So compelling. It has so much to offer,” he continues. “But many students in high school just don’t know anything about it. That’s why we need to tell more people our story. Then comes the self-selection—whether they apply.”

By casting a wider net, Trulove has driven the number of inquiries—prospective students who indicate an interest in Reed—from roughly 21,000 in 2012 up to 45,000 today. At the same time, admissions counselors are fanning out across the country, sharing the Reed story at college fairs and high schools.

High-school students, particularly the strong students, are beginning their college searches earlier than ever; many have compiled a list of their top 10 colleges by the end of their junior year. “So now you really have to start talking to them by the end of their sophomore year to be effective,” he says. “If we’re the most intellectual college in country, we have to talk to the most intellectual students.”

To that end, Reed now hosts a series of “Junior Days” where juniors come to campus to learn more about Reed and college admission in general.

As the applications pour in, Trulove and his team dig into the details: grades, test scores, essays, achievements, and backgrounds.

“Academic ability and intellect are at the center of what we look for,” he says. “The ability to be successful in the classroom, to excel academically, is always our first criterion. We also know that Reed goes way beyond the classroom, so we look at students’ ability to contribute to the community in different ways.”

The 357 members of the Class of ’20 boast some formidable statistics: 10% were valedictorians of their high school classes and another 2% were salutatorians. 32% ranked in the top 5% of their class. The median scores on their SAT tests were 680 math, 710 verbal, and 680 writing, which puts them at the 96th percentile.

The class was drawn from the largest pool ever—5,705 applicants—and is the most selective in Reed’s history, with an admittance rate of 31%.

More than half of the incoming students received financial aid, with an average total financial aid package of $42,289 (including grants, loans, and work).

Overall, 34% of the class identify themselves as belonging to a US ethnic minority; for specific groups, the figures are Asian-American, 15.7%; Black, 3.2%; Caucasian, 66.3%; Hispanic, 11.2%; Native American, 3.2%; and Pacific Islander 0.3%. A further 10% of the class are international students, making it one of the most diverse entering classes in Reed’s history.

“We focused hard to make sure this is a diverse and inclusive class,” Trulove says. “You know, some people, when they talk about enrolling diversity, they talk about making sacrifices—that somehow a more diverse class means a less academic class. I gotta tell you, that’s just not true.”

Nonetheless, assembling a diverse class of scholars remains an ongoing challenge, especially when the goal is to reflect not the demographics of Oregon but the nation as a whole.

A key milestone in the selection process is the campus visit. “We want students to experience Reed firsthand so they can decide if it’s for them or not,” he says. To this end, Reed hosts a “Discover Reed” program aimed at high-school seniors. Over the course of a three-day visit in October, they stay in dorms, go to class, visit the nuclear reactor, and explore Portland. For select multicultural students, Reed pays all expenses—including airfare.

“These are strong diverse students, and they have many great options,” he says. “We have to make sure we are telling our story as well as other places are telling their story.”

Any student who can’t afford plane tickets can apply for travel scholarships. “We’ll fund their trip,” he says. “And sometimes we’ll pay for their parents, too.” Overall visitor traffic to Reed is at record levels and has increased four years in a row.

Another piece of the puzzle is financial aid. Reed’s approach to financial aid is based solely on need, as opposed to other factors such as academic merit, ethnic diversity, or athletic prowess, so Trulove can’t entice students by dangling extra scholarship money in front of them. “While our approach toward merit scholarship is appropriate and laudable, it does put us at a disadvantage when students are comparing schools,” he says.

Another change this year: Trulove and his team decided to update the “Why Reed?” essay. Instead, applicants are asked to describe what course they would teach at Paideia—and why.

“We felt that the ‘Why Reed?’ question gave a big advantage to students who had already visited campus,” he says. “But the Paideia question is accessible to almost everyone. It allows students to talk about an idea they’re excited about and it gives them more avenues to succeed.”

Trulove came to Reed from Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he spent six years as director and and then dean of admission and financial aid. Prior to that, he worked for 10 years in admission at St. Olaf College, his alma mater, in Northfield, Minnesota.

When I see students on campus happy and enjoying their classes, it makes me feel good. We are literally changing lives. It’s an honor. This is probably the most distinctive class in terms of individual feats that I have seen in my career. They’re going to do amazing things. Sit down and talk to any first-year student. Listen to their story. You’ll walk away having heard something remarkable.”

“It’s a lot of work,” he smiles. “But there’s no better job in the world.”