SU Voice Alumni Blog

New cross-departmental collaboration connects alumni with prospective students

Posted by Seattle University Alumni Association on Wednesday, March 31, 2021 at 5:50 PM PDT

Photo of James Miller, Seattle University Associate Vice President and Dean of AdmissionsAlumni Engagement and Admissions are partnering in a new effort to connect prospective Seattle University students across the U.S. and around the world with our extraordinary alumni. Set to launch next month, the Alumni Admissions Interview Program is designed to build affinity with Seattle University among prospective students and inform the admissions process. Recently we sat down (virtually) with James Miller, Associate Vice President and Dean of Admissions, to chat about this new cross-departmental collaboration, how it works and how you can get involved. 


First, James, I must ask—how are admissions coming along for the 2021-2022 academic year in light of the COVID-19 pandemic?

We’re pleased with how the admissions cycle has progressed thus far. Applications for first-year student admission are up eight percent compared with last year at this time. We’ve seen strong increases in our most important regions: Washington State, Oregon and especially Hawaii, where Oahu and the neighbor islands show double-digit increases in applications. In addition, we’ve been investing in growing the Seattle U brand in Colorado, Texas, Illinois and Minnesota. Each of these markets continue to show large increases in applicants year over year.

We’re pleased that applications for admission from minoritized students have also increased as a percentage of our applicant pool. We were concerned going into this year because these students have been disproportionally impacted by the pandemic in terms of access to college counseling, access to technology and access to their school buildings in general. So, we’re really excited to see these students persisting through the process at a higher rate than they have in the past.


Are you able to predict what the size of the freshman class will be at this point? 

No and I think that it’s something of interest right now because there's been a lot in the media about college admissions over the last six to eight months. Much of what will occur in terms of freshman and transfer enrollment is dependent upon how things look in the fall with respect to our ability to be back on campus. This will impact the students’ decisions as to whether they want to enroll this year. We’ve done everything we needed to do to set ourselves up for success.


Why is it important for alumni to be part of the admissions process?  

Alumni are some of the most effective advocates in the Seattle U community. Simply by representing their positive Seattle University experience in their place of business, their neighborhood, their faith community and among family and friends, they are doing enormously helpful work that university admissions could never do. Alumni who are advocates for Seattle U and spread good words about the institution in their communities can make a huge difference in our student enrollment.


How does the Alumni Admissions Interview Program work and what is its intent? 

To start, we have a form on the admissions website for interested alumni to fill out, which will add them to our interviewer database. Then in May, Admissions will host a training for the interviewers. We’ll take a look inside the admissions process, how it works and cover basic Seattle U information of interest to prospective students. We’ll also talk about the characteristics of a good interview and what we need the interviewers to focus on. We’ll provide training materials for the interviewers’ referral, too.

Once the interviewers have been trained, we’ll begin connecting them with prospective students who have requested an interview opportunity and will do our best to match the interviewer with a student who shares a commonality. This may be a geographical similarity, an academic interest or another area of affinity like identity. The interviewer will contact the prospective student and they’ll determine a convenient time for a 20–30 minute interview.


At what point in the application process will this interview take place? 

We’re going to start off by offering interviews to pre-applicants—students in their junior year of high school—through those who are in the process of applying. Once we’ve matched a student and an interviewer, we’ll introduce the two via email. From there it’s upon the interviewer to reach out and confirm a time to meet with the student via Zoom, by phone or in-person at a mutually agreeable time. 


What type of information are you hoping the interviewer will gather from the prospective student that is helpful to admissions? 

The important thing is we’re not asking interviewers to be admissions representatives on our behalf. What we want them to do first and foremost is to represent the university from their own perspective and their own experiences. They don’t need to speak in-depth about a program they didn’t study in. We really want them to share with the student the value of their Seattle U experience and its impact post-graduation, as well as what’s been great about being a member of the Seattle U alumni community.

The information we’re looking to gather from prospective students is their level of interest in Seattle U. Do they have a sense of us? Do they understand who we are? We don’t want the interviewers to get into sensitive academic conversations, but sometimes a student will say, “Hey, I had a hard time my sophomore year and my grades really dipped, but I’ve recovered and I’m back on track academically.” This is really helpful context. Sometimes we’ll see a big dip in grades on a transcript that the student hasn’t really explained. But if they explain this in the interview, suddenly it’s like, “Oh, okay, totally understood,” as opposed to having to follow up.

We also want to get a sense of what questions the student has. Would they like to connect with a financial aid officer or with an admissions counselor who can answer specific questions about a program? The interviewer plays a role in helping us learn what the student needs, too.

It’s worth saying that our average enrolling student applies to at least 10 other schools. The real challenge for busy high school students is finding the time to get to know a college well. The alumni interviews will enable students to have a meaningful experience that they may not have the time to seek out on their own and they will help us gain context about students that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to gather.


It sounds like another opportunity to practice "cura personalis, that care for the whole person" that is so much a part of who we are at Seattle U. The individual attention will make students feel welcomed and wanted. 

That's 100 percent right. At the end of the day, we really want to feature in our admissions process the same level of personalization and personal care that we know our enrolled students experience. The challenge is there are 8,600 applicants this year and it’s just not possible for admissions counselors to make highly individualized contact with every single one of them. But the alumni admissions interview creates another opportunity for that individualized contact. It’s a value add for sure. 


What happens after the interview? 

After an interview takes place, we ask the interviewer to provide a report. This is just the interviewer’s notes from the conversation and if there’s something the student needs as a next step. They may also state if they would recommend the student for admission. Of course, the hope is that the student and the alumni interviewer will stay in touch throughout the admissions process and start to build a relationship. If the student decides to come to Seattle U that relationship may pay off in other ways. 


Why are international alumni reviewers particularly important? 

Seattle U has made deep inroads recently in starting to build an international recruitment strategy. Our biggest limitation in the global community is that it’s both time and resource intensive to interact directly with students from around the world. International interviewers can help us build better affinity between prospective students around the world and be great mentors for what it’s like to make the cultural transition to the U.S. and Seattle, specifically.


What kind of a time commitment does this program require of alumni interviewers? 

There is the initial training and beyond that, the commitment is very periodic. The busiest times will be in the spring and summer when high school juniors are starting to ramp-up their college searches, so probably May through July. It will likely get busy again around the early application deadline in mid-November through the close of the notification period in March. Our main ask is that interviewers who register with the program try to interview at least one student. They can always let us know if there’s a maximum number of interviews they can do or if they will be unavailable for certain periods of time and we’ll honor that. 


If alumni are unable to participate in the Alumni Interview Program, what else can they do? 

We always welcome alumni referrals. If an alum knows of a student who would flourish at Seattle University, we invite them to make a referral using this link. Admissions will follow up with the student and ensure that they get all the information they need to consider joining the Redhawk community.


Is there anything else that you’d like our alumni to know about the program? 

I’d just like to add that we're excited to be partnering with our alumni and about the potential for this program.  
Seattle U alumni are vital to the academic, spiritual and emotional health of our community. As part of Our Moment for Mission: The President’s Challenge, you can participate in the Alumni Admissions Review Program by registering here. Or, join us in one of many other volunteer roles, strengthening the university—and ensuring the wellbeing and advancement of our students, faculty and staff—for years to come. 
Sign up to be an Alumni Interviewer

Register for May 17 training (2:30-3:30 p.m. PDT)

Register for May 18 training (5:30-6:30 p.m. PDT)