Furstenberg reveals recipe for diversity

by Dax Tejera | 11/23/04 6:00am

Editor's note: While Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Karl Furstenberg may have only a short interaction with Dartmouth students, he plays a critical role in sustaining the Dartmouth experience year after year. Now serving in his 15th year at the College, Furstenberg spoke with The Dartmouth on issues concerning the College, the admissions process and his view on the state of the student body.


Dartmouth has attracted much attention for its recent success at attracting a more diverse student body. Dean of Admissions Karl Furstenberg explained the role admissions plays in cultivating such an applicant pool.

"Some of what we've seen has just been a natural evolution of what's coming out of American high schools," Furstenberg said. "But I think we also jump-started it by recruiting much more aggressively and reaching out to populations that simply hadn't thought of Dartmouth as one of the primary institutions they were interested in. It's a very different place today."

Furstenberg said that the admissions process is mostly about recruiting a large, talented and diverse population of applicants and letting the selection process take care of itself.

"If you have a pool that represents all the different dimensions you hope to have in your class, then you can go through the selection process in a pretty unencumbered way, and simply admit the strongest students that are in that pool," Furstenberg said.

Furstenberg said the other half of recruiting occurs after students are admitted, as his office works to make sure a sufficiently diverse yield chooses Dartmouth over other schools that admitted them.

"That's really what makes or breaks your success for the year," he said.

Financial Aid

Maintaining a high yield may simply be a matter of admissions, but ensuring that a diverse class matriculates in September correlates strongly with financial aid. Furstenberg said that he believes that need-blind admissions is "at the heart and soul of what we do," and that this attitude plays a key role in attracting a strong and diverse class.

Dartmouth, unlike most institutions, not only boasts need-blind admissions policies, but also guarantees to meet 100 percent of demonstrated need for students over their entire tenure at Dartmouth. Furstenberg described Dartmouth's admissions and financial aid policies as unusual.

"Only about one in 20 institutions can operate the way Dartmouth can," Furstenberg said. "That's a huge advantage."

Furstenberg is confident that Dartmouth will continue to devote the resources necessary to maintain its need-blind commitment, and consequently, its support for a student body of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. His concern rests with what is commonly referred to as "sticker price shock," referring to the panic that sometimes strikes applicants when they learn how much a Dartmouth education costs. Furstenberg stressed recruiting and spreading the message about Dartmouth's need-blind and financial aid guarantees as the remedy to the challenge.

National Rankings

National rankings have become a staple of college admissions and institutional pride nationwide. High school students and parents find them invaluable when evaluating a school, but for Furstenberg, they are a disappointing development.

While Furstenberg admitted that some ranking schemes have merit, he criticized them for a tendency to oversimplify and emphasize a limited array of factors. Still, Furstenberg said that Dartmouth was one of the few lucky schools to remain largely unaffected by the rankings game.

"Whatever ranking comes out, we tend to be in that upper echelon," Furstenberg said.

Furstenberg said that Dartmouth has benefited from increased visibility nationwide as a result of ranking programs, and said that of all the rankings schemes, the popular U.S. News and World Report system is "by far the best" because of a thorough, intensive review marked by methodology that is constantly being refined.

"The other ones are nothing but beauty contests," Furstenberg said of the many ranking systems that consider factors such as "party atmosphere" and other subjective issues of little relevance to an institution's central mission.

When asked whether Dartmouth had compromised its admissions strategies as a result of increased interest in national rankings, Furstenberg flatly denied any change in mindset.

National Image

Unlike many of its Ivy League peers, Dartmouth does not benefit from the name recognition major research institutions enjoy. While Furstenberg said he is confident that Dartmouth is regarded externally as one of the best colleges in the country, he admitted that greater name recognition would benefit the institution.

"We'd all love to have more name recognition," Furstenberg said. "Still, we have enough to attract top faculty and students."

Furstenberg said that Dartmouth's image is distinct, and that the College benefits from several unique characteristics, including its intersection between university offerings and undergraduate student life. Furstenberg said that the D-Plan, international study, access to faculty and rural atmosphere are recognized strengths of the institution. He also noted the Greek system as a predominant influence on Dartmouth's image, although he commented that the nature of the influence is becoming more positive as the older image of the institution fades.

Furstenberg said that longstanding reputation and myth take a long time to change, and that despite efforts to set the record straight for students about social life at the College, parents come with their own preconceived notions.