Q&A with admissions officer Jamie Mercado '15
From majoring in philosophy on campus, playing club ice hockey to working in the admissions office after graduating, Jamie Mercado ’15 has had her fair share of experiences at Dartmouth. Mercado graduated from the College in 2015 with a degree in philosophy and African and African American studies. She currently works as an assistant director of admissions for the College and has strong interests in education, social justice and college access.
What made you want to go into admissions? Was it related at all to your experiences at Dartmouth?
JM: I remember when I first came to work in admissions, they sent me to a conference for new admissions officers, and there they asked why we wanted to work for admissions, and everyone had these admissions-specific answers and I really didn’t have one. I was the outreach coordinator of the First-Year Trips program for 2015, and I had to be in Hanover until September. At the time, I had been thinking about doing education largely because of my work with [Summer Enrichment at Dartmouth] and some of my work with admissions. I was thinking, “Do I want to teach? I don’t really know.” I had looked at a lot of outdoor stuff because I liked a lot of the work that I did with the Outing Club, but when I worked with SEAD, I didn’t know if I wanted to do that in a classroom. When I was interning at SEAD, I knew I liked working with kids, but I didn’t think I could survive in an environment with that little support. I didn’t apply for anything related to teaching, and I was doing Trips and I was thinking, “What can I do that is involved with students but will also make sure I am in Hanover until the middle of September?” I then thought that I could work in admissions.
What do you do for your job?
JM: One of the things I thought was super cool about Dartmouth in particular is that we are given more responsibility than your average entry level admissions position. We were fully fledged admissions officers even though we had just graduated. A former colleague of mine described the experience to me as the D-Plan for adults. In the fall, you get to travel around to different states and countries to visit different schools and organizations to give information sessions, and then you come back in the winter and it’s freezing and you hide. In the winter, I am reading applications in my house in my onesie and snacking on Goldfish. The spring is all about convincing everyone that we admitted to come to Dartmouth. In the summer, we do our special projects, so we run Dartmouth Bound, which brings students that are underrepresented at Dartmouth to the College to learn about the college application process, and then we do it all over again.
My first year I traveled to Connecticut, upstate New York, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. Then this past year they switched things around, and I still went to Connecticut, but then to Rhode Island and then the Midwest, which was really cool because I hadn’t spent a lot of time in the Midwest, so I got to go to Minnesota, Michigan and Kansas. The travel to the Midwest was my favorite part of admissions because you get to go to different places and a big part of why I wanted to work in admissions is that I wanted to work with students and sit down with them and provide them with information about Dartmouth so they have an easier time in the process. A big part of why I do admissions is not just for me to work with students but because college access is very important to me. My dad was the first in his family to graduate both from college and from high school, and my mom is a Dartmouth alumna. On one hand, I had my whole mom’s side of the family who said, “Duh you’re going to Dartmouth,” and then my dad said that college is such an incredible opportunity, and it was awesome that that was an opportunity for me.
What are some things you take into account when reading an application?
JM: I think that’s funny because the word “holistic” is turned around a lot in the world of admissions. When I was applying to colleges, I don’t think I knew what that word meant exactly, but it means that admissions officers look at everything — it’s not just test scores and GPA. I struggle to find a genuine, non-admissions way to say this, but when I read an application, I am really trying to understand the person. I use a Harry Potter metaphor with the Pensieve where he has to go inside, and he drops into somebody else’s life and sees what that looks like. When I read an application, that’s my goal, I’m trying to drop into their Pensieve and try to understand what their life looks like and who they are, and ultimately if I were to take them out of their life and plop them down into Dartmouth, what would that look like and how would they contribute to Dartmouth?
A huge part of the process is managing your own biases. For example, I play hockey and I love hockey players, so when I see someone who plays hockey, I am really excited and have to put that aside and read their application for what it is. We’re looking for critical thinkers and everyone has to be academically qualified and everyone has to be engaged in some way — not just intellectually but also in the community in whatever way that looks like. One of the things that surprised me going in to admissions was when I was on First-Year Trips. I read Trips applications, and a lot of that process was looking for things that were red flags and reasons not to accept someone whereas in admissions, because of the number of people who apply per spot, there are inevitably way more people who are qualified than there are spots in the first-year class. So when we are reading applications, it’s not that most people are doing things wrong because most people are doing a lot of things right. There is a lot more thought that goes into it rather than just saying this person is doing x, y and z. It is cool to understand how we go from so many applications to our freshman class.
What advice do you offer for incoming students, and how is that affected by your experience as a student and an admissions officer?
JM: I try not to give people advice on things unless they ask me specifically. I don’t want to give people forceful advice because I’m not wise. It’s really important to remember at Dartmouth that you’re there to take up space, and I hope that people remember that they’re not sort of here by mistake and there’s not a cliche reason they’re here. You are at Dartmouth because you have something to contribute, and it’s really important to remember that. I remember when I was traveling in Minnesota this fall, my flight got in at 10 a.m., and I didn’t have anything to do until 7 that night, so I went into Minneapolis and found a pickup frisbee game. I wouldn’t have done that before coming to Dartmouth because I couldn’t throw a frisbee until my sophomore summer. And I was playing and was actually contributing to the game of frisbee, which I don’t usually do, and then I had this moment where I realized it was because at Dartmouth, people are really good at frisbee. It depends on where you come from, and some people come from schools that have really prepared them to be in an environment like Dartmouth and I didn’t. I went to a public school, and I came to Dartmouth and was like, “Everyone is smart and good at everything, and I am not.” It is important to remember as a student, especially when you first get here, that you do bring important things to the table and that just because you are surrounded by people who are also good at a lot of things doesn’t mean that you don’t also have something you’re really good at.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.