The following was published in our annual newsletter to guidance counselors, which mailed in September 2014.

Dear Counselor Colleagues,

I recently concluded my tenth year at Hamilton. It is an honor to serve this institution, which I love like my own, and I hope I’m lucky enough to be writing to you from this same desk ten years from now. Another career highlight, which concluded this summer, was the opportunity and privilege to serve on the Board of Directors for The Common Application.

Yes, you read that right. My four-year term ended this past summer and those who know anything about The Common Application realize this past year was not the shiniest of moments for the nearly 40-year-old member organization, often mistaken as a technology vendor. A new operating system was rolled out and the technical glitches were significant, even at times devastating. It seems like everyone — from applicants, to counselors, to admission deans, and even a few presidents — weighed in to ( justifiably) express angst and frustration. Many colleges, Hamilton included, pushed back their early deadlines to help ease students’ fears. Rival application providers saw an opportunity to provide new options and the media swooped in to report it all. I think we can all agree: The Common Application had seen better days.

Still, even with all of that in the rear-view mirror, I would not trade the journey for anything. Experiencing such failure and seeing who rallied, who criticized, who supported, and who led, especially during the most difficult moments, was illuminating. Witnessing how tirelessly Common App employees worked to improve something about which they cared so deeply, even when that was not obvious to those they were serving, was inspiring if not heart-rending. Learning more about the vast array of institutions in our education system, as staggeringly diverse as they are wonderful, and how hard their admission staffs work to balance the needs of applicants with the unique pressures and demands of the colleges they serve was eye-opening. And working with my fellow board colleagues to dig deep when we realized that “business as usual” would not be possible, admitting when we were in over our heads and needed to secure outside expertise, and defining the guiding principles against which we made decisions to serve our students and our colleges moving forward … well, let’s just say that I will forever be in awe of my board colleagues and I would gladly go into the trenches again with any of them.

We all like to leave something better than we received it. Sadly, at least when my term ended in July, I’m not sure I had that kind of impact on The Common Application. But I do believe the reverse is true. I know I’m a better dean for gaining a greater appreciation for how passionately folks on both sides of the desk work on behalf of students, and for having had the opportunity to serve an organization that is owning its mistakes, working hard to earn back the trust and confidence of those it wronged, evolving to remain relevant for the future, and all the while fighting hard to maintain a strong moral compass.

Perhaps by now you have figured out that I drafted this letter in response to the Common Application essay prompt: Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn? Thank goodness this message did not exceed 650 words and that you will not be rating my application on the basis of its contents.

With gratitude for your partnership and patience, here’s to another year of lessons learned!

Monica C. Inzer
Vice President and Dean of Admission and Financial Aid

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