John McLaughlin
Communications Office student writer Alejandro Sosa Hernández ’26 recently spoke with Hamilton’s new Associate Vice President and Dean of Admission John McLaughlin, who came to Hamilton after eight years as director of admission at the University of Pennsylvania. The two discussed McLaughlin’s role overseeing all aspects of new student recruitment and selection. Here are some excerpts.
What is the difference between filling university-sized classes at an Ivy League university like Penn versus those at a small, liberal arts college?

The fundamental objectives are the same. [The admission staff] promotes the institution, educates people on the application process, and works to build the class. Both Penn and Hamilton are remarkably selective, and we are fortunate to have so many people interested in joining our community. As a result, we put a lot of time and energy into our review process to make sure we’re creating the best possible class.

Despite these core similarities, there are some meaningful differences in scale. Hamilton prides itself on the personalized attention in its admission process and its educational experience, and I have been impressed by the relationships that we build with students throughout their journey. It’s harder to build these relationships, both in admission and in the classroom, at larger institutions. And the strength of these relationships is one of the things that sets Hamilton apart from many other excellent colleges and universities.

What do you see as the biggest challenges in student recruitment over the next decade?

Demography is a challenge. The population of U.S. high school graduates is shrinking, and it’s declining faster in the parts of the country where we’ve traditionally seen a lot of interest in Hamilton (e.g., the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic). Hamilton is a college with a national and international profile,  so we need to ensure that students across the country and around the world are considering Hamilton as a premier destination. It should be noted that many of our peers are facing the same challenge and opportunity, so it’s a noisy marketplace. We must work to distinguish ourselves in this crowded space.

Policy is another challenge. For generations, colleges and universities have been able to consider individuals in their totality in order to create diverse communities where all members can benefit from living and learning with and from individuals who look, think, and feel differently from themselves. This educational benefit of diversity has been upheld, multiple times, by the Supreme Court; however, there is a possibility that the current court makes a different decision. Whatever decision may come, it does not change our interest in enrolling a diverse class and our belief in the educational benefits of diversity for all. It may change how we do our work, and we will be prepared to think creatively and thoughtfully about that challenge when the time comes.

Sustainability is another consideration. How do we maintain the quality of our admission practice and our own sanity at a time when we’re experiencing huge increases in applications? I’m eager to think about opportunities in our process that maintain the integrity of our review, in a sustainable way, while creating capacity for our team members to address the challenges of the future.

What have you learned so far from your new colleagues?

I’ve enjoyed meeting so many people in the Hamilton community, especially my colleagues in Siuda House. I’m inspired by the care they invest in supporting our prospective students and their families. Our admission officers are remarkably accessible, and they work hard to answer countless, never-ending questions in a thoughtful and timely way. My colleagues in admission operations ensure accuracy and precision in how we do our work. We are a relatively small team, but we are mighty! On a personal note, I’ve also learned where to find the best Utica greens in the area.

You’ve only been here a few months, but what do you see as your biggest “victory” so far?

I arrived in the middle of the application cycle. My colleagues deserve a lot of credit for building the momentum around the admission process, so we’re on track for a successful season. Because I arrived mid-cycle, it provides me with an immediate opportunity to observe Hamilton’s practices in action. In a lot of ways, I see that as an advantage over coming to Hamilton in between cycles and trying to envision a new process. Hamilton already has a strong process in place, but I’m identifying and implementing improvements along the way. I’m familiar with tremendous volume at Penn, and we had good systems and processes to manage nearly 60,000 applications. I’m eager to bring some of my experience and perspective while preserving some of the personalized character and accessibility that distinguish Hamilton as a premier admission office in our field.

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