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Paul T. White
Assistant Dean for Admissions and Financial Aid
Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

For two decades, Paul White has been managing the process of evaluating and admitting students, first at Yale University, then at Hamilton College and Colgate University in New York. In 1994, he signed on as director of undergraduate admissions at Hopkins University; in 2000, he moved to the School of Medicine, where more than 6,400 hopefuls annually apply for a class that will number 120 members. This year, White became the first School of Medicine admissions dean to add financial aid to his job description.

You have a bachelor's degree in American Studies from Yale, a law degree from Georgetown, and you've made your entire career in admissions. How did that happen?
I wanted to help society change. Growing up, I wanted to be a judge. I was very impressed by a profile I read of Constance Baker Motley, the first black woman named to a federal bench. I saw judges as making decisions, hearing people out, hearing their issues. I always thought that was the greatest thing.

Then at Yale, I fell into working in the admissions office. I loved it. I did that for three years, then decided to get on with my career and go to law school.

After my first year at Georgetown, I realized how much I'd enjoyed working for a college. Whenever people asked me what I did prior to law school, they said my whole face would light up when I talked about admissions work. I went to law school to have an impact on people's lives, and it was only when I was there that I realized college administrators have an impact. That's what I wanted to have.

So, in a sense, you did become a judge after all.
Yes! I have the opportunity to help bring together a class, to shape the institution. The students I'm trying to get to Hopkins are the best. This job gives me an opportunity to influence what the entire class looks like.

With so many applications coming in every year, are there some you automatically toss in a rejection pile?
No. Every single one is reviewed. There are about 10 of us-me, Dr. James Weiss, who's the associate dean for admissions, and six to eight faculty members-who meet for about four hours every Wednesday from mid-August to mid-February, reviewing each application and selecting the students who are invited to interview. Many people assume medical schools only look at grade point averages and MCAT [Medical College Admission Test] scores. But you can have great scores and be as flat as this piece of paper. Numbers alone don't make you a good physician.

What does catch your eye?
Leadership, enthusiastic support from the student's home institution, a long-time interest in medicine and follow-through on that interest, community involvement. We look for quality that's all over the map, for students who've had enriching experiences, who are entrepreneurial, who are self-starters. These are the people who light up a school with their energy. And it's not just the 22-year-olds. The thing is to recognize excellence in all its forms, then bring that excellence here.

Is part of your job convincing students to accept an offer of admission?
To a certain extent, it is, but it isn't just the job of the admissions office. There's a perception that faculty don't care about students at Hopkins. To overcome this, we asked members of the Committee on Admission to contact students they'd interviewed who were later admitted. We wanted them to reach out and let prospective students know we're interested in them.

Another perception is that Hopkins is incredibly competitive-prospective students mistake competition to get in with competition once you're here, which is not the case at all.

Then there's our location, but the perception isn't what you think, that the neighborhood is unsafe. Instead, it's that Baltimore itself isn't as hot a town as Boston or New York or San Francisco. So now we make sure admitted students get a bus tour of the city, so they see there's more to it than just the Inner Harbor.

There's also the perception that our financial aid is inadequate.



Is it?
We don't run out of aid here. We are need-blind when it comes to admissions decisions. But sometimes we need to be more flexible with financial aid to meet our objectives.

Is that why you're now wearing two hats, admissions and financial aid?
I think the decision was based in part because of my interest-in 20 years you have to pick up something!-and because it seemed logical to combine these two related functions.

Financial aid isn't just to help students afford the cost after they have been admitted, but to counsel them on how to manage once they're here.

What's the most challenging part of your job?
Having to turn away really wonderful students. There are very few who apply to Hopkins who simply are not qualified. We could fill the class many times just with people we do not even have room to invite to interview. What's difficult is when some of these students (or their family members) call and ask, What happened? I have to let them know that there was nothing they did that was wrong, but that we're fortunate to be able to choose from a deep pool of talented students. These are tough calls to take.

What gets you going every day?
There are numerous parts of the job that I enjoy: working with the public, helping students, getting to know the faculty and staff better. And I love that this job is cyclical and never gets boring. Hopkins is constantly moving. It's a dynamic institution-it's be all you can be.

-Mary Ann Ayd

 

 

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