April 27, 2001

VUSM changing admissions procedures

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Dr. Agnes Fogo, professor of Pathology, Medicine and Pediatrics, talks to prospective students Rasheeda Stephens, Fy Fy Okocha, and VMS I student Aron Rosenthal during an organ recital as part of the Second Visit Weekend. (photo by Donna Jones Bailey)

VUSM changing admissions procedures

A new vision is guiding Vanderbilt University School of Medicine to aggressively attract more top students, said Dr. J. Harold Helderman, professor of Medicine, Microbiology and Immunology, and chair of the medical school admissions committee. Helderman has initiated several changes in the admissions office since he assumed the position in July.

Since July, Helderman has worked to increase the active recruitment of outstanding students to Vanderbilt and make the admissions process more efficient. These changes are in conjunction with recommendations made last year by an oversight committee formed in response to a mandate from Dr. Harry R. Jacobson, vice chancellor for Health Affairs.

“We are striving to achieve a high success rate of accepted invitations from the most selective candidates,” said Helderman. “We want applicants to see Vanderbilt in the same light as other top medical schools such as Harvard, Duke, and Johns Hopkins.”

To help achieve this goal, the admissions office invited 125 accepted applicants for next year to revisit the campus. While these students have already been accepted to Vanderbilt, they have not decided which medical school to attend. The hope for Second Visit Weekend was to give the prospective students an in-depth look at the medical school community and encourage them to choose Vanderbilt. The weekend’s programs included in-depth tours of Vanderbilt’s facilities, presentations by current medical students, and a dinner at senior associate dean for Medical Education Dr. Deborah C. German’s house.

“I am very pleased with how Second Visit Weekend has turned out and have heard nothing but positive feedback,” said Pat Sagen, director of Admissions. “I believe we have made a very good case for them to come here next year.”

The application process itself has undergone a change as well. Each year, applicants to Vanderbilt must first complete a generic primary application called AMCAS (American Medical College Application Service). If invited for an interview, they must also complete a more detailed Vanderbilt-specific secondary application. In October, Vanderbilt launched an online version of its secondary application, which affords flexibility for applicants.

“Students are more comfortable being online than with the old-fashioned cut-and-paste method of paper applications,” said Helderman. “So we are accommodating them with our online secondary application.”

Helderman said paper applications will continue to be sent to students invited for interviews.

In prior years, Vanderbilt has traditionally evaluated primary AMCAS applications in paper format before deciding whether to offer an interview. This made for a barrage of cumbersome paper files handled by the admissions office, Sagen said.

Next year will mark the first time that AMCAS will only be available online. Faculty and staff involved in the admissions process will be trained in new software to evaluate AMCAS solely on computer, eliminating paper files. Applications will be transferred via computer between various reviewers and evaluated online, thus streamlining the entire process.

Perhaps the biggest change will occur this summer when Vanderbilt will hold training sessions for faculty and students who assist with applicant interviews. There are nearly 200 Vanderbilt-affiliated people on campus and across the country who interview nearly 800 applicants per year, said Sagen. To provide consistency, Vanderbilt will reduce the size of the interviewing team and spend more time teaching each member uniform interviewing strategies.

Also, as part of the new recruitment approach, accepted students will receive congratulatory phone calls from Helderman and their interviewer as encouragement to attend Vanderbilt.

The final change involves the office structure itself. Renovations will soon begin on the second floor of Light Hall where the admissions office is located. When complete, the admissions office will occupy a much larger office space with a new lounge for interviewing students.

“The new space will present a more dignified atmosphere to the interviewing students. We will have areas to hold coats and luggage during their interview day. The new furniture arrangement will better facilitate interpersonal communication and discussion between students and admissions staff,” said Helderman. “This past year has a been a transitional year for us. We will evaluate its successes and failures to tailor the upcoming year and work to successfully recruit even more top students to Vanderbilt.”