When the pandemic lockdowns shut down virtually all in-person summer enrichment programs for high school students, Pioneer Academics received an unprecedented number of applications for its online program, an increase of over 150% over last year. This presented several challenges to the Pioneer Academics admissions team:
- We wanted to offer as many students as possible the unique and invaluable experience of doing college-level research.
- We needed to maintain our rigorous admissions standards, assuring that each student accepted to the program was truly motivated, fully qualified, and placed in a setting that encouraged a successful experience.
- We needed to do all this quickly, since many applications were received close to the deadline.
Here’s how we met these challenges.
Expanding Opportunities for Students
First, we were able to increase the number of places available in Pioneer Research programs by expanding marginally the size of cohorts, if our assessment approves the expansion, and adding Pioneer team members, enabling us to ensure the same level of support. In order to maintain program quality and ensure that the quality of the student experience is not compromised, we did so with extreme care and attention, and in very limited numbers. While we wish we could open up more spaces for additional students, we chose only to add spaces in a way we felt did not risk the academic experience for our students.
The Pioneer Research Program’s core value resides in its holistic academic system, which includes the standards Pioneer has developed for both mentors and learners, the research curriculum, and the concrete oversight of each facet of the program. Since any expansion requires expanding every part of the program to assure the quality and integrity of the student experience, we have needed to keep our expansion modest.
Second, we added a creative new program for students who are still looking for an enriching, challenging, and meaningful summer academic experience. POSS (Pioneer Online Summer Study) is a free program open to any high school student interested in working on a research project with a team of peers. Groups will be sponsored by high school counselors and work on independent studies with the guidance of college professors. Students will not receive credit for a Pioneer program, but will have the experience of doing research at a level that will be good preparation for college. Complete information about this innovative new program is available on on our website.
Expanding Our Ability to Process Applications
Pioneer Admissions officers are a unique team with diverse, highly specialized capabilities. They need to understand students from around the globe, students from different continents. They need to decipher, from the materials in an application, the nature of an applicant’s interest, and they need to be experts on the variety of research concentrations available through the Pioneer Research Program.What is this unique admissions team like? For the first time, we are featuring our admission officers.
Many members of the Pioneer admissions team have a strong background in the field of college admissions. They are experienced in reading student essays and conducting student interviews. They include former college admission officers from Vassar College and Pomona College, as well as a former investment banking recruiter. In speaking of their work, all our admissions officers comment on the holistic nature of Pioneer’s admissions process. One reader put it this way: “We are aware of each student’s educational and social background going into the application and we try to find glimmers of potential in different pieces of the file.”
Here are a few of our admissions staff members, and some of what they have to say about their work.
Lara, Pioneer’s Associate Manager of Admissions, finds she learns most about a student through the long essay. “Each student has a unique story to tell and this can be the component that gives the most insight about a student’s personal and professional motivations.” She is passionate about helping students reach their goals, and this, she says, “is exactly what Pioneer Academics is doing and doing well.”
Admissions reader Sarah looks for authenticity. “Applications are always exciting when you feel like students are being authentic. It’s a great opportunity for us as admissions professionals to learn more about a young adult who has incredible potential in their lives—academically, psychologically, and emotionally.” When a student’s genuine interests are clear, the ability to connect that student with just the right research concentration is very satisfying.
Kira, another admissions reader, also enjoys the process that matches students’ interests with research areas. She praises Pioneer’s “fair, thorough, and compassionate evaluation practices,” and enjoys Pioneer’s online landscape, “which allows students to think about their academic interests almost in a vacuum, with laser-like focus.” She finds it exciting that Pioneer’s framework allows applicants to exercise their research skills and gain access to sophisticated research resources “without geographical obstacles.”
Reader Molly describes Pioneer’s holistic admissions process in a nutshell. “Our goal is to fully get to know you and not just send students through an assembly line. As you complete the application and interview it is important to stay true to yourself and not just answer questions in a way you think we want them to be answered. One of the greatest things about joining a cohort is to bring your own unique history and perspectives to a process so that every dimension of the research can happen. A strong candidate is one who knows who they are and is willing to share that with our team.”
Expanding Our Commitment
Given the number of applications, our dedicated staff are working around the clock to make sure each student is given our rigorous, high quality evaluation. We have added readers and added times for interviews for students who move to the interview stage. We retain our commitment to discerning whether students are sufficiently interested in their chosen research areas to be “set up for success” when placed in their cohorts. We look for an openness to new experiences that will be essential to participate fully in an international cohort. We look for students who can think on their feet, think critically, and present themselves as mature and professional. And, most importantly, we are looking for students who, refusing to allow COVID-19 to stand in the way of their intellectual pursuit, are genuinely excited about the prospect of becoming a Pioneer Scholar.