Laurie Koehler, George Washington University

It should come as no surprise that The George Washington University is one of the most politically active campuses in the country.  The private research university, located in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of the District of Columbia, is bordered by the White House, Potomac River, the Watergate complex, and the State Department and within walking distance of the National Mall, the Washington Monument, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the capital's preeminent cultural institutions from the Smithsonian Institution to the National Air and Space Museum.

Built in honor of the nation's first president, The George Washington University -- known colloquially as GW -- was founded in 1821, some twenty years after the president's death, by an Act of Congress. Washington had left a bequest for the purpose of establishing a national institution of higher learning. The school opened its doors with three faculty members, one tutor and 30 students. Today, the 43-acre Foggy Bottom campus, along with the nearby Mount Vernon campus, are home to more than 10,000 undergraduate students.

The university offers more than 2,000 undergraduate courses across 72 majors through its six undergraduate schools and colleges, including the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Business, Elliott School of International Affairs, the School of Public Health and Health Services, the School of Engineering and Applied Science and the School of Nursing. With 1,174 full-time faculty, the student-faculty ratio is 13 to 1, and 55 percent of the university's classes have fewer than 20 students. The most popular majors include: Social Sciences; Business, Management, Marketing, and Related Support Services; Health Professions and Related Programs; Communication, Journalism, and Related Programs; and Psychology.

When not in the classroom, students can choose among more than 450-student run clubs that span the spectrum from culture and the arts to religious, culinary, academic, social and, of course, the political. The GW College Democrats are one of the largest organizations, drawing speakers such as former DNC Chair Howard Dean, Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau, and Vice President Joe Biden. Never fear, the GW College Republicans counter with former President George W. Bush, political strategist Karl Rove and former presidential candidate and U.S. Represenative Ron Paul. Like a good informed electorate, the campus has three major news sources on campus: the GW Hatchet, the twice-weekly newspaper; the online The GW Patriot, which also publishes a peer-reviewed journal, and The International Affairs Review. And for those less politically inclined, there are multiple a capella groups, including The Sons of Pitch, as well as The Voice gospel choir. One of the biggest on-campus events is the annual Battle of the A-Cappella groups. There is also ballroom dancing, improv, a Shakespeare company, the University Symphony Orchestra and the list goes on… There is also an active Greek life on campus with 17 men's social fraternity chapters and 11 Panhellenic sororities.

The Colonials are founding members of the Atlantic 10 Conference and 27 men's and women's varsity teams compete in the NCAA Division I. The Colonials' colors are buff and blue -- the color of George Washington's uniform in the Revolutionary War. And their mascot? George, of course. Students can also participate at the club level in 24 different sports, including ice-hockey, sailing, horseback riding, ultimate Frisbee, karate, racquetball and rugby. And the university hosts 13 different intramural sports each semester, as well.

Notable alumni include former First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, cookbook author Ina Garten, actor Alec Baldwin, Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, actress Kerry Washington, and fashion stylist Rachel Zoe. Twelve GW alumni currently serve in the U.S. Congress, representing 11 different states and U.S. territories.

The school has not been without controversy in recent years. In 2012, university officials revealed the school had misreported admissions data to organizations like US News & World Report. In the wake of those revelations, Dean of Admissions Kathryn Napper retired. In 2013, the university reported it had misrepresented its admissions as "need blind" when in fact they are "need aware."  With new leadership at the school, the university invited a Washington Post reporter to observe what happens behind the closed doors of the admission process for the Class of 2018, which you can read more about below.

So please join GW's new senior associate provost for enrollment management Laurie Koehler to learn more about what it was like to invite a reporter into the admission committee room, what kind of student thrives at GW, and her best advice for those interested in applying to the school that uses the nation's capital as its campus.

What kind of student does well at George Washington University? How would you describe the student body? 

A successful GW student is one who is willing to take healthy risks in the spirit of learning and who is invested in making a difference in the world by applying knowledge gained in both the classroom and through internships.  Students who do well at GW obviously are bright and hard-working. They’ve challenged themselves by taking tough classes in high school, and they’ve done well in them. They’ve also been actively involved in the life of their schools and communities. What really lends to the vibrancy of our community is that our students, those that thrive at GW, tend to be hands-on learners. A phrase you’ll regularly hear on campus is “knowledge in action.” Whether studying biology or finance, public health or engineering, international affairs or psychology, our students tend to be those who aren’t satisfied with the role of passive learner. They want to roll up their sleeves and engage with the material—in their labs, in their classrooms, as well as in the field. And what a great learning lab they have in Washington, D.C.! We also attract faculty members who are similar, as they tend to be both researchers and practitioners and choose to integrate the many resources of the area into their syllabi. Our students shine in their commitment to research, whether in the lab or in the field, and in their service to the community and university.


What would you most want an applicant to GW to know?  And what is your best application advice for students?

I would want a student to know that our Admission team treats your application and your candidacy with respect and care. My advice: Own the process. You are applying to college, not your parent. This is a great opportunity to show your family that you are ready to make the transition to college. Take it upon yourself to contact admission offices with your questions, complete your applications, and schedule any interviews or campus visits. Also, the search process can be taxing; deciding where to attend isn’t easy, and it’s a decision that involves significant investment. I truly believe that if you focus on fit rather than on where your friends and classmates are applying or where various publications rank colleges and universities, you’ll land at the right place.


You recently allowed the Washington Post to be a witness to your admission process. Why did you make that decision and would you do it again? What did you learn from it?

While it was certainly a bit of a risk to welcome a reporter, particularly from a national news outlet like the Washington Post, to observe our application review process, we felt strongly it was one worth taking. We were familiar with the work of Nick Anderson, the journalist who wrote the story, and trusted his ethics and integrity. Beyond that, we knew from our work itself that students and families sometimes express concerns that the admission process, particularly at selective colleges and universities, seems mysterious. This only adds to their anxiety about the process.

Often, people are looking for the “silver bullet” that will assure them admission to a particular school. In the world of holistic application review, there is no such thing.  We felt we could show how we at GW, and more broadly at many admission offices, approach the process with great thought, care, and seriousness. I truly believe that folks who do this work for a living do it because they care about students and are eager to be of help in their college search processes. In my sixteen years of experience in admissions and enrollment, I have come to believe that admissions staff members are more often looking for a reason to admit students rather than a reason to deny them. While there is no magic combination of factors that guarantees admission, we hoped that exposing our own process to students and families would provide some reassurance about the humanity of that process.  We’re pleased that we made the decision to allow the reporter access to our process. (You can read the article here.)


What are the college admission-related issues that you have been thinking about lately? What keeps you up at night?

There are a number of topics related to admission and enrollment that I think about regularly – access to college for students from underserved populations and communities, the overemphasis on “selectivity” in the ways we think about college quality, and proposals to measure educational quality by post-graduate income—all of these things are of concern. The topic that is at the forefront of my mind right now is financing a college education. Costs to students and their families, the outdated federal formula for calculating need, government cutbacks to higher education during the past decade (especially since most students in this country attend a public college or university)—all of these things worry me.

I was a first-generation college student and a Pell grant recipient and vividly remember worrying every semester about how my bill was going to get paid. Since the recession, it’s no longer only low-income families who experience these concerns—more and more families are struggling to figure out how to make the finances work.

Financing one’s education is a really complex issue, and I get frustrated when the public discourse tries to make it sound simple, sometimes by demonizing one of the players—colleges and universities, federal or state government, or parents who have been criticized for not “sacrificing” enough to save for their kids’ educations. If it were an easy problem to solve, we would have done so already, and we wouldn’t have folks like the Lumina Foundation, the Gates Foundation, the President of the United States and the Department of Education significantly investing their time and resources looking for solutions. We all own this problem, and we will have to work together to try to solve it.


What is your favorite thing about GW?

I’m still relatively new to GW, having started here in July 2013, and I feel like I am discovering something new every week that makes me excited to be here. I love the energy of our urban Foggy Bottom campus, and I also love the green space and more traditional feel of our Mount Vernon campus (they are about ten minutes apart). I had a blast going to the basketball games this year and sitting across the arena from the “Colonial Army”—our highly-spirited student fan section.  And I love our Student Association (GW’s student government), which takes on weighty issues and makes things happen. This year, for example, one of their priorities was to bring together in one location our centers for student physical health and student mental health. When the students combined their skills, passion, and commitment to this cause, along with a University President and senior leadership team who respect student opinions, these two groups together made the decision to co-locate and move these essential student functions to the heart of campus.



Add comment