In this podcast episode I will be talking with Greg Zaiser, Vice President of Admissions and Financial Planning at Elon University in Elon, North Carolina.
Greg provided valuable insights that should be helpful for both parents and students as they navigate the college admissions process and consider Elon for their college destination.
About Elon University
Elon University is a private University founded in 1889 located close to North Carolina’s primary high tech region, The Research Triangle, and in Elon, North Carolina on a 636-acre campus. Elon is home to more than 6,000 undergraduate students, although about 25 percent of students come from North Carolina, the school has students representing 49 states and 50 countries. Elon offers sixty undergraduate majors and also has an enrollment of over 700 in programs for law, business and medicine. The school has a 78 percent four-year graduation rate, ranking them in the top 10 percent in the country for private universities. 74% of Elon graduates have at least one international study experience, this is against the 1% national average for international travel and study. This is often combined with internships, research or service. In addition, Elon study USA program includes opportunities to study in Los Angeles, New York City, Washington DC, Hawaii, Alaska and other locations.
More student-centered. More globally engaged. More experiential.”
In This Episode You Will Learn
- Elon’s strategic objectives
- the commitment to study abroad and 3 out of 4 students spend at least one semester abroad
- advice for high school students today that may help them gain admission to a school like Elon
- things people might not know about Elon
- the close knit community of Elon, between faculty and students
- a day in the life at Elon
- engaged learning at Elon
- the high internship rate and opportunities for students
Helpful Links And Resources
JASON: Hi, welcome to this episode of the Hired Graduate podcast. I am your host, Jason Hilliard and today we will be interviewing the Vice President of Admissions and Financial Planning at Elon University, Greg Zaiser. Now for those of you who don’t know, Elon University is a private University founded in 1889 located close to North Carolina’s primary high tech region: The Research Triangle and Elon North Carolina on a 636 Acre campus. Elon is home to more than 6,000 undergraduate students, although about 25% of students come from North Carolina, the school has students representing 49 states and 50 countries. Elon offers 60 undergraduate majors and also has an enrollment of over 700 in programs for law, business and medicine. The school has a 78% four-year graduation rate, ranking them in the top 10% in the country for private universities. 74% of Elon graduates have at least one international study experience, this is against the 1% national average for international travel and study. This is often combined with internships, research or service. In addition, Elon study USA program includes opportunities to study in Los Angeles, New York City, Washington DC, Hawaii, Alaska and other locations. On the line, we have Greg Zaiser the Vice President, Admissions and Financial Planning at Elon. I understand that Greg was a student at Elon in the 80’s and has been in Elon’s Admission department for over 20 years. Thank you Greg; for taking the time out of your busy schedule, right in front of a big holiday week and in the middle of your admissions time period.
GREG: Glad to be here, thank you.
JASON: You bet. I see that we’re kind of in the early admissions period. We’ve passed, I think the early decision and early action deadlines and you are, I think, the next major deadline and regulation deadline is Jan 10, but you’ve already started making some decisions. So I’m sure your staff is pretty busy this time of the year.
GREG: We have in fact, our early action which is typically our largest pool releases this evening. We are typically scheduled for December 20th, we going to post a little bit early by doing so this evening. So yep, it’s been a busy couple weeks.
JASON: And I understand you typically have about over 10,000 applications that come in on annual basis.
GREG: Correct. That’s right.
JASON: That’s amazing. That seems like a large volume of applications to process in your office. How do you all manage that?
GREG: Well, you know the busiest of the three application pools. Early decision, Early action and Regular deadline. Early action is the one that is the largest. This year, about 6,200 applications. So from November 10th to December 10th roughly, we are literally reading at a good pace in order to make sure we get to know the applicants, identify the students who are the best students for this kind of environment in terms of the engaged learning that we offer at Elon. I would say that in a successful admissions operation, it’s often a busy time but probably that period time between November 10th and December 10th, when we are reading the largest number of applications in a concentrated time it’s all hands on deck. We have a great staff full of great people who really love getting to know the students that they are working with and I think that motivates us all to really develop the admit pool that we are looking for.
What are the strategic objectives of Elon University at the moment? What are you looking for?
GREG: Yes, one of them that you’ve already mentioned is, you know we have a strategic plan that we really live by at Elon. The strategic plan is called the “Elon commitment”. One of the things I love most about this environment is we live our strategic plans, all the meetings, all the conversations that we have are always surrounded by the pillars of the strategic plan and one of those, there are several but one of them is an unprecedented commitment to the varsity in global engagements and while that is probably not going to sound unique in today’s college and university environment. I will say to you that that has really helped us transform the Elon community. We’ve been working in this decade to double need-based financial aid; we have just about done that, so we would have accomplished that just about the time 2020 rolls around. We have tripled the number of international students at Elon. We have, I think done overall a good job at making sure that by doubling need-based financial aid, we have diversified the university by expanding the number of students that are from different backgrounds who can come and experience this kind of place.
And I think the other strategic thing that we are really focused on that you’ve already referenced is the commitment to global education. We have 74% of our student spending at least one term abroad. Our goal in this strategic plan is 100% access to study abroad and so what we’ve done is we’ve studied who is not able, who historically has not studied abroad in Elon and why? And then what do we need to do to make it possible for students to study abroad and two of those things- one has been cost, so we’ve invested a lot in seeking scholarships to help support students to study abroad for a semester or for a winter term. And another thing we recognize that often times athletes or performing artists, students who are really invested in these particular areas where schedules and seasons prohibit them from getting away from campus, developing programs where different athletic teams and different groups of students are studying abroad for maybe more concentrated periods of time but ensuring that they are able to have the same kind of experiences that non-athletes and non-performing artists have at the university. And we do that because we know that study abroad is the single most important eye-opening experience I think that an education can provide. Getting outside your comfort zone, understanding that the United States perspective is just one small lens of the world and it really encouraging students to understand the world beyond the world that they’ve been part of. So even our own international students who are studying abroad here as undergraduates take advantage of study abroad in a part of the world that they are less familiar with.
JASON: Wow. That is great. I didn’t personally study abroad when I was in college. It was available to me, but my brother who was 2 years younger, he actually did. He went to Dominican Republic for a semester and being in that environment, a third-world environment – he had limited electricity and those types of things – really opened his eyes to thinking about the world beyond the world he lived. I think that he came back completely different, motivated, driven and you know, student and person ready to go into the world. So I definitely see the huge value of being able to study abroad; and having it being a strategic objective of Elon. I think a 100% access to students into thinking through the cost component and then those different students or a group of students that may not normally be able to because of schedule constraints, those athletes and those in performing arts. I think that’s just fantastic, great goal and the reason why your school has set a high rating for study abroad, so that’s just tremendous opportunity for students. So let’s just shift gears, there’s a lot of students that are interested in a school like Elon…
What advice would you give to high school freshmen today that may help them gain admission to a school like Elon?
GREG: Yes. That’s a great question. You know I think first and foremost, the media creates, this sense of, recreates a sense of admission offices being environment where even in today’s world, a group of people are hurdled around a conference table and they’re reading applications or they’re saying yes or no to students whose applications they brought electronically and I would say to you to some degree that, that is the case but one thing I want all students to know is that regardless of the school, when you are applying for admission, you are applying to the “admissions” office. Our goal is to admit students, I think we often, create the sense where’s there’s also the media, that schools are looking to decline or reject applications. No, the goal is to admit students, because we want for these students to have an experience that we think is really the best one that they can have, that can be transformational.
So I think that’s one, a philosophy to recognize that the goal there is for colleges and universities to work with students as opposed to against them. And I think the other thing too is that all colleges and universities, certainly Elon, we’re looking for students who will do a number of things but academically they’re going to take a challenging course load. We recognize that not every school and not every students is an AP student or an IB (International Baccalaureate) student, does not mean that in this competitive environment that you can’t be admitted to a college or university, a selective college or university without this kind of things. What’s most important is for students to understand that our hardest work is to get the context, to understand the environment, the educational experiences that have been available to the applicants throughout their high school career. So if a school doesn’t offer the AP, does that disadvantage them? Well no, because we can’t, we would be penalizing the student necessarily for not having the opportunity to take an advanced placement curriculum. Same thing with the IB, it’s also important that students know that we recognise that some students are better suited for, in some cases college prep but an honors curriculum and that their success in that type of course work is critical. Not every student has to be taken 7 AP’s and be doing the IB diploma.
And I think the last thing I will say is from the outside of classroom experience, everyone will tell you, every person like myself, a university admissions officer will say we are looking for students who have invested in something outside the classroom. I like to tell students that I will rather see a student do three or four things for 3 or 4 years throughout high school or longer even before high school, than to do, to invest in ten different activities and only do them for one year. We’re looking for depth, we’re looking for breadth, and we’re looking for students who have done well in the classroom but who are showing us through their application that they are committed to something. And how do we know they are committed to something? By their level of investment in some of the activities and organizations and things that they do outside, the way they spend their time outside the classroom.
JASON: Sure, sure. I think that statement is consistent with a statement done during, I think it was in 2011, in an Elon admissions video, by Leo Lambert-your president. He made the statement that a lot of people at Elon are very driven, they want to do things, they want to get involved. So I think that’s exactly in line with where you’re going. So I think that’s important for high school students to understand that it is more than how high your scores are, what your grade point average is. Those are very important factors but it’s the whole student that you’re looking at. So I think that makes a big difference for folks interested in understanding more about Elon.
What would you say are a few things that people might not know about Elon, some of those things that stand out, that differentiate and maybe some lesser known things about Elon?
GREG: Sure. I think Jason; you did a really good job in your opening, sort of summarizing a lot of the key attributes of Elon. I will say that often times, a lot of people are unfamiliar with us. As you mentioned that we are over 6,000 undergraduates and 750 graduate students but I think our size surprises people. And frankly with 6,000 undergraduates there are not many schools our size and what that allows for is sort of the best in both worlds, smaller classes, faculties who are incredibly accessible, but also the breadth of opportunities for students from across the globe. Activities, 200 student organizations, NCAA division one athletics, and the campus is really designed for collaborative learning and that sort of thing. I will say this; Elon is all about relationships, relationships between students and their professors, students and staff, students and alumni. If you really assess and there have been a lot of research to this, the highest quality of education comes from the highest level of attention and engagement. And what that means is this is the kind of place where, we have this program, you’ve probably read about it and a lot of people talk about it; every Tuesday morning at Elon university we have a program called “college coffee”.
And College Coffee is a 40 minute community gathering time where students, staff and faculty come together for breakfast, coffee, hot chocolate, donuts and fresh fruit. It’s been going on longer than I have been at Elon. What I love about it is that a senior at Elon can see their first year English professor and that English professor will still know their name and still remember where they’re from and they will strike up a conversation and what the student recognizes is that ”Oh wow, I was really more than just someone in your class, I’m someone that you remembered” and I think when it comes to mentoring, Elon faculty are the best, they are teachers, scholars and mentors. They teach first, they do thorough amount of research but they also mentor the students. Research will tell you that if a student has at least one mentor, if we all have at least someone we feel we can go to as a mentor in our lives particularly at the undergraduate level, there’s going to be greater opportunity for success whatever that next step may be.
JASON: Yes, I couldn’t agree more and that was my experience in college. I had several mentors; we had a chaplain of our social fraternity. He was a priest and I definitely went to him for some of that side of things where you’re at school, away from home and if you were scared or concerned. I was able to share those types of thoughts and things with him. It was comforting knowing I had that level of openness and that was huge for me. As a finance major in the school of Business, I got to know the faculty, the administration and those different teachers; the finance teacher that I got into an honors course for portfolio practical where we managed part of the endowment fund for Creighton University, and that teacher who selected me through interview process. This was both semesters, senior year, 7:30 to 8:20am class on Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays. You have to be committed as a college senior to be going through two semesters of those early classes but he was a huge mentor to me and really advised me on the area of finance. We studied fundamental analysis and Benjamin Graham; and Warren Buffet was in our backyard there in Omaha, Nebraska. We had a lot of discussions and he was open and available. I think if you have that level of engagement and you have that level of openness at Elon and have every Tuesday morning college coffee and you’re able to engage and meet and get those mentorships going. I think that’s just a great experience for students, so that is really good to hear and definitely positive.
Give me a glimpse of “A Day in the Life” at Elon. If I was to go on your campus, let’s just paint a picture. We are full swing into a semester, let’s call it a nice day. It’s a good day out, I’m outside at the Mosley student union center and take a seat on a bench. I just observe and listen for an hour, what am I seeing?
GREG: I like that question, yes. I’m thinking of first of all, North Carolina in the spring is absolutely the closest thing to perfection, weather wise I can imagine. So, I’m envisioning lots of students playing freebies on the lawn, I’m seeing students running back and forth from class to different student organizations, meetings and what they have. You may see students maybe in a coat and tie getting ready to go to an internship. You’re actually going to see professors and students taking to one another, maybe over coffee on the patio at the Mosley center. You’re going to see students going to the fitness center. You’re going to see, that’s one of the wonderful things about college campus, is the vibrancy of people going here there and really everywhere but I think more than anything you’re probably going to notice is a sense of comradery among the students and a similar sense of familiarity and comfort between the students and faculty. And I can say this too, you might see a tour group, I love this about Elon, you might see a tour group going by and you might have professors and other administrators stopping and speak to a tour and just welcome people to campus. So it’s really part of a nice vision as we sit here on a cold day in December and think about what the spring semester will look like.
JASON: Couldn’t agree more, it does sound nice. I appreciate that.
What would you say the type of students that do best in your school, how would you classify them if you had to?
GREG: Yes, that’s a great question and I ask that a lot too. You know, I hesitate to say that there’s any one type of student who’s most successful at Elon. I will say this, that engaged learning is experience based which is all about providing students access to some of our signature programs like undergraduate research again driven by faculty relationships and service and internships and global study. I think that those types of experiences that are engaged learning experiences tend to draw on the student who is really interested in being busy, heavily involved and getting the most out of an educational experience for a college environment.
So that’s not to say you have to be an extrovert or terribly outgoing but I will say the student who does is looking for a college experience that is going to really challenge them both in the classroom from the perspective of if there’s a pair amount of group work, why? Because any graduate school or professional setting, people are going to work in teams and you need to learn to be comfortable working in teams. You’re going to do a lot of presentations, so I would say because you’re going to do a lot of presentation at the Graduate school level and in a professional environment and so the educational experience here is really in a lot of ways designed to obviously prepare students for life after college. So I think the student who is not afraid of that kind of thing or recognizes that’s going to be incredibly valuable to them throughout their career in life after college is the student who is probably most drawn to the Elon campus.
JASON: Alright, great. What would you say, so that’s good information, in terms of, you mentioned a couple of times; internships, experiential learning, the rate of internships that you have available to students when I was just researching was super high. I think I saw, what was it, 92% of students complete internship, is that an accurate? How is that?
Elon has 92% of students completing internships. Do you have connections to companies, through the research triangle? Where are students getting these internships and these experiences?
GREG: Sure, yes. We obviously think that again, a place like Elon that values experiential learning, engagement, is going to really focus on internship experience. So we have a Student professional development center at the university. This is career services, 25 years ago it just moved into the 21st century. So this is the way it works at Elon, the career center or the student professional developmental center is designed to prepare students early in their college career to be advocates for themselves and to be primed and ready for a professional experience. So what does that mean? Resume techniques, interviewing techniques, etiquette, networking, kinds of environment, the student professional development center does that as well.
There’s also in each of the professional schools of the university, there’s a career center in each of the professional schools so that there’s someone who is developing, networking with employers across the country and frankly across the globe to create internship, develop relationships to encourage internship experiences for Elon students. So the business school requires internship, while we can say you are required to do an internship unless we have someone out there helping students find those internship or helping to develop connections for Elon students, same way the school of communications. The school of Education obviously, all students are required for teaching education to do student-teaching experience and that’s not the first time students are outside the classroom actually working with students. And then the college of Arts and Sciences which is Elon College at Elon has staff members in the student professional development center who’s traveled and developed connections for the university. We utilize our alumni, we utilize our parent connection to help really increase in number of opportunities for students. So that’s why it’s so high at Elon because we see the success.