On decision release day, Laurel Harnett was a bundle of excitement and nerves. Little did she know, so was the entire Admissions staff. There is a buzz in the atmosphere that you can feel. So much so that staff from other divisions will stop by the Admission’s offices and listen in on the calls, smiles on their faces, basking in the true joyfulness that envelopes the entire Harris community on that day. Calling admitted students, many of whom they have come to know over the course of a year, to tell them they have been accepted to Harris brings a level of satisfaction and happiness that is very personal to each member of the recruitment team.

We thought it would be fun to get both sides of the story. Here, Laurel shares her memories of that day, followed by our Director of Student Recruitment, Jenny Erickson’s recollection of her experience calling Laurel and how much decision release day means to the Office of Admissions here at Harris.

Laurel’s take on that day:

In the Fall of 2016, I was not only preparing to graduate early with my undergraduate degree in December, but I was also simultaneously applying for the Harris School of Public Policy’s early action application deadline in November, which isn’t recommended if you’re looking to keep your stress level down. I knew that I would attend graduate school, but had no solid plan as to where I would go or what I would study.  I was a Criminal Justice major and my passions came to life with child welfare and juvenile justice issues, but I wasn’t exactly sure how that would play out in a career - until I heard about Harris. During an elective Social Policy course, I remember my professor referencing Harris as being the "premiere institution" where the brightest students go to do amazing policy work and affect real change. I should have been paying attention in class, but instead I immediately began researching Harris and found Irving B. Harris’ legacy, which read, “…Irving B Harris’ true passion was improving the lives of children through innovative solutions to wide-ranging social problems.”  I thought…FINALLY, a place where I can continue my studies and gain the skills to create change for children and families. Now all I needed to do was convince myself, and the admissions team, that I was worthy of a UChicago education.

I was nervous on decision day because I didn't have my usual Dunkin' Donuts coffee in hand when I arrived at work. Who needs coffee when your heart is already racing, am I right?  When I arrived at the State of Illinois building, I made it known to everyone in my division that today was the day. I also made it very clear that I was not to be relied on to do any meaningful work because I would be FAR too busy refreshing my email to see the status of my application. My boss, who wrote one of my letters of recommendation, just chuckled.

Right before lunch (that I didn't plan on eating because, you know, *nerves*) I received a phone call with a "773" area code. This rudely interrupted my obsessive email refreshing! When I realized this could be someone from UChicago, I thought, "Wow, are they really going to reject me over the phone?!" Nevertheless, I answered with a low volume office voice in an attempt to sound professional, but mainly to mask my anxious vocal chords. On the other line was the ever-peppy, yet reassuring voice of Jenny Erickson, Director of Admissions at Harris.

 "Hi this is Jenny calling from the Harris School of..." I swear my heart fell into my stomach, but I needed to pick it back up and collect myself. After her sincere congratulations on my acceptance to Harris and between my "thank yous" and "oh my Gods," Jenny asked who I would notify first. To be honest, I needed to process this myself. I made it to the big leagues, the "premiere institution."

The following Sunday, I graduated from Lewis University. Instead of a graduation party celebrating my achievement, I rewarded myself with a Harris School of Public Policy sweatshirt and car decal, which is proudly displayed on my back window. Happy Graduation to me! The excitement I've had since decision day has continued throughout my Harris experience. Not only do I walk into Harris feeling honored to be here, but Harris makes me feel like they are honored to have me.

Jenny’s take on that day:

My first ever event at Harris was a meet and greet with a few of our alumni at the Illinois Facilities Fund (IFF). Shortly after we completed set-up, while I was pacing nervously and trying to enjoy the view over the lake, our first student walked in. Since she was the first to arrive at the event and it gave us time to chat; usually at Admissions Events we only have a few minutes to get to know each student. I was thankful to have some additional time to spend with Laurel; Laurel was one of those students who radiates a passion for public policy. It was my impression that she had planned to arrive early so she would be sure to have time to spend with staff and share her interest in Harris. Before writing this post, I reviewed the notes I had taken after the event and I reference Laurel’s passion for policy and her work experience in the social work sector that helped her realize she wanted to make larger changes at a policy level. Usually our notes are written in quick shorthand; occasionally from the back of an Uber on our way to the next event. So, when you see a paragraph of notes, you know the conversation had left quite an impression.

As other students began to arrive Laurel and I ended our conversation, but she was one of the students I would work very closely with in the coming weeks leading up to the Early Action deadline. I remember jumping at the chance to call Laurel, making sure my colleagues all knew that I had been working with her and wanted to be the one to tell her the exciting news.

I wondered – would she be surprised? Who would she tell first?

I dialed her number; my anticipation of her responses increasing my excitement.

It rang.

And rang.

Talk about anti-climactic! I’d been waiting days to make this call!

Just as I thought it would flip over to voicemail, I heard Laurel’s voice answer. I shared the good news with her and welcomed her to Harris. Making that call is still one of my favorite moments from last year.

I’m not sure if Laurel remembers that we first met at IFF, but I think it’s helpful for students to know how much all the conversations, essay statements, and applications stay with us. I think students often underestimate the impact they have on the Admissions team.

When you meet with students who you know are not going to shy away from the hard questions; who demonstrate they are eager to pursue the education they know will allow them to make changes in their community; who are some of the brightest and most talented students you have met; of course, these students impact our team. It’s why we send Slack messages to each other at 11:30 p.m. on a Sunday night when an international student we’ve been working with confirms they are attending Harris. Or why we forward an email to other members of our team when a student sends us a written response confirming their acceptance and sharing why they selected Harris from the many offers they had.

We know that our students are going to have an impact, and it’s why we take pride in our students, and remember their acceptance calls over a year later. The next few weeks we’ll be reading and discussing Round One applications – but you can bet we are all looking forward to decision release day and connecting with our admitted students.

Watch our video of the 2018 Early Action admitted student calls. Oh the feels!