The Idea Exchange
You came to BC as a financial aid student working in the Admission Office. Why the Heights?
Grant Gosselin: Because I was raised Catholic, BC resonated with me in a way the other schools didn’t. When my father was laid off and unemployed for most of my junior and senior years of high school, we didn’t change our plans—I was still going to college—but the cost and what it would mean for our options was always hanging over our heads. I remember I walked across the stage at [high school] graduation thinking I was going to another university. It was even in the graduation program that I was headed off somewhere else. It wasn’t until June, when the financial aid office came back with a new offer, that [attending BC] became possible.
GG: The Casey family scholarship is really what made it possible.
Is that why you do what you do?
GG: As I think about my journey, I know there are so many other students—thousands of students I’ve worked with over the years—for whom money was the only obstacle to getting where they wanted to be. So, it’s really gratifying to work at BC. We’re one of just 20 private universities in the country that are able to meet full demonstrated need for every student and be need-blind in the [application] process.
How did you get started in admissions, then?
So in high school, I thought I was going to be a broadcast journalist—
You’ve still got time—
That’s right, ha!
But then I transferred into the School of Management during the end of my freshman year, thinking that the best way for me to move forward in my career was to make a lot of money. We didn’t have a lot growing up, so that was my vision of success.
What popped the balloon?
I had an internship at General Electric, and it really was the dream internship. But when I was offered a full-time job, I took a step back and thought about whether that was going to bring me personal satisfaction. It just didn’t feel like that’s what I needed to do for my career.
So what did?
I spent some time talking with some of my mentors—some of them here in the admission office—and I really felt like education might be the right path for me to combine my interest in helping students make sense of the college process, and also use some of my business skills, in terms of modeling a class, marketing to reach students and help them get a sense of the mission of the institution and how it might resonate with them.
What challenges accompany that work of reaching students and communicating the BC experience and ethos?
This year is fraught with its own set of challenges, especially the COVID-19 virus. Colleges and universities, including BC, are trying to understand how that will impact students’ and families’ decisions about enrollment.
One of our challenges in reaching families, particularly low-income families, is helping them understand the cost of a Boston College education. While the initial price tag is high, the net cost is often significantly lower than a local or public school because private institutions like BC, through the generosity of our donors, often have resources to fund financial aid in ways other institutions simply can’t. We worry about losing families before they even apply, because the sticker price scares them away.
Financial aid is obviously a central element of your work. How has it changed during your 23 years in admissions?
Well, there have been a lot of cuts, locally and federally, in terms of resources for higher education. Those have been passed on to the colleges and universities, which can only bear so much until that cost is transferred onto families.
It’s also shifted in terms of how students think about applying to college. Before the market crash in ʼ08, students were still applying to six, seven, eight schools. Afterward, families had to start thinking about a different list of colleges—schools they were confident would offer the financial aid they needed. Nowadays, students are applying to eight to 12 colleges, which creates even more uncertainty as colleges have had to admit more students to fill their classes. And there is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic will complicate this further.
BC’s admission numbers haven’t really changed that much in that time, though.
No, we’ve been very fortunate to be a leading institution nationally, so the demand for a Boston College education remains extremely strong. BC received roughly 30,000 applications this year, though that volume would have been greater if we adopted the application growth strategies some of our competitors have pursued. Too many colleges view their success by how many applicants they can attract. We don’t think that’s the right strategy for Boston College, or for students. We’re not looking to attract more students just to deny more students. We prefer quality over quantity. We want the very best students in our pool.
With student debt ballooning, it must be a significant part of that dialogue with students and families. What does that back-and-forth look like?
We talk a lot about relative debt. The debt coming out of a private, nonprofit bachelor’s degree is about $35,000 on average in this country. At Boston College last year, that number was $16,000 on average. I talk about that statistic all the time with families. We’re doing our part—even as we can’t solve the bigger problem—we’re meeting your full need, we’re doing it in a need-blind way.
With students, we’ll ask if we can talk to their families about this investment they’re about to make. When they pull up their other offers and compare them, often they’ll say, “Well I think it’s cheaper there.” And we come in and say, “Let’s actually talk about it—this school actually isn’t adding in all of your costs around books and travel. We put that into our work transparently, and some institutions hide those expenses.” So, it oftentimes is trying to help them have an apples-to-apples comparison.
Is that a really satisfying conversation?
Oh, enormously. A lot of it involves helping families understand why BC is different, that we really are interested not just in developing the mind academically and the pre-professional path for students, but we also very much care about their own internal development—their spiritual, inner personal, and cultural growth.
Can you recall a specific example?
Last year I met with an admitted first-generation student and his mother in the admission lobby at five o’clock on May 1 (the deposit deadline) for over an hour. The reason he wasn’t going to come to BC was because he didn’t know if BC would prepare him to get a good job.
Now, unlike some other colleges, we don’t lead with career outcomes because it’s almost a given—97 percent of our students are employed within six months. We lead with mission. This is not just a means to an end. This is not about going to college to get a job. This is about going to college and life. And that’s kind of the secret sauce at BC.
Thanks so much.
David Quigley, provost and dean of faculties recommends Albert Camus’ The Plague.