To The Wellesley News Editor,
During a recent visit to the Admissions Office, I avidly read the cover article from the November 6 paper titled “Wellesley enrolls low numbers of students from Latin America.” I read it avidly because my visit was triggered by a personal mission I am on: recruiting more Brazilian women to Wellesley.
For the past five years, I have lived in São Paulo, Brazil, and as alum admissions representative, I have noted many of the issues mentioned by Ms. Zepeda in the article—issues of liberal arts education and women’s colleges not being understood, as well as the worries about affording a US education without government loans.
Other issues not mentioned also concern me. The fact is that Brazilians do not speak English at a rate comparable to other foreign countries. In addition, the admissions system in the US colleges is only barely understood—strategies for taking SATs, how to write an essay, what colleges look for in recommendations. For Brazilians, national college entry is based on one exam—there are no subjective measures for entry. Most students are simply unprepared for an American application. That being said, after 20 years of interviewing high school students, the very best candidate I have ever interviewed was Brazilian – unfortunately, she chose Columbia.
While I have been welcomed by the American and British high schools in São Paulo, it has been harder for me to find the admissions representatives at Brazilian high schools. Wellesley is not Harvard, and should not be, but that is the main school known and sought after in Brazil. We need to find a way in to the Brazilian schools and let these students know about Wellesley.
Wellesley can be a success in attracting girls from Brazil and elsewhere in Latin America. We may have few alums in Brazil (around 10 at last count) but we are dedicated to the school. I suggest that alums be included in plans to attract Latin American students. Those of us “in-country” can understand culture, language and processes from both sides.
Do we need to lower standards to get the students? I don’t think so. But we need to put in support systems that are geared to Latin Americans. Book awards and school visits are critical to get the word out. Once the student has accepted, provide a host family that could support an incoming first-year, special writing or English as a Second Language tutoring for the first number of weeks, a special effort in scholarships or other financial aid are all suggestions that I’ll make without knowing if they are already in place.
I do think that the inclusion of more young women from the world’s seventh largest economy would be for the ultimate benefit of my much-beloved alma mater. I am ready to be part of any task force that is formed to make it happen.
Kristin A Dykema Barbieri ‘90
Co-leader, Brazil Wellesley Club and Alumnae Admissions Representative
São Paulo, Brazil