Longtime Director of Admission Ann McDermott ’79 Reflects on the Evolution of Admission at Holy Cross

Ann McDermott ’79

As she prepares to depart the College following decades overseeing admission, McDermott shares her unique perspective on how admission at Holy Cross has changed—and what has stayed the same

After more than 30 years devoted to admission at the College, Ann McDermott ’79 has announced her departure as director of admission, a position she’s held since 1994. During her tenure, McDermott has admitted more than 20,000 Crusaders and spearheaded pivotal developments in the Holy Cross admission process, including the College's decision in 2005 to become one of the first in the country to go test-optional, embracing a move to the Common Application and increasing student diversity at the College.

Here, she reflects on her formative undergraduate years as a psychology major and shares insights from her decades leading admission at Holy Cross.

How did your experience as a student at Holy Cross prepare you to succeed in this role?

I worked in the admission office as a tour guide and was a student host for overnight guests, but it wasn’t until I graduated that I realized I could make admissions my career. Whether through classes or extracurriculars or being an RA [resident assistant] in the dorm, there was so much opportunity at Holy Cross to learn about yourself and how to effectively communicate and work with others. Being adaptable is at the heart of the liberal arts experience, and that’s certainly something that I got from Holy Cross and that carried me through.

In what major ways have you seen the Holy Cross admission process change during your time here?

So many things have evolved as we’ve become a more sophisticated profession, including the amount of technology that is now used. We are entirely paperless and have been so for a number of years. My love of admissions is that you can never say you’ve learned it all. There’s always something different and exciting to learn about the technology or how students behave or how they communicate — it’s an evolution and a reflection of our society. We’ve been able to attract really talented people who’ve brought so many skills to the profession and to our office.

What’s something about admissions that has remained the same since you started?

The importance of relationships – that piece is something that will never go away, and I'm really delighted about that because it is at the heart of how we work with students. I think that the lasting legacy of the relationships we’ve developed will sustain me, probably for the rest of my life.

What aspect of admissions do you think is most misunderstood by prospective students and their families?

That there's always going to be an answer for the question, ‘Why didn’t I get in?’ Because when you’re dealing with highly selective processes, you’re turning away numbers of students who are totally qualified and totally deserving of admission. It’s more about the students who did get in than the students who didn't — it doesn’t diminish either population.

This past year, you led the admissions team in admitting a class in mid-pandemic circumstances. What did your team learn from this experience?

I am so proud of everyone in our office because people stepped up to the plate and learned how to do things in a completely different way. All our events became virtual, and for us the challenge was to make things authentic and feel as close as they could to being on campus. We learned that interviewing virtually actually works really well and is something we will probably keep in our arsenal of go-to options because you can more easily interview people across the world.

What are your favorite memories from your admissions work over the years?

I love the committee process (where we review each application) because it’s how the class comes together. I think our process is special and does really uniquely reflect Holy Cross and, ultimately, the character of the College and the students who are admitted. That piece — the magic that happens in committee — is my favorite part.

And, we still manage to call our early decision admitted students to give them the decision over the phone. We actually keep a list of the reactions because they’re priceless. It’s one of the highlights of what we do — it’s as joyful for us as it is for them.

What developments in admissions at Holy Cross are you most proud of when you reflect back?

Participating in the diversity of Holy Cross has been a really gratifying experience — to see from when I got there to where we are today, not just in numbers but also in the climate and how the College’s persona has changed.

And being one of the early adopters of test-optional admission — it was great that we were part of that. For us, it was an important and honest reflection of how we did our work. Testing doesn’t speak to fit, motivation or curiosity. So it’s been really wonderful to be freed from those constraints and feel like we can really continue to make a personalized, student-centered evaluation.

What lies at the core of a successful Crusader?

It’s an amazing group of students we see applying and coming in the door. Each group reflects the time — as it should. The students are hardworking, well-rounded and focused on the issues at hand. They’ve found passions that they’ve identified early on — not because a college counselor told them to, but out of natural interest and talent. And an awareness of the ‘other’ is something that is part of the Holy Cross experience. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you graduated two years ago or 25 years ago, you still find there’s something that connects you to those grads. That’s what makes the alumni network so special and so strong — it is because of this shared humanity that they bring to the process and to the College.