Nanette H. Tarbouni, Director of Undergraduate Admissions


Show It ... And They Will Come

By Judy H. Watts

A decision Nanette Tarbouni made in her undergraduate years goes a long way toward explaining her effectiveness today as Washington University's director of undergraduate admissions.

A clue to Tarbouni's success in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions is her choice of undergraduate major. Although disciplines such as psychology, sociology, or even—given her stamina—physical education might spring to mind, Tarbouni in fact majored in classics. Her reasons are a revelation.

"I pursued that major because I loved it, not because I knew what I would do with it—or because I had anyone to speak Latin to! I just loved the study of ancient civilizations!" That passion for learning and her affinity for a rigorous program of study—and for the educational process overall—inform and enhance Tarbouni's role at the great enterprise that is Washington University.

Aspirations and achievements are what her work is all about. Tarbouni details WU's outstanding faculty research and teaching, for example, in countless conversations with high-school students and families (who telephone, visit, and meet admissions officers and WU alumni at receptions all over the country and the world). And she notes that in fall 2000, the University again welcomed a superb freshman class. Of entering freshmen whose high schools had senior-class rankings, 96 percent graduated in the top 20 percent; 85 percent in the top 10 percent. Twenty-six percent of the 1,422 who enrolled were multicultural and international students. (Also this year, Tarbouni's work with the dedicated admissions officers, in concert with students, faculty, University staff, and alumni, contributed to nearly 21,000 applications for the Class of 2005, freshmen who will enter WU in August 2001.)

Weeks before acceptances are mailed in late March, Tarbouni and the admissions committee look into applicants' minds and hearts through their personal essays. "We put a great deal of care into reading every one," says Tarbouni, who has been admissions director for five years and a key participant in the office for 17. "What strikes me most is that these young people have such amazing aspirations, abilities, passions, and contributions to make. Sometimes we find ourselves agonizing while we make our difficult decisions.

"It's humbling to read of the students' achievements—often in spite of terrible heartache, such as the death of a parent," Tarbouni adds quietly. "And sometimes I think if parents read what these students write about their parents divorcing, they might stay married."

What, then, is Washington University looking for in the new students who will join its community?

Community is the critical word. "It's a myth that students have to be well-rounded," Tarbouni says. "We're building a collectively well-rounded community of individuals with different strengths and passions. Some will be well-rounded kids because that's who they are and what they do, but others will have a singular talent.

"We want students to develop intellectually and to find out far more about themselves than simply what they want to be." WU also seeks students who care about community service and other outside pursuits. Equally important, she says, "We're recruiting people who will want the Washington University community to be part of their lives for the rest of their lives."

The challenge, of course, is to persuade these individuals of character and promise to choose WU among "the many fine schools available," says Tarbouni. Enter April Welcome, an annual month-long event that brings newly admitted students to campus. "Many of our students say that April Welcome made them decide to attend the University," says Tarbouni.

And no wonder. The University community comes together in a beautiful campus setting in a great and comfortable city and provides the warmest possible welcome. Current students—who as happy "customers" are the University's best salespeople—conduct tours and host visitors overnight. Alumni and staff answer questions; faculty encourage drop-in visits to class. "High-school students discover an unpretentious, friendly community that offers the best education a person can get—and cares about their growth and development.

"In fact, WU is always ready for visitors—any time!" Tarbouni adds. Such energy is essential to the admissions effort. In all, Tarbouni and her team travel to nearly every state and several international locations, and admissions staff are always on duty, representing the University in every public moment. "Much of what I do," says Tarbouni, "is possible because of the support I have from my husband, Younesse, my great partner.

"In some ways, though, our jobs are easy," she says. "Something exciting is always happening at WU! And when former students are out giving back to society and the University—doing alumni interviewing themselves, for example—it's very powerful to have had some small part in that. I simply can't imagine not being here—it's such an extraordinary community."

Judy H. Watts is a free-lance writer based in Santa Barbara, California, and a former editor of this magazine.



"Nanette is a wonderful relationship builder for Washington University. She is highly respected among her peers at other colleges and universities, and also among high-school counselors and teachers. Prospective students and their families think she is terrific. She has an honest and sincere way of making each of them feel special."

-John A. Berg, Associate Vice Chancellor for Admissions

"Nanette is thoroughly professional in everything she does. Admissions is an emotional business for those of us who work in the area, because we become attached to the young people we meet in the process and really want to be their advocates. Nanette maintains complete objectivity, while at the same time keeping her fire and enthusiasm for the recruitment effort."

-Gary M. Hochberg, Associate Dean for the Undergraduate Program, Olin School of Business

"There's a lot to know in admissions, and it can't be found in a manual. Nanette Tarbouni is one of the most knowledgeable persons in the business, and she is sensitive to the importance of the admissions process to families. She cares deeply about both the University's objectives and the students' successful college experience."

-James E. McLeod, Vice Chancellor for Students; Dean, College of Arts & Sciences

"Nanette Tarbouni has been a key to Washington University's advance as one of the most desirable colleges in America. She has unbounded enthusiasm, dedication, creative energy, and stamina. While building a vast array of contacts nationwide, she remains sensitive to the individual interests and needs of all those with whom she interacts. She brings a genuine, personal interest in helping talented students gain a better understanding of where we are, what we do here, and how well we do it. Nanette is a delightful person and one of our greatest human assets. It is a pleasure to be able to work with her in our efforts to interest and attract the finest students to Washington University."

-Mark S. Wrighton, Chancellor


"The Washington Spirit" spotlights key faculty members and administrators who advance and support our great University's teaching and learning, research, scholarship, and service for the present and future generations.