Winter 2010

Eye on the Quads

Jim Nondorf’s day in

The College’s new dean of admissions submits to our very uncommon app.

By Anthony Ruth, AB’03, AM’07


After stints in admissions at Yale and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Jim Nondorf stepped in last summer as vice president and dean of College admissions and financial aid. Chatting with applicants outside his Rosenwald office, the Hammond, Indiana, native took a break to talk about his attempts at Rock Band, his affection for John Hughes flicks, and his U of C pride.



What are you doing to acquaint yourself with the University?

I hired a lot of students and recent grads and spend time with them trying to inculcate myself into the vibe. Every day I learn something new and perception-shattering. I had no idea that two periodic elements were discovered here or that we won the first Heisman trophy.



How did you get into admissions?

I was in high tech, then I started a charter school with a friend. After a few years, I thought, I’m going to give back to my alma mater. I raised funds for Yale’s admissions office, got to know the dean, became their first director of outreach, and loved it.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I kid the students that I’m trying to master Rock Band—I’m stuck on medium level. I do a lot of athletics, and I sing a lot. I sang in the Whiffenpoofs at Yale, and I’ll probably join a choir here.



What’s the hardest part of your job?

Telling students no. People think this must be a great job because you get to pick and choose, but you wouldn’t believe how amazing some of the kids you reject are. Sometimes officers cry. You can definitely beat yourself up about it.

What Chicago stereotypes do you have to battle?

The school’s done such a wonderful job talking about the intellectual environment that high school college counselors start to believe that’s all that goes on. We’ll be a little aggressive in meeting with them. Our kids are awesome—they’re smart and intellectual but also fun and interesting, and that’s worth sharing.



With the adoption of the Common Application, what’s becoming of the essay questions?

We still post the most uncommon prompts of any school. The questions are so different from anywhere else. They are also so entertaining to read. I’m really looking forward to being a part of choosing the questions for next year.

How would you answer the standard question about a person or creative work that’s influenced you?

Maybe because John Hughes just died, I’d pick Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, have a camera follow me around, and do a comedy version of a day in the life of the dean of admissions at the University of Chicago. When that movie came out, I was probably in high school, living near Chicago. I like all his movies.


Future Plans

With your technology background, what’s next for College Admissions?

I’m a big believer in admitted-student Web sites, where they start to connect to each other and current undergrads, and we could expand that here. When I went away to college, it was a little daunting. If you can make some friends before you get there, it makes the transition a lot easier.