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Anthropology and sociology major Joanna Vogel ’06 (Ridgewood, N.J.) remembers the stress and confusion she felt as she muddled through the college application process. When she was faced with writing a research paper that integrated different social sciences theories to explain why something in today’s world is the way it is, the hierarchical and difficult admissions process sprang to mind.

Vogel, a psychology minor, wrote a lengthy research paper for her Theories of Society course, which was co-instructed by William Bissell, assistant professor of anthropology and sociology, and David Shulman, associate professor of anthropology and sociology.

“The focus of the paper was more on the bureaucracy of the process,” she says, “Filling out the forms, submitting grades, taking special tests, and applying for financial aid.

“I think that it is important to understand how the admissions process works, and if a student is denied admission, it is not personal. There are thousands of students all applying to these colleges and universities, and understanding how the process works can help students and their families have an easier time with the admissions process.”

Vogel says her paper uses four different sociological viewpoints to examine the different parts of the process.

For example, sociologist Max Weber would justify the process in that everything has its place. With thousands and thousands of students applying to college each year, he would say the complex bureaucracy is necessary to ensure each student is made to go through the same process.

Karl Marx, however, would look at the process as a struggle between the classes. He would focus on how differences between families, such as those from the inner city versus those from affluent suburbs, affect where people apply and who is accepted to a specific college. Vogel believes that Marx’s theories might support affirmative action.

Describing Vogel as a serious student with a deep curiosity of how social theory explains the world around her, Bissell says her work fit well with the goal of the research project.

“We didn’t do this as an abstract work or just because it’s fun. We’re interested in it because there are models of understanding social realities that undergird work in a scholarly context but also cocktail party conversations,” he says. “We want the students to have an appreciation of some of the fundamentals of some of those models so they can really be more fluent and imaginative and intelligent in engaging conversation.”

Vogel says she was surprised by the personal stories told by admissions officers in the books that she researched.

“It provided a new way to look at the world of college admissions, which really helped me in my research. I now have a new appreciation for the hard work that the admissions officers do,” she says. “They have many applications to read and work tirelessly to see that ‘their’ students gain acceptance to the college.”

Bissell says that the idea of Vogel developing an imaginative understanding of a complex topic is exciting.

“When someone has a common-sense view of an issue and begins to use social theory as a way of bringing out its real complexities, but also acknowledges there are multiple ways to view and understand an issue — seeing that complexity come out is great because that tells [the professors] the students are really participating in the research in a serious way,” he says.

Vogel says the research provided her with an understanding of what she faces in the possible careers of healthcare management or patient advocacy.

“This research has given me the chance to really comprehend how and why this bureaucracy works the way it does, and it has shown me that such organization is sometimes necessary,” she says.

Vogel is secretary for the Dry Surfers, a technology-oriented and substance-free living group, and a member of the Marquis Players, a student group that produces an annual musical to raise funds for charities. She graduated from Ridgewood High School.

Categorized in: Academic News