Casual Conversation with Dona Heller 11/7/2021

In 2009, our classmate, Dona Heller, was adopted by the Class of ’69, along with nine other Pioneering Women. Dona grew up in Hanover as the daughter of a D’35 who was a Hitchcock Clinic physician and taught at Dartmouth Medical School. Before Dartmouth officially went coed, Dona began taking courses at the College in the fall of 1964, when she was a senior in high school. During our senior year, Dona returned to study full-time at Dartmouth, pursuant to an individual deal that she cut with Dean Thad Seymour. Since our Class adopted her in 2009 as one of the Pioneering Women, Dona has contributed to the Class by serving on the Executive Committee. Along with Norman Jacobs (whose father and Dona’s father were Class of ’35 chem majors together) she has co-chaired our innovative Class Connections Project that brought us together with the Class of 2019, as well as virtual and soon-to-be in-person Homecoming mini-reunions (including our popular virtual wine tastings). She and Norman also are the Co-Chairs of the ’69 75th Birthday Celebration (to take place in Hanover in the late spring of 2022).
As a Penn Law School grad, Dona’s professional background is as a partner in a national healthcare law firm, dealing with business and regulatory matters for a variety of healthcare-related clients. For the past thirteen years, Dona has used her legal skills and approach to strategically counsel high school students from throughout the US and abroad—assisting them to identify a group of good-fit colleges and then prepare thoughtful and impactful applications that will set them apart from the pack and increase the likelihood of acceptance. As Dona will demonstrate, during the more than half century since we applied to Dartmouth, the college admissions process has intensified to the point where it is significantly more onerous and stressful than the one we encountered in the fall of 1964. She also will talk about measures that she takes with her clients and their families to improve outcomes while reducing the stress.

On Sunday, November 7, at 3 pm Eastern (US) time, Dona will lead a Casual Conversation about today’s college admissions process.  If you want to participate, please email your RSVP by the close of business on Friday, November 5, to  

PLEASE NOTE:  SUNDAY NOVEMBER 7 IS THE START OF STANDARD TIME IN MOST OF THE COUNTRY, INCLUDING DONA’S CALIFORNIA AND ARTHUR’S MARYLAND. Your ability to conform your Zoom logon to the correct time will be one of the factors that will determine the likelihood that you could be admitted to Dartmouth today!


Dartmouth ’69
Casual Conversation
College Admissions Discussion
Dona Heller, J.D.
November 7, 2021


One glance at Dartmouth’s striking comparative admissions data above for the Class of 1969 and the Class of 2025 and you will realize, in no uncertain terms, that in most ways the current college admissions picture is very different from when the Class of 1969 was admitted. If you have high-school-aged grandchildren, know that when it comes time for them to do their college applications, they will be stunned by the extremely low admissions rates at the elite colleges, where the number of highly qualified applicants far outstrips the number of available places in the incoming class. When we applied to college over fifty years ago, the admissions process was relatively simple, and for many applicants the desired outcome(s) were more predictable. Now, the process has become significantly more complex and competitive.

Depending on an applicant’s personal profile, today’s application process for the competitive colleges is onerous and protracted, requiring different and more sophisticated analytical approaches. Applicants need to do their homework: extensively researching the colleges on their lists, meaningfully visiting schools (except during COVID), and writing particularly thoughtful and informative Personal Statements and “Why This College?” essays in which they express themselves in a manner that shows (not just tells) the admissions folks a genuine sense of who they are and what they believe, so they stand out from the pack.

If this topic is of interest to you, please join me on Zoom for the November 7 Class of ’69 Casual Conversation (at 3:00 P.M., Eastern STANDARD Time). I will discuss the highlights of the college admissions process—including the importance of a strategic, planned, data-driven approach to promote the likelihood of a lower-stress admissions process leading to acceptances by good-fit colleges where students will be happy and thrive.