- Former admissions officers share some of the things they wish they could tell college applicants during the admissions process.
- Your communication — and your parents’ communication — with the school is tracked, so any pushiness or rudeness will be noted.
- You only get a few minutes to make an impression, and ‘good’ applications aren’t always enough to be noticed.
- Admissions officers consider your personality, and if you are lucky enough to get an interview, make sure you ask questions.
It’s the question every high school senior asks: What happens in the admissions office?
You work for months, bundle your entire life together into a neat, 12-15 page application, send it off, and wait.
But what goes on from the other side? How are applications read? How are decisions made? What do the conversations look like? Why does one student get in when another doesn’t?
In the hopes of shedding some light on these questions, we reached out to 7 of our InGenius Prep Former Admissions Officers from top US universities—Yale, Brown, Stanford, University of Chicago, MIT, and Princeton & University of Pennsylvania.
Whether you are working on your applications now, or are starting to think about the college process generally, understanding what happens in the admissions office can help you write effective applications.
Here’s an insider look into 7 things college admissions officers keep secret:
1. Your and your parents’ interactions with the school are tracked.
“When a student, parent, or surrogate makes contact with the admissions office, it is important to be aware that treating anyone on staff poorly—especially the administrative staff—may result in a negative outcome in the admissions process. Do not be dismissive of or assume that the professionals answering phone calls or e-mail correspondence do not have any influence on the admissions process (they have a lot more impact on an applicant’s candidacy than one might expect).
When a colleague puts down the phone and exclaims, ‘That person was rude!,’ I would immediately ask which applicant or prospective student was involved. Once the applicant or prospect is identified, a note gets promptly placed in the student’s file. Duly noted!”— José Román, Former Assistant Director of Admissions, Yale University.
College admissions is a stressful process. But that never means you can be rude or pushy to anyone (ANYONE) working in or near an admissions office. Many schools track your or your parents’ communication with that college, and even if they don’t actively track your interest, admissions officers still take notes!
Even on the phone with administrators, make sure you present yourself the way you want to be viewed by your application reader. This one is good life advice in general: Be nice.
2. Your application only gets a few minutes to make an impression.
“As an admissions evaluator at Brown, we really had to keep up a rigorous reading pace with the regular decision applicant pool. We were expected to read 5 applications per hour, which equates to twelve minutes per application. In those twelve minutes, I reviewed the application, standardized test scores, the transcript, the personal statement, and multiple supplemental essays—all while taking notes and making a decision on the admissibility of the applicant.”—Erica Curtis, Former Admissions Evaluator, Brown University
Take a minute (or twelve) to think about this. Knowing that admissions officers don’t have a lot of time to read your materials, you should construct your own application accordingly. Don’t extend your personal statement into the additional information section. Don’t attach a resume if this information already exists in the activities list. Don’t send the school four additional letters of recommendation. These schools, frankly, don’t have the time to read them.
3. Your application could be good — but it should be great.
“At Stanford, when reading applications, we did use one acronym in particular—SP (“standard positive”), which indicated that the student was solid and had an overall positive application, but unfortunately was just standard.”—Anonymous, Former Admissions Reader, Stanford University
In thinking about the sheer amount of applications that admissions officers read, consider how you’ll stand out in the pile. You don’t want to be just “standard”. You want to be different, memorable, and (to use another Stanford admissions term) angular.
4. Even if you’re an outstanding candidate, you might not get in.
“Before a student gets her admissions decision, she can go from admit to defer/waitlist or vice versa. Until the Dean of Admissions starts to shape the class, nothing is final. Sometimes admissions officers get lucky and can add back in one or two of their favorite students (who made it through committee, but for one reason or another were moved to “defer” or “waitlist” along the way). Admissions officers really care about the students for whom they advocate, but often it comes down to the needs of the school and the desire to have a well-rounded incoming class.”—Natalia Ostrowski, Former Assistant Director of Admissions, University of Chicago
Even if you make a good case for yourself on your application, you still might not get in. Schools need to develop a well-rounded class. What this looks like can vary school-by-school and year-by-year, but balance is important in developing a strong freshman class.
Imagine if UChicago only admitted engineering applicants. The school would cease to be “UChicago”—it would be a pre-professional school! The other departments would be irrelevant, and the humanities faculty would have to be let go. Obviously this doesn’t happen, so consider what new perspectives you could add to a school, department, and incoming class.
5. Your personality matters.
“As an admissions officer, I analyzed students’ personalities. If I read an admissions essay, and the student came off as arrogant, entitled, mean, selfish, or, on the flip side, funny, charming, generous, witty, I wrote that exact trait in my notes. It’s not enough just to be smart at top schools. Students must also show that they’ll be good classmates and community builders.”—Angela Dunnham, Former Assistant Director of Admissions, Dartmouth College
You’re more than your grades, test scores, and even your activities. You’re a whole person! And you should think critically about how to present some of your softer qualities—your sense of humor, your deep curiosity, your ability to empathize with others—through the written parts of your application. Schools don’t just want “smart” students, they want to build a class of individuals who will make good classmates, roommates, teammates, leaders, and friends.
6. Getting an interview is a huge advantage.
“If you are assigned an MIT alumni interviewer, definitely take advantage. There is a slightly higher admit rate for those applicants who take advantage of the interview.” —Vincent James, Former Assistant Director of Admissions, MIT
A college interview is your chance to bring some more color and personality to your application. Conducting a great interview can give your application momentum and potentially push you into the “accepted” pile.
7. Don’t forget to ask questions.
“My biggest pet peeve as an Admissions Officer was when a kid would visit the office, expect to have an audience with me, and then have no questions at all. Not even easy ones the website could answer! That tells me a lot about the student, not much of it good.
A sit-down with an AO is only awesome for a student’s candidacy if the student is awesome too, and has used that meeting thoughtfully to leave a big impression of enthusiasm for ideas (general or specific), a program or particular aspect of the school, or a big add to campus in terms of personality. Many AO’s won’t even consent to sit-downs with individual students anymore, for precisely the reasons outlined above.
Bottom line: use your time —and the AO’s—well.”—Cat McManus, Former Assistant Dean of Admissions, Princeton & UPenn
Whether it’s in the admissions office, during an interview, or on your application, indicating interest in a school is essential. Taking advantage of opportunities like meeting with an admissions officer or writing a “Why this school?” essay is key. Do your research, ask good questions, and demonstrate your fit for a school. Admissions officers are always taking notes!
Culled from https://www.businessinsider.com