During the month of May I had the pleasure of meeting with admissions representatives from: Dartmouth, Northwestern, Princeton, U. Cal Berkeley, Vanderbilt, Rice, Cornell, Columbia, Brown, and U of Chicago. There were a series of counselor breakfasts to review this year’s admissions season and to gain insight to next year’s class. Here is list of the lessons I learned:
- 90% of the schools listed had experienced a record high number of applicants this year. In fact, they could have fielded another whole equally impressive freshmen class from the list of students that did not make the cut this round. Lesson: There is no magic formula
- The electronic application submission is widely accepted and it is easier for admissions representatives to review a student’s list of activities. Lesson: Do not waste time or energy on developing a fancy resume to submit along side the application. All the information a rep would need and want is included on the online application form and they can access it quickly and easily instead of trying to find information on a separate resume that could be formatted in one of a hundred different ways.
- Letters of recommendations from the school counselor and teachers are a valuable piece to the process. Lesson: Students should make the time to get to know their school counselor during the four years of high school as the counselor’s insight to the whole student can really make a difference. Choosing the two teachers to write an academic recommendation is also critical. Do not choose teachers based solely on the fact you did really, really well in the class. Many recommendations from teachers in the class where a student worked extremely hard but may not have done as well can speak volumes. Submitting more recommendations from outside references does not always add to the file unless it is a truly unique view of the applicant.
- Schools like students who like the school for the right reasons. Lesson: Each school has unique programs and philosophies’ that separate them from others in their class, and reps look for applicants to show how they would fit in on their campus. This is usually accomplished within the primary essay and the often required supplemental essay. Demonstrated interest means a lot. Visiting campus, meeting college reps at college fairs or at their high school info sessions, subscribing to the colleges email list, asking good thoughtful questions via email, “Like”ing the schools social media can add up.
- Each application received is read in its entirety. Lesson: All aspects of the application are reviewed and a rep can get a sense of a candidate that is too packaged. It is important to let a student’s true voice come through.
- Each school is looking to bring in a well-rounded class each year. Lesson: When it comes to extracurricular activities applicants do not have to do it all. It is OK, even preferable for a student to one or two things extremely well instead of doing many things in an average fashion. So focus on what you have a passion for and let it shine.
- Reps are looking at how a student uses their time away from school. Lesson: Summer time is not necessarily your time. Using the time away from school during the summer to work, take a class, do an enrichment activity, or focus on a particular skill to build, shows motivation and commitment.