Well, not really. Last week my son and I went to hear a panel of college admissions officers speak regarding the college admissions process. The format was interesting – each officer, rather than speaking specifically about their school, took a generic topic and provided some guidance and advice as it related to that topic. No message was break-through, some advice rather obvious, but just the same, well worth listening to (especially for my 16 year old).
Following were some highlights that I thought worth mentioning. For the sake of facilitating my summary, I’m going to write directing the advice to “you” being the teen-ager, not the wise woman.
1. Preparing for the Interview: Do your homework prior to the interview. Prior to visiting, understand what an interview means at each school – some are non-evaluative, some are evaluative. Demonstrate that you have the knowledge about academic and student life by not asking the obvious questions that are easily found in published literature and online. Ask questions that will give you a sense of how you will fit in – “What type of student does well at your school?” – for example. Remember the thank you note – while some admissions officers probably don’t keep track, there are others that certainly do.
2. Defining the “Hook:” One admissions officer from John Hopkins spoke about figuring out your “hook” in the process. I’m not sure I was totally in sync with this discussion, as many times your “hook” may be totally out of your control. For example, he spoke very specifically of who they were going to admit off their wait list – a very descriptive set of criteria – such as non-white, female, engineering only …. so the notion that you may be third on the wait list doesn’t carry any weight here – if you have the “hook,” even though you are the four hundredth on the wait list, you will be admitted. Similarly he also noted that out of 50 majors, there were 5 that were very underrepresented – maybe 20 or less applicants per year. So of course, if you can figure out which majors they are (he wouldn’t divulge), and if you want to be so bold as to go for it, this may just be your hook for admissions.
3. Social Media: We, as parents, have all issued the warnings. Privacy settings mean nothing, admissions officers do look, so be mindful of what gets posted. Also, establish a professional email.
4. Teacher Recommendations: The philosophy of “the more, the better” is not necessarily true. One officer recommended to provide one more recommendation than is required – but that’s it. Applicants should be sensitive to information overload – and the fact that having a lot more information in a folder than necessary detracts from spending time on more important aspects of the application. Be direct and be selective. While it is hard to “coach” those who may write a recommendation for you, the best references are the ones that can speak to a story, how a student approached a certain problem or the energy they bring to the task at hand (as examples). For this reason, select those who know you best. A reference talking about the generalities of being a bright, well liked student leader are a dime a dozen.
5. Summer Vacation: Use your summers to do something that you care about and to learn and define your interests.
6. The Essay: Much of the same advice in the recommendation section is true here as well. Writing an essay that can define your passions and the essence of you in a creative way is your best chance of getting noticed. Case in point – two admissions officers noted their favorite essays. Both happened to be from engineering applicants. One essay was on how to construct a sandwich; the other was about how to hit a pistachio nut against the wall without breaking it. Go figure, but you certainly can’t discount the uniqueness of this approach.
Lastly, and perhaps the best advice, there was a discussion on the value of sanity. Find the space to center yourself. Don’t lose sight of what’s important to you; define your course and follow it, and try not to get caught up in the craziness of what’s going on around you, and what others are doing or not doing. I imagine for most of our children, they can do this. The real question is, can we?!