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"They need to fall in love with you."
College admissions @Duke
“I tell kids that their job is to make the [officer] fall in love with you,” Toor says. “I’ve written many notes to students asking them to meet me as soon as they get to campus.”
~ Hillview Prep: Showcase your unique personality with your essays. Contact us if you want our help.
Assistant Director @USC
"Become familiar with what the university can offer you in terms of academic and extracurricular experiences, but then think one step further. What do you offer the university? Imagine being here--how will you spend your time? What do you want to explore or improve? What will be your contributions to the community? Don't underestimate yourself! Articulating your potential impact will give us a better sense of who you are and whether USC is a good fit for you."
Dean of Admissions @MIT
“What I tell students, and my own kids, is that you don’t have to take every advanced class. My high school daughter, for example, is taking advanced math and science courses but chose not to take advanced English and history. You should challenge yourself. For some students this might mean taking the most advanced classes, but it also might mean taking the most advanced classes appropriate for that student, and not spreading themselves too thin.”
Applicants do not need to tick off a laundry list of engagement in every field, like art, music, sports, Mr. Schmill explains. “M.I.T., and other highly selective colleges, want students who prioritize quality over quantity.” Mr. Schmill offers high school students this litmus test when choosing extracurricular activities: “If you couldn’t write about this on your college application, would you still do it?’ If the answer is ‘no,’ then you shouldn’t be doing it.”
Assistant Director @USC
"Identify all of your strengths and interests, and do your homework on how you could fit in here at USC. Do not be afraid to step out of your box and be unique."
Associate Director, Office of Admissions @Texas A&M University
"I wish students knew to contact their universities of interest and research the steps of the application process before their senior year. Pre-planning can eliminate some of the trials and errors of applying to school. The sooner students conduct research on the application process and what it takes to be admitted, the better they understand which classes they need to take and how they should organize their past, current and future activities."
Senior Assistant Director @USC
"Take chances. Allow your application to be a true representation of who you are, not who you think we want you to be. By demonstrating your individuality – your quirks, your unique perspective, your heart – you will set yourself apart from other applicants."
~ Hillview Prep: How do you set yourself apart? Contact us if you want our help.
Former Admissions Officer @Cornell
Friedfeld says universities are essentially looking for community residents with a four-year lease. “As an admissions officer, you’re picking people to enroll in your community, your space, for the next four years. They’re going to choose who they like and who they want to get to know.” At AcceptU, Friedfeld hands out sample essays, then asks students their thoughts. “They’ll say they liked the writing. It’s not about that. It’s about whether you liked who wrote it.”
Senior Assistant Director @USC
Choose a major that you are actually passionate about and want to pursue. Your interest (or lack thereof) for that field is obvious. If you don’t know what you’re interested in, or are still deciding, then choosing “undecided” is okay, you have plenty of time to figure that out.
"I’ve run into many students over the years who are not aware that some colleges to which they are applying track every contact point the students has had with that college or university as a way to gauge a student’s “demonstrated interest.”
My advice to students is to do whatever you can do to leave a paper trail that demonstrate interest in the colleges you to which you apply (i.e. visit, email their admissions offices, call them, join their mailing lists, open their emails, interview etc.)."
Micah A. E. Canal
Chief Admission Officer @Antioch College
College ‘Fit’ Goes Both WaysI wish more students applying to college understood just how important “right-fit” is. Do we want to see people who were successful in high school and had a bunch of extracurricular activates? Yes, absolutely. But you can make an even better case for admission by showing us that you are going to be able to be highly successful and benefit most from the uniqueness of our institution.
Do your research. Don’t only make the case that you’re great, make the case that you’re a great match great for us.
International Admission Officer @USC
"Tell us your unique and individual story – and if you don’t think you have one, I promise you that you do. Consult your friends, teachers, parents, counselors if you’re stuck. Don’t tell me what you think I want to know to hear, because I have probably seen it before and it will not help you stand out. Have confidence in yourself and your story and convey it to us with passion and enthusiasm. These small things can make a huge difference!"
College admissions @Duke
“Two letters of endorsement are enough,” she says, “unless a third can really shed new light on the student.” The record at Duke was 32 letters, though Toor once heard Georgetown had an application with 70. “We used to joke that the thicker the file, the thicker the kid.”
"The three rates that give parents and students peace of mind"
Associate VP and Dean of Admission @University of Richmond
“As my son prepares his college list, I’m going to hand him a spreadsheet. Across the top will be the schools, and down the side will be the list of things he feels are most important to him in a college. When he visits these schools and does his research, he’ll fill in the spreadsheet, and it will be a nice road map for him. At some point, once you visit two or three schools in a day or five schools a week, they begin to blend, and you definitely want some bread crumbs to remind you of where you’ve been.”
“On the same spreadsheet, I’ll have him track what I call the ‘three rates’ for each college. The first is the retention rate: Are students returning as sophomores? Because if they are, then I make the argument that they have had a very good experience, their needs are met. Next is the graduation rate. A fifth year or a sixth year in a college represents forgone income or time that you are not in graduate school — and you are not going to get that back. The last rate is the placement rate or ‘student outcomes.’ What are students doing six months, a year or five years after graduation? Are they employed, are they in graduate school, what type of companies or organizations do they work for? The three rates gives parents and students peace of mind that they’ve done their research.”
VP of Enrollment Management @Valparaiso University
"Choosing a college is a long but rewarding process. It takes time to find which college is the best fit for you. The sooner you complete your application (including transcripts, test scores, personal essay, and so on) the sooner you will receive a decision and your merit scholarship award. This provides you more time to investigate and weigh your options."
College admission committees want to know who is getting into their college. It is just like anything else. You want to know who is coming to your house. Right?
GPAs and test scores helps them determine how well you are doing academically and the probability of how well you will do in college, but they also want to get to know you beyond that. They want to learn your character, your interests, like, how you spend your time outside of the classroom, how you would deal with a challenge, etc. They are interested in getting to know your personality and the life experiences you may have had up until this point. They also want to learn why you are interested in going to their college. They want to learn from your teachers or counselors their perspective on who you are as a student and human being. They can’t get all that information from numbers: GPA and test scores.
Admission to top colleges is ultra-competitive. They are many, many qualified students who are applying to top colleges—from all around the world. Colleges do not have spots for all of them. Many students have excellent grades and test scores—some perfect grades and test scores. So they have to use qualitative measures such as essays, projects and letters of recommendations to make distinctions among the many excellent candidates.
In the international bestseller, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman, the renowned psychologist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, explains the two systems that drive the way we think. System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical.
A perfect essay appeals to both systems. Here are two steps to write your perfect college essay.
You put in the hard work and have the grades and SAT/ACT scores to get into your dream college. So do tens of thousands of students from all over the world! How do you stand out?
The admission committee decisions and their processes are not in your control. You cannot change them. But you can stand out and influence them by using your personal statement to shine and demonstrate the value you will bring to the college.
The key word is 'value'. It is not about your awesome grades and scores. That is a given and is used to filter out candidates. You have to figure out ways to stand out and get in. One way is take the subject SAT and demonstrate your interest in your field (assuming you know that). Another way is to write a great personal statement. We suggest you do both.
How do you communicate your value?
You have to pass three tests
You have to show: 1) what is unique to you, 2) what is important to the college, and 3) that your claims are defensible.
And when you have something that’s unique to you, important to the customer (the college) and defensible, you have a Power Position – a value proposition that actually communicates real value to the prospect. And that is how you can stand out.
But how do you do that? Here are some pointers.
Yes, everyone talks about passion, but how do you show that? One way is to reveal something new about yourself. Whether it’s how a mentor helped you realize your potential, or an event that’s shaped who you are today, write about something with substance that adds a new dimension to your application. Another is strong interest in a field. Maybe, you love collecting beanie babies, and you have a large collection enough to fill a room!
Tell a Story
Philip Pullman once said: “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”
Think about it: You see politicians create a “story” for their campaign, and focus a lot of their efforts speaking with the public in crafting and standing by these stories. One of the worst things you can do is bore the admission officer. Make yourself memorable by telling a story about something distinctive from a creative or different angle. With this advice, your personal statement will be the highlight of your application. And that is what you want to stand out.
Admission committees don't have much time to read. Use certain keywords to highlight what you are communicating. Help your reader along. Make your passion and story grab the attention admissions officer, and then make your keywords literally jump off the page and highlight the value you bring to the college and defend your claims.
Need help to write your essay? Contact us and we will be happy to help you write a personal statement that will get you into your dream school. Of course, you will have to have the right GPA and test scores, and we can help with that as well. Remember, the magic numbers are 3.5 and 30!