Takeaways from Inside the Admissions Office, October 2018

If you couldn’t make it to the Inside the Admissions Office program at the JCC of Mid-Westchester on Monday, October 15th, don’t worry. This blog gives you the highlights of that dynamic evening with a panel of admissions deans from across the United States.

One of the most important messages to students of the night, delivered by Bob McCullough, the Assistant Vice President for Enrollment and Dean of Undergraduate Admission at Case Western Reserve University, was his response to a question about personal essay topics that the staff has seen before:

“Don’t wrap yourself into a pretzel”  to write something in your application that doesn’t apply to you, he told the audience. Yes, there are topics that admissions  personnel  have seen time and time again, but he reminds his staff to be mindful of the fact that since this is the first time that a student is going through the process, the topic is new to the student.

To that I would add that no matter the topic, the way you write it is unique to you.

There were lots of other great words of wisdom from the panel:

  • Craig Broccoli, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions, NYC Based Regional Representative, Binghamton University
  • Danita Salon – Associate Director of Admission, University of Richmond
  • Sarah Lyons, Associate Director of Admissions, Office of College Admissions, the University of Chicago
  • Melina Prentakis, Senior Admissions Counselor, Office of Undergraduate Admissions, Vanderbilt University
  • Chris Bailey, Associate Director of Marketing and Admissions, Honors College, College of Charleston
  • Jann Lacoss, Associate Director of Admissions, Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid, California Institute of Technology

Here are a few:

  • It’s all about context.
    • Where do you go to high school? What classes are available to you? Colleges consider students within their high schools and what they offer, including honors and AP classes (or not), and the grading scale.
  • If you cannot articulate with specificity why you want to attend a particular college or university, then you probably should not be applying to that school.
  • Don’t not apply if you have had stumbles – bumps and bruises – along the way. That’s typical of 17-year-olds (as well as the rest of the us). Colleges like to see resilience.
  • Deadlines
    • Beware of deadlines. Think of them as dates “by which” not “on which.” If you wait until the date due, you might be in for more work than you had prepared for, like finding an essay that you hadn’t noticed buried in a supplement. Give yourself time to do your best work and to be thorough.
    • Institutions may have different deadlines depending on the programs to which you are applying. Make sure you are aware of the specific deadlines.
    • Colleges may also have different requirements depending on the program. For example, the requirements for applying into engineering or business may be different from applying into arts and sciences.
  • Letters of Recommendation – Select people who really know you and can talk about you in detail.
  • What are colleges looking for in addition to grades and test scores? Character is important. There are many, but here are the ones mentioned:
    • Grit – worked hard to succeed
    • Reaching out for help
    • Reaching out to others
    • Compassion
  • Applying
    • Most of the colleges on the panel accept either the Common Application or the Coalition Application and do not have a preference.
    • Some schools, like the College of Charleston, accept only its own application.
  • Applying into Certain Areas of Study
    • The Liberal Arts are a buffet. For example, you know you like mac and cheese, but you have choices, like the jiggling Jell-O that you have never tried. You have flexibility in the liberal arts, the opportunity to be exposed to different things and to explore different perspectives.
    • Engineering is different. Schools like to see a background in physics, for example. You may not have had experience in engineering, but you should be able to articulate why you want to study engineering.
  • Applying Early
    • Here’s a great analogy between Early Decision and Early Action: In ED, you are proposing marriage and are making a commitment. EA is dating but you aren’t fully sure. You want to play the field a bit but you do like that person.
    • If you are deferred in the early rounds, don’t eliminate a school just for that reason. It may be that the college wants more information from you, such as your first semester grades or an update since the time you applied. But be realistic and make sure you apply to other schools, as well.
  • Essays:
    • Don’t copy information from the college materials in your essays. After all, college staff wrote that material and know it. Make your applications more personal.
    • Don’t pull out the thesaurus to include words that you don’t know or understand – or would not otherwise use
    • When you write, think about something you have achieved, something important in your life – the piece that is individual to you. Think about what makes you stand out in a pool of applicants, in a school of fish, that makes you who you are. Tell your story in a voice that harmonizes your experience.
    • Don’t send an additional essay in the additional information section.