Tips from the Admissions Office about Applying to College

Ten years. Ten years of moderating the annual Inside the Admissions Office program in Scarsdale, N.Y. with college admissions deans and directors from across the country. Colleges represented in this year’s program, which is held each Fall, included Binghamton University, Muhlenberg College, Oberlin College, The Ohio State University, Rice University, the University of Chicago, the University of Richmond and Vanderbilt University.

Here are some of the takeaways from the evening:

  • Binghamton has a new School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. Muhlenberg has new partnerships with Boston University (leading to a masters in public health), Lehigh University (leading to a graduate degree in business) and the Royal Conservatorie of Scotland (for undergraduate students in ballet and in production).  Oberlin has a new eco-conscious hotel on campus, the Hotel at Oberlin. Ohio State has a new arrangement with Apple to create a university-wide digital learning initiative. Rice welcomed a freshman class this past year that is 59% multicultural. Chicago has new majors in neuroscience and creative writing. Vanderbilt has a new engineering building and a new business minor.
  • Your college application should demonstrate passion and impact. There are many pathways to showing colleges who you are and what you do when you record your extracurricular activities in your application. If your passion isn’t community service, then don’t do community service. But do show your passion in other areas.
  • Don’t be afraid to explain in your application a reason why you did not do well in a particular subject.
  • In deciding to apply Early Decision, think about whether you are submitting the best application that you can. If so, then applying early can be the way to go. If not, you don’t want to “get stuck” at a school you really don’t want to attend.
  • Sometimes when you apply early, colleges will defer decision-making because they want to evaluate your performance during first semester of senior year.
  • In reviewing your application, colleges look at context and resources. If your school doesn’t offer APs, for example, that won’t be held against you. Colleges rely on high school profiles and consider students based on what is available in their individual high schools.
  • Lots of colleges superscore standardized tests. Some, like Ohio State, do not. Make sure you know each college’s policy.
  • Be committed to writing your personal essay but be careful about being offensive. How you tell your story is what counts, even if it’s a topic, like divorce, that deans have read many times before. Even though it’s not the first time a dean has seen a topic, he or she knows that it’s the first time that you’ve written your story.
  • A favorite supplemental essay question: Why do you want to attend this school? You should not apply if you cannot articulate why. If a dean could white out the name of the college and substitute another, the essay is not specific enough.
  • A favorite interview question from one of the deans: What is your school going to miss about you when you leave?
  • When you should interview: When you are ready to engage in a conversation about yourself. Make sure you have some questions to ask the interviewer, too.