7 Things College Admissions Officers Wish Every Applicant Knew

It’s the question every high school senior asks: What happens in the admissions office?

They work for months, bundle their entire life together into a neat, 12-15 page application, send it off, and wait.

But what goes on from the other side? How are applications read? How are decisions made? What do the conversations look like? Why does one student get in when another doesn’t?

In the hopes of shedding some light on these questions, Business Insider reached out to Admissions personnel from 7 top US universities—Yale, Brown, Stanford, University of Chicago, MIT, and Princeton & University of Pennsylvania.

Here are 7 things they think students should know:

  1. Students and their parents interactions with the school are tracked:

When a student, parent, or surrogate makes contact with the admissions office, it is important to be aware that treating anyone on staff poorly—especially the administrative staff—may result in a negative outcome in the admissions process. Do not be dismissive of or assume that the professionals answering phone calls or e-mail correspondence do not have any influence on the admissions process (they have a lot more impact on an applicant’s candidacy than one might expect).

College admissions is a stressful process. But that never means you can be rude or pushy to anyone working in or near an admissions office. Many schools track your or your parents’ communication with that college, and even if they don’t actively track your interest, admissions officers still take notes! Even on the phone with administrators, make sure you present yourself the way you want to be viewed by your application reader. This one is good life advice in general: Be nice.

2. Your students application only gets a few minutes to make an impression:

“As an admissions evaluator at Brown, we really had to keep up a rigorous reading pace with the regular decision applicant pool. We were expected to read 5 applications per hour, which equates to twelve minutes per application. In those twelve minutes, I reviewed the application, standardized test scores, the transcript, the personal statement, and multiple supplemental essays—all while taking notes and making a decision on the admissibility of the applicant.”—Erica Curtis, Former Admissions Evaluator, Brown University

Take a minute (or twelve) to think about this. Knowing that admissions officers don’t have a lot of time to read your materials, you should construct your own application accordingly. Don’t extend your personal statement into the additional information section. Don’t attach a resume if this information already exists in the activities list. Don’t send the school four additional letters of recommendation. These schools, frankly, don’t have the time to read them.

3. Your application could be good – but it should be great!

“At Stanford, when reading applications, we did use one acronym in particular—SP (“standard positive”), which indicated that the student was solid and had an overall positive application, but unfortunately was just standard.”—Anonymous, Former Admissions Reader, Stanford University

In thinking about the sheer amount of applications that admissions officers read, consider how you’ll stand out in the pile. You don’t want to be just “standard”. You want to be different, memorable, and (to use another Stanford admissions term) angular.

4. Even if you are an outstanding candidate, you might not get in

“Before a student gets her admissions decision, she can go from admit to defer/waitlist or vice versa. Until the Dean of Admissions starts to shape the class, nothing is final. Sometimes admissions officers get lucky and can add back in one or two of their favorite students (who made it through committee, but for one reason or another were moved to “defer” or “waitlist” along the way). Admissions officers really care about the students for whom they advocate, but often it comes down to the needs of the school and the desire to have a well-rounded incoming class.”—Natalia Ostrowski, Former Assistant Director of Admissions, University of Chicago

Even if you make a good case for yourself on your application, you still might not get in. Schools need to develop a well-rounded class. What this looks like can vary school-by-school and year-by-year, but balance is important in developing a strong freshman class.

5. Your personality matters

“As an admissions officer, I analyzed students’ personalities. If I read an admissions essay, and the student came off as arrogant, entitled, mean, selfish, or, on the flip side, funny, charming, generous, witty, I wrote that exact trait in my notes. It’s not enough just to be smart at top schools. Students must also show that they’ll be good classmates and community builders.”—Angela Dunnham, Former Assistant Director of Admissions, Dartmouth College

You’re more than your grades, test scores, and even your activities. You’re a whole person! And you should think critically about how to present some of your softer qualities—your sense of humor, your deep curiosity, your ability to empathize with others—through the written parts of your application. Schools don’t just want “smart” students, they want to build a class of individuals who will make good classmates, roommates, teammates, leaders, and friends.

6. Getting  an interview is a huge advantage

“If you are assigned an MIT alumni interviewer, definitely take advantage. There is a slightly higher admit rate for those applicants who take advantage of the interview.” —Vincent James, Former Assistant Director of Admissions, MIT

7. Don’t  forget to ask questions. 

My biggest pet peeve as an Admissions Officer was when a kid would visit the office, expect to have an audience with me, and then have no questions at all. Not even easy ones the website could answer! That tells me a lot about the student, not much of it good.

A sit-down with an AO is only awesome for a student’s candidacy if the student is awesome too, and has used that meeting thoughtfully to leave a big impression of enthusiasm for ideas (general or specific), a program or particular aspect of the school, or a big add to campus in terms of personality. Many AO’s won’t even consent to sit-downs with individual students anymore, for precisely the reasons outlined above.

Whether it’s in the admissions office, during an interview, or on your application, indicating interest in a school is essential. Taking advantage of opportunities like meeting with an admissions officer or writing a “Why this school?” essay is key. Do your research, ask good questions, and demonstrate your fit for a school. Admissions officers are always taking notes!

A college interview is your chance to bring some more color and personality to your application. Conducting a great interview can give your application momentum and potentially push you into the “accepted” pile.

Here is a link to the original article on Business Insider: https://www.businessinsider.com/7-things-college-admissions-officers-wish-every-applicant-knew-2018-2