Jay Mathews of the Washington Post writes: "With
just two weeks before the deadline for early action and early decision
applications to many colleges, I offer these examples of wrong-headedness
in the admissions process. Many were sent to me by Joseph M. Connolly,
a guidance counselor at New Oxford High School in New Oxford, Pa. ,
who has seen much on the job and in postings from counselors and admissions
officers to the National Association for College Admission Counseling
Web site. Members of my washingtonpost.com discussion group "Admissions
101" also contributed."
Remember, these are things you should NOT do.
1. Rack up as many extra points as you can for "expressed
interest" in your favorite colleges.
This particular obsession was new to me. Connolly has encountered applicants
who have inundated admissions offices with voicemails, e-mails and snail
mail because they have heard that colleges want concrete indications
of interest and don't think you can overdo it.
Believe me, you can. "There is a fine line between showing adequate
interest in the school and stalking," Connolly said. "Unsolicited
cakes, pies, cookies, sneakers (the old 'one foot in the door' trick),
a life-sized statue of you holding an acceptance letter, or a painstakingly
detailed scale model of the campus clock tower will not make up for
a lackluster academic record." When colleges look for "expressed
interest," that means they hope that you will show up when their
college reps visit your school, that you will visit their campuses and
sign the visitor logs in their admissions offices and that you will
get your application in on time with no loose ends. If you have a legitimate
question, they are happy to receive your e-mail or telephone call. Doing
more than that just makes you look desperate, and a little scary.
2. Don't worry about your postings on social networking sites
-- college admissions officers understand your need for individual expression
and will probably never look at them.
I know, I know. What you put on Facebook or Myspace is your private
business. College officials appear to share that view. They say they
do not make a habit of looking up their applicants. But there are enough
exceptions to make me think care should be taken when posting photos
from your last rollicking beach party. Not everybody loves you. Those
who don't could send anonymous notes to your first-choice school suggesting
it inspect a certain Web site. There are no rules that say they can't.
3. When sending messages to admissions officers, the wilder
the e-mail address the better.
Here we are again with one of those First Amendment issues, but Connolly
thinks -- and I agree -- that imsupersexy@[ fill in the blank].com is
not a good choice. He says if you have not updated your personal address
since the fifth grade, this might be a good time to do so.
4. College interviewers like jokes and exaggerations, so let
Dan4, a parent posting on Admissions 101, said his son blew his interview
for the University of Pennsylvania by letting his sense of humor go
too far. He told the interviewer, a woman, that if he got into Penn,
he hoped to dump his dirty clothes on his aunt in Philadelphia since
one of his personal goals was "to never have to do his own laundry."
I think this is a funny line. But the interviewer didn't. Dan4's son
didn't realize how much this had hurt him until a cousin the same age,
with the same last name, met with another Penn interviewer who asked
pointedly if they were related and if he did his own laundry. The interviewer
5. Load up your application with as many activities as you
can think of and don't mention anything that makes you look bad.
Connolly said one student put on his application "I spend time
lifting weights to improve my abs."
This is dumb. Colleges want to see two activities to which you have
applied much energy and passion. They don't want to see a lot of little
stuff. The flip side of this stupid move, suppressing embarrassing or
disturbing information, is trickier. One Admissions 101 participant
who works at a selective college said one applicant had his acceptance
letter revoked when the college confirmed an anonymous tip that a teacher
had caught him plagiarizing an assignment during his junior year of
high school. The poster said it was not the original offense that did
in the applicant, but the fact that he had not disclosed it in his application.
An Admissions 101 participant who tutors college-bound high-schoolers
pointed out, however, that if the unfortunate applicant had disclosed
the plagiarism, he most likely would not have been accepted anyway.
I think if an applicant has done something bad enough to threaten his
chances, and anyone else knows about it, it is best to disclose it,
explain it and, if necessary, apologize for it. If the black mark is
indelible, all is not lost. There are many state universities just as
good as Yale or Princeton that don't have the time to consider much
of anything on your application but your grades and test scores.
6. Use your application essay to expand upon how great your
grades, scores and activities are.
One college official on Admissions 101 said a common bonehead play
is to waste the application essay by telling admissions officers things
"we more or less already know or could figure out just from reading
other parts of the application." This is not only boring, but it
leaves the impression that your grades, scores and extracurricular activities
are all that is interesting about you. College officials will never
say this out loud, but one purpose of the college essay is to weed out
insufferable people whom no one would want as a roommate. One good strategy
is to write about some lovable quirk that reveals a facet of your character
and lets you use some self-deprecating humor, essential to any successful
college application essay. I know one applicant who wrote about her
ability to identify a song on the car radio after hearing just a couple
of notes. It was trivial, but charming, and she got in.
7. Nobody knows you when you are touring a college, so if you
want to wear a T-shirt from a rival university or make a cellphone call,
go right ahead.
This is another problem with which I was unfamiliar. I am not entirely
convinced that it is an issue, but Connolly and other experts insist
it can hurt you. They think tour guides in some cases have the names
of the people in their tours and will report unseemly behavior. A college
tour guide told Admissions 101 that his supervisors encouraged him to
tell them about tour participants who did GOOD things, such as ask insightful
questions. So, I suppose, bad news can also get back to the people who
are deciding your fate.
8. Let your parents do whatever they need to do to help you
This is an oldie but goodie. Helicopter parents, always hovering, have
become a part of modern American folklore. They exist, of course. Students
who let mom and dad get too involved are likely to suffer. My favorite
story comes from an admissions dean at Princeton who, when he inspected
the little box on an application that certifies everything the applicant
has written is the truth, found that the student's mother had signed
9. Colleges are attuned to all the latest fads, so when e-mailing
them, it is fine to use text- message abbreviations.
Connolly said: "OMG, this is annoying for us non-texters and IDK
why students do this to us adults when we are not their BFF."
10. Don't proofread your application carefully and don't bother
to check to see if the envelope in which you placed the application
or letter of recommendation for College A might actually have the address
of College B.
Connolly said I would be surprised how often application materials
are sent to the wrong school. The best proof of genuine interest in
a college is to send it all the material it requested in good order
and on time. That is not so hard to do. We all have our moments of stupidity,
which is why copy editing and proofreading are such honorable and indispensable