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10 Tips on College Admissions

by Mawi on August 8, 2012

Here are 10 tips on college admission. Last year I advised two students – one is at Harvard right now, the other is at MIT. I interviewed students for Harvard for 7 years, and I’ve helped students get into every type of college.

  1. College Admissions is a sales process. You are not applying. Your representative is applying via your essays, test scores, grades, interviews, and any other interaction you have.  Be professional at all times and submit everything ahead of schedule.
  2.  Avoid Generic. Generic letters of recommendation + Generic Essays = Forgettable.
  3.  Your guidance counselor or teacher may have to write 50 other recommendations. If you do not want yours to be generic,  submit an outline of your involvements and any specific stories that your recommender can use. (I had Harvard professors tell me they were happy to write me a letter as long as I wrote it myself.)
    1. Generic: John is a nice, hardworking guy. Julie is so thoughtful and a joy to be around. (These sentences are meaningless platitudes.)
    2. Specific: John showed up at practice 30 minutes early every single day for 4 years and setup the cones. Julie wrote every single team member a card on their birthday. Our team increased in size by 50% after Julie joined and I attribute that to her recruitment drive that she started on her own, where she spent….
    3. So your outline should include things like the cones and the birthday card. Now is not the time to be shy or humble.
  4. We are in the midst of a “teen boom,” meaning that there are more teens in the U.S. right now than there were 15 years ago – so the demographics are slightly against you. Plus a lot more foreign students apply to U.S. schools now. This means you should apply to more schools because you face more competition for the same number of spots. Particularly for elite institutions, you cannot assume admission no matter how strong your application.
  5. If you do test prep on your own, mimic the actual test. If the SAT is three hours, toward the end of your practice you should be taking 3-hour practice tests with no extra breaks. Part of what makes the tests hard is boredom and fatigue. Practice concentrating and being resilient. On the day of the test, no matter how poorly you think you are doing, continue to do your best on every question.
  6. There is no such thing as the perfect college. College is what you make of it and who you are. Do not get too attached to one college.
  7. During the fall of their senior year, many students report that they spend more time on college and scholarship applications than they do on their classwork. So expect to buckle down and focus hard.  (By the way, some of these students are taking 5 Advanced Placement classes and they still spend more time on their college applications.)
  8. Do multiple drafts of your essay and again, avoid generic. An easy formula is the “story sandwich.”  I made up the following essay in about 7 minutes because the “story sandwich” formula is really that good:
    1. Start with a very specific story: Sweat was coming down my back. it was two outs, bottom of the 9th for my conference championship baseball game. My grandpa was in the crowd, having come out the hospital to see me play. The pitch came. The ball popped in the catcher’s mitt. I had struck out. The game was over. I couldn’t believe it. The story you tell should be gripping, interesting, SPECIFIC and one only you could tell.
    2. Expand outward to discuss what the story taught you and reveals about you and your character. Of course, that was not the first time I struck out. I’ve “failed” at the plate over 300 times. And I believe that’s okay. Failure and success are different sides of the same coin – each are equally valuable….in fact, my Grandpa first taught me that lesson when he told me how his first four businesses failed, and he had to summon the courage to try again, in the midst of Great Depression. SHARE LESSONS LEARNED FROM GRANDPA, EXPECT FAILURE AND SUCCESS DURING COLLEGE, BUT WILL ALWAYS STEP UP TO THE PLATE AND GO FOR IT.
    3. Finish the story sandwich by referencing the original story with a twist.  My grandpa hobbled down the stands, taking five times as long as everyone else. He almost tripped once and caught onto my dad’s hand.  I could feel his grit and determination from across the field, and suddenly, the strike out did not seem important. 
    4. When executed well, the story sandwich is interesting, heartwarming, and inspiring – you will stand out and be remembered among the thousands of applicants.
  9. Tell the truth. Do not pad your resume. If you start now, you will go down a slippery slope for graduate school, your work, and so forth.  It does you no good to get accepted into a school that you are not ready to attend – your confidence may be shaken and you may miss many growth opportunities.
  10. Thank everyone who helps you. Your counselor, parents, teachers are all busy and if they help you at all, get them a card and thank them. This is an opportunity to show your professionalism and your class.

Bonus Tip: Unless you are attending an elite institution (and even here I question it), it’s a bad idea to incur massive debt to attend college. You do not want to be 22 owing $125,000 dollars, particularly if you are majoring in English from a liberal arts school.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Stew January 6, 2015 at 1:22 am

Good points all around. Truly apretciaped.

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