Lessons from 10 top College Admissions Reps

I had the pleasure of meeting with admissions representatives from: Dartmouth, Northwestern, Princeton, U. Cal Berkeley, Vanderbilt, Rice, Cornell, Columbia, Brown, and U of Chicago.

During the month of May I had the pleasure of meeting with admissions representatives from: Dartmouth, Northwestern, Princeton, U. Cal Berkeley, Vanderbilt, Rice, Cornell, Columbia, Brown, and U of Chicago.  There were a series of counselor breakfasts to review this year’s admissions season and to gain insight to next year’s class. Here is list of the lessons I learned:


-       90% of the schools listed had experienced a record high number of applicants this year.  In fact, they could have fielded another whole equally impressive freshmen class from the list of students that did not make the cut this round. Lesson:  There is no magic formula

-       The electronic application submission is widely accepted and it is easier for admissions representatives to review a student’s list of activities. Lesson: Do not waste time or energy on developing a fancy resume to submit along side the application. All the information a rep would need and want is included on the online application form and they can access it quickly and easily instead of trying to find information on a separate resume that could be formatted in one of a hundred different ways.

-       Letters of recommendations from the school counselor and teachers are a valuable piece to the process. Lesson: Students should make the time to get to know their school counselor during the four years of high school as the counselor’s insight to the whole student can really make a difference. Choosing the two teachers to write an academic recommendation is also critical. Do not choose teachers based solely on the fact you did really, really well in the class. Many recommendations from teachers in the class where a student worked extremely hard but may not have done as well can speak volumes. Submitting more recommendations from outside references does not always add to the file unless it is a truly unique view of the applicant.

-       Schools like students who like the school for the right reasons. Lesson: Each   school has unique programs and philosophies’ that separate them from others in their class, and reps look for applicants to show how they would fit in on their campus. This is usually accomplished within the primary essay and the often  required supplemental essay.   Demonstrated interest means a lot. Visiting campus, meeting college reps at college fairs or at their high school info sessions, subscribing to the colleges email list, asking good thoughtful questions via email, “Like”ing the schools social media can add up.

-       Each application received is read in its entirety. Lesson: All aspects of the application are reviewed and a rep can get a sense of a candidate that is too packaged. It is important to let a student’s true voice come through.

-       Each school is looking to bring in a well-rounded class each year. Lesson: When it comes to extracurricular activities applicants do not have to do it all. It is OK, even preferable for a student to one or two things extremely well instead of doing many things in an average fashion. So focus on what you have a passion for and let it shine.

-       Reps are looking at how a student uses their time away from school.  Lesson: Summer time is not necessarily your time. Using the time away from school during the summer to work, take a class, do an enrichment activity, or focus on a particular skill to build, shows motivation and commitment.




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Katie Ryan O'Connor June 08, 2012 at 10:51 AM
Hi Henry, My kids are young, but not so young that I'm not already thinking about college. I know I learned so much more about life and hard work from summer and PT jobs than I ever did from enrichment programs or any activity-packed schedule. I'm curious if you think it's ultimately a plus or minus for a child to have an admissions profile that has more basic job experience than a ton of clubs/activities or other similar endeavors.
Ellen Dages June 08, 2012 at 01:41 PM
Henry, Thank you for the helpful comments. I also reviewed Forbes Top 500 American Colleges. In my view, the No. 1 school will satisfy demand in both acceptance and affordability. Subsidiaries may be helpful in a collaborative effort of schools to develop a sound business plan that will meet the needs of students and communities. I feel this period of too much competition requires more cooperation. There is also too much emphasis on taxes in this country. I prefer smarter investing. With our existing tax system, please consider also an option to apply sin taxes toward educational goals. Ridiculous amounts of money generated there can be applied in a more beneficial fashion. Does that seem feasible to you?
John Hawley June 08, 2012 at 08:17 PM
I think that these little pearls of wisdom are excellent advice. I would add one more thing that people who are applying to Colleges should make sure that their FACEBOOK and other social media doesn't have anything stupid that could be a problem later on. Pictures are probably the biggest pitfall of them all. So, a wise person will make sure their social media is in order.
Henry DelAngelo June 08, 2012 at 10:20 PM
Hi Katie, That is a great question that is often ask to me. I often will ask admissions officers the same question to see how they reply. I have consistently received the smae answer that having job is a great thing that shows the admissions officer the student is responsible, has the ability to take directions, and can work with individuals of different age groups. The work experience is just as valuable as being a member of a club or sports team. Not every student has the ability to play an instrument or a sport. The admissions officers realize to that a student may need to work to help with the family issues or want to contribute to his/her college education. I feel the key is doing something outside of school that keeps you busy and productive. So if you work be the best worker you can be and maybe try for a leadership role like Head Cashier or Head Counselor if possible.
Henry DelAngelo June 08, 2012 at 10:20 PM
Hi Ellen, Thanks for the contribution and yes it does sound feasible.


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