College Admission Hints

Deborah Davis Groves
Davis Groves Educational Services

Is Facebook really your friend?

Young people today use the social media to make all kinds of statements or to post all kinds of pictures to let their friends know what is happening in their lives.  Guess who else might be checking these – College Admissions Staff members!  Make sure your son or daughter has tight restrictions on their Facebook and Twitter accounts.  They need to be extremely cautious as to what pictures and comments they post.  Also, Google your child’s name to see what comes up.  While undergraduate college admissions staffs don’t always have the time to check these out, Graduate and Professional Schools most often do.  If a student is on the bubble of being accepted or not accepted, an admissions staff member may choose to Google the student’s name or see if they can access their Facebook account to assist in determining the student’s character.  A picture is worth a thousand words.  I was with a group of students recently that was celebrating their MCAT scores.  They were going to take a picture with a bottle of champagne.  I mentioned that I had just attended a seminar on Graduate and Professional School Admissions.  The comment from these staff members indicated that they check Facebook accounts of their admissions applicants.  An applicant is automatically not considered if they are seen in photographs with a bottle of any type of alcohol.  It was amazing how quick that bottle got put away.  In addition, all of the students ran to their computers to tighten their restrictions and to remove questionable photographs.  Wise decision on their parts as it can sometimes make a big difference in acceptance or denial in your college, grad school or professional school of choice.  

Do your classes and activities matter?

I had a student tell me recently that he didn’t need to take a math class during his senior year.  His teacher apparently told him that colleges don’t check that sort of thing.  I explained that not only do schools look at your personal curriculum rigor, but they also check the individual school curriculum rigor and evaluate if the student took the most rigorous curriculum course load offered.  While colleges are not expecting students to take every AP or rigorous class offered, they are expecting the student to take as many as possible.  Admissions staffs take into account that some schools may not offer as many AP classes, but they want to see that your student took as many as he or she could.  On the other hand, if your school is extremely rigorous, an admissions staff is not going to look positively on a student who only took one or two classes when 30 are offered.  As I mentioned before do not let the teachers or your student try to tell you the senior year can have a lighter or fluffier course load because colleges don’t care what the student takes at that point.  Not true!  Admission staffs of all colleges want strength of schedule in the senior year too.  Applications are rated based on academic rigor, achievement and potential.  In addition, grades matter until the very end.  Schools have been known to pull a student’s college acceptance and scholarship because the student lost their focus. The admissions staff has other deserving students on the waitlist who took their senior year seriously.

Extra curricular activities are also very important.  It is not about how many activities your student does, but does your student show passion in those activities.  Is there leadership?  Is there a consistent interest that shows in their choice of extra curricular activities?  Schools are looking for students that are going to get involved at their colleges.  Admissions staffs aren’t looking for a long laundry list of activities where the student basically just showed up.  Rather they are looking for breath of service where the student’s interest and involvement are real.    

Show your interest!

Your student’s level of interest matters to the College Admissions staffs.  That interest can be shown through college tours, college over night stays, college class visits, interviews with the college admissions rep of your area, interviews with college alums, and email question exchanges with admissions staff members.  Level of interest can also be determined by the admissions office when your student opens emails from their school or when they have visited the school’s website.  Most, if not all schools keep track of your student’s interest.  I remember when my oldest daughter was applying to Davidson College.  We were told they keep a file on your child once they fill out an information card.  It was noted in her file every time my daughter would contact the admissions rep, go to the campus, stay at the campus or show up at the school’s information night in our hometown.  Admissions staff members will tell you that if it comes down to two similar students for admissions acceptance, the one who has expressed the most interest in the school will more often than not gain admission.  In my daughter’s case, she got into Davidson College!  I don’t know what the tipping point was for her admission acceptance, but I can say that we did everything possible to let them know of her interest.  I tell my clients to make a point of signing in every time they visit a school, try to get an interview or meet the admissions representative who covers our area, check out the website often, and show up at any college fairs or in town information sessions.  Let the school you are interested in know who you are!  

Ghostwriters not OK!

Ghostwriters might be ok for celebrities, but definitely not allowed for your student’s college essays.  Biggest hint for college admissions is do not write your student’s college essay!  The first thing the admissions readers look for in your student’s essay is authenticity.  They can usually spot an essay that has not been written by the student or has had too many people involved in the process.  Their first clue is the comparison to your student’s SAT or ACT writing sample.  It is also important to note that your student will sign a pledge at the end of their college application indicating that all the essay work is their own and that the information provided is true.  If it becomes clear that the essay was not written by the student, the application is no longer considered.  Admissions staffs will tell you they want to hear your child’s own voice in their essays.  As one admissions person put it, “Let them be themselves!”  

Choosing a Recommender

Many people try to use College Board Members, Senators, Congressmen or other important people to write recommendations on their children’s behalves.  Most of these letters are form letter like with some benign reference of recommending your child to that school.    Sadly, these hold little value for the College Admissions staffs.  While most of these come across as nice letters, there is no real first hand knowledge of the student that they are writing about.  Recommendations really need to come from teachers or people who know your child.  Because you have no control over what these people will write about your child, you really want to choose that teacher or person who has some long term history with your child or good knowledge of your child in a class.  Admissions offices look at these recommendations as another opportunity to really get beyond the application to know a student and to determine if they are a “right fit” for their college.

Early Decision versus Regular Decision - does it matter?

A student who goes Early Decision or Early Action does stand a better chance of being accepted than going regular decision. Remember there are still no absolute guarantees, but the pool of students who go Early Decision or Early Action is far less while the Regular Decision pool is significantly bigger.  Legacies and athletic students are encouraged to apply early as their admissions chances are greater at that point.  It is also statistically proven that it is better for women to apply early decision or early action. Those students with higher financial needs also have a greater chance of acceptance in Early Decision or Early Action because these decisions are made at the beginning of the financial aid budget.  Therefore money is more readily available at this time.  It is important to note that Early Decision is binding which means that your student is saying that if accepted at this college he or she accepts and will pull or cancel their applications from all other colleges.  Early Action is non-binding and a student’s final decision is not required until May 1.  This allows students the opportunity to evaluate all of their scholarship and financial aid awards at the various schools they have applied to before making a final decision.

Again, while these admission tips are helpful, there is still no denying that college admissions today is truly a “crapshoot” as described by one admissions staffer.  If a student has complete certainty that a school is “the school” then it makes sense to go for Early Decision.  But understand that sometimes that does not work out the way you want.  My youngest child was completely denied by her first choice, early decision school.  While devastating at the time, it afforded her the opportunity to quickly reevaluate her other applications.  We ended up looking for the school that was most like her first choice.  She ended up getting accepted at Furman University with a $40,000 scholarship.  She realized that sometimes the worst “NO” can become the most incredible “YES.”  Furman ended up being the far better choice for her.  

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