College Admissions Officers Reveal What They're looking for in a Candidate
September 3, 2016
If you're a high school senior, the question you're asking all the time is, "How can I write a successful college application?" Thanks to The Washington Post, we now have some some answers.
The newspaper recently interviewed admissions professionals from across the country to reveal what they're really looking for in a successful candidate. Here are some excerpts, coupled with my own advice on how to write a winning college essay:
"I look for beautiful, clear writing that comes to life on the essay page and offers insight into the character and personality of the student."
-Martha Blevins Allman, Wake Forest University dean of admissions
My take: Every great essay begins with clarity. Clear writing is easy to understand (without mistakes, jargon, and redundancies that can make it dificult to read) and comprises sentences and paragraphs that flow seemlessly. Once you have a clear and correct foundation, you can embellish your prose with more figuritive language, metaphors, and emotion that tells the reader who you really are and what you care deeply about.
"It’s true that your voice is what we are looking for. When you write your college essay, use your authentic voice. If you’re a serious person, write your essay with a serious voice. If you’re a funny person, be funny. If you’re not a funny person, your college essay might not be the best place to try on that funny writer voice for the first time."
-Ken Anselment, Lawrence University dean of admissions and financial aid
My take: Be authentic. There is no one-size-fits-all college essay. Play to your strengths, whether that's being direct, hilarious, off the beaten path, or serious. Whichever personality traits you choose to showcase, make sure to remove any tinge of cynicism, pessimism, or sarcasm--basically, any negativity. Admissions professionals want to accept students who they'd enjoy being around, so spin things positive rather than negative.
"We want to enroll students who will contribute to the life of the campus, so we are eager to see how you have contributed to your high-school community or the community in which you live."
-Stefanie Niles, Dickinson College vice president for enrollment, marketing and communications
My take: When selecting a topic think of how or when you've been in contribution. What have you done to improve the lives of others and the world around you? How have you given back? Colleges want students who will use their new knowledge and skills to make the world a better place. Show the admissions officers that you're already doing that.
"I would rather a student tell me about the handful of clubs and activities they have been involved with and excelled in, rather than an exhaustive list of clubs they that they feigned interest in, kind-of-sort-of-one-day."
-Kaitlyn Botelho, Lasell College associate director of admission
My take: Focus on breadth over depth. You'll be able to list all your extra-curriculurs in your application. You don't need to include them all in your essay. Focus on the one or two interests/activities that you've been most passionate about and that you've done the most with. Don't forget to show how you were a leader in those areas, highlighting your persistence and any obstacles that you successfully overcame.
I've been helping students across the country write successful application essays. Email me at email@example.com to chat about how I can help you write effective essays that will showcase your strengths and winning personality.