What Works – And Doesn’t Work – In College Applications 

Today, I finished training three new counselors—Meredith, Rhiannon and Monica—who worked in admissions at Cornell, Sweet Briar and Harvard respectively.  During lunch, I posed the following questions to them, and I’ll share their responses here.

After you read an application, what is the biggest turn-off?

1. Arrogance

When confidence goes too far and a student is entirely too self-impressed, it’s not a likable quality.

2. Dishonesty. 

Nobody likes to be lied to.  One of the trainees said that she would count up the total number of weekly hours a student listed for activity involvement.   If the total number exceeded the total number of hours that exist in a week, she knew that something was amiss.

3. Trying too hard to be impressive.

Tell the truth and be proud of what you’ve done.  But don’t try to add marketing oomph to your messages.

What qualities always resonated?

1. Confidence

Confident kids are proud of what they’ve done, but they don’t feel the need to add a dash of marketing to make themselves sound more impressive.

2. Honesty.

A kid who was comfortable enough in her own skin to admit what she didn’t know or wasn’t good at always shined through.   The trainees were clear not to imply that everything is worth sharing.  Just don’t lie about whatever you do mention.

3. Authenticity

Just be yourself.  All three counselors agreed that this was the most important one.

KEVIN MCMULLINKevin McMullin is the Founder of Collegewise, a national college admissions counseling company, co-founder of The Princeton Review and the author of If the U Fits: Expert Advice on Finding the Right College and Getting Accepted. He also writes a daily college admissions blog, wiselikeus.com, and has given over 500 presentations to discuss smarter, saner college planning.

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