This blog is written by one of AdmissionsCheckup’s former Ivy League admissions officer.
As a former admissions officer, I am frequently approached for college admission assistance especially when it comes to writing the essays. While it’s impossible to state that any one particular factor will doom your likelihood of admission, there are factors to be aware of and to avoid. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but rather some of the major factors that will make admissions officers unable to strongly support your application.
TMI in the Essays
There are students who write about things that are just “too much information.” The vast majority of students do not do this, but those that do might regale the admissions committee with something, um, personal. While you can certainly use your imagination about these topics and probably would be correct, here’s one example. In response to essay questions about a place a student feels the most comfortable, the restroom seems to be an unusually popular response. It’s weird, it’s TMI, and (ironically) a very common answer within this uncommon category of TMI essays.
Students who write about how amazingly awesome they are will get dinged quick. Deans of Admission want intellectual curiosity, not certainty. Admissions officers want humble nice students. Yes, by all means showcase what you have accomplished as a student, but writing things like, “I have discovered how talented I am, and everyone around me tells me so,” or, “I am the most fearless person I know,” are turn-offs. Yes, “immodesty may just be another thing you are truly great at exhibiting,” but who wants to read about students who tells the world how fantastic they are with proclamations?
Discrimination or Close Mindedness
Higher education celebrates the marketplace of ideas, and you are entitled to your convictions. However, if you come across as disparaging another’s race, national origin, religion, gender, sex, sexual orientation, geographic region, income level, or anything else, you will likely not be offered admission.
Too Many Lobbyists
Most selective colleges want one letter of recommendation from the counselor and two from teachers. Unfortunately, some families think “more is better!” An extra letter could help offer unique perspective, but there are horror stories of too many letters. Some applications have (on the low end of too many letters) 10 or so, while others are as high as over 80! Additionally, families are constantly asking, “We know someone with (affiliation with a college in some way)! If they write a letter of recommendation, will that help my child get admitted?” Short answer: probably not, unless the letter writer really has clout. A good rule: more than 5 is too much, and that’s not me suggesting “so you better get five!” Lastly, parents should NEVER write letters in support of their child.
For more tips on college essays, see our blog that appeared in Grown and Flown or view college admission assistance for students and parents.