More is better
Applicants often feel that more is inherently better when it comes to their application file and proceed to send along everything from editorials penned for the school newspaper to 5th grade book reports plastered in gold stars. Such offerings are highly unlikely to sway the admissions gods.
If you decide to include ancillary materials do so judiciously. First ask yourself, “Will this item tell the admissions committee something important about me that they will not be able to glean from the rest of my application.” If so, send along an addendum or two. Admissions officers are busy and if they want a copy of the play you wrote at summer camp when you were 12 about Ghandi coming back to life as a hip hop artist, they’ll ask (they won’t).
Volunteering is essential
Many families still believe that evidence of scattered, unfocused altruism is a prerequisite for admission at highly selective universities—a couple hours at a hospital, a few at the local soup kitchen, and raking leaves for an elderly neighbor, and so on. Volunteering is a wonderful thing to do in life but it is unlikely to play a significant role in your admission unless it shows passion, leadership, long-term dedication, etc.
Competitive colleges are looking for signs of unique skills and attributes in the extracurricular realm. Engage in extracurriculars because you enjoy them and because they are part of what makes you you. That will come through as more genuine to an admission office than someone who is suddenly attempting to accrue a laundry list of volunteer gigs in the fall of their senior year.
Your prospective colleges are making a personal investment in you
In our second Mythbusters edition, we addressed the false sense of being recruited juniors often get upon being deluged with dozens of glossy pamphlets in the mail post-PSAT. Remember, colleges aren’t asking you to prom; they are asking you to ask them to prom. Schools collect rejections like eccentric rich folks collect celebrities’ teeth and half-eaten French toast.
The same rule goes for schools toward which you’ve expressed interest. Once a simple Q&A and jaunt around campus, the college tour has morphed into “What can I do to put you in a new dorm room today?” Invites to social media, letters from the Dean, and free bumper stickers are likewise pseudo-personalized marketing ploys designed to elicit an application to increase numbers. This may sound a bit cynical, but you’ll find it’s wise to view all recruitment efforts through a skeptic’s lens. You’ll know a college truly wants you when they offer you a generous merit aid package.
Click here to read Part 1 in our series of “Admission Mythbusters.”
Click here to read Part 2 in our series of “Admission Mythbusters.”