College Admissions

Don’t Annoy the Admissions Officer

Students applying to college often worry about whether they have enough AP and honors courses, a sufficiently impressive grade point average and competitive test scores. They obsess over every word on application essays and agonize about which teacher to ask for a recommendation letter. But despite these efforts to present the perfect application, students can end up sabotaging their applications because of poor judgment.


Perhaps it’s because the stakes seem so high and they are so desperate to get into a favorite school, but the stress of the college admission process seems to lead some students to do things that are really not in their interest.


Sending eight recommendations when a college asks for two will likely annoy admissions officers who already have too much to read. In addition, you are communicating that you can’t follow directions, can’t count, or have so little confidence in your application that you have to try to pump it up with as many letters as possible.


The same thing can happen with application essays.  If a college asks for 500 words and you write 1500 words, do not expect the admissions officer who has been reading applications for nine hours that day and opens your file to find an endless essay to feel kindly toward you.


There’s more than one way to ruin an application essay. You can bore the reader by writing about your experience on the sports team, where you learned the value of teamwork and dedication to a shared goal. You can offend the reader by writing about your belief that all this multicultural stuff on college campuses is a load of politically correct nonsense. Or you can scare the reader by writing about your admiration for Bernie Madoff, especially if you are applying to a business program. And speaking of business programs, when you’re answering the “Why our college?” question, talking about the school’s excellent business program when there is no such program at that college is not the way to impress admissions officers.


Calling or e-mailing your admissions officer every week to let her know how much you want to attend the college is also not the way to demonstrate interest in the school. Desperation is no more appealing in a prospective student than it is in a potential date.


Even well before starting their first application, students can do things they will come to regret. This is not a new phenomenon. The problem is they now often leave a record for everyone to see.  Posting pictures of yourself with beer in hand, or blogging about how you were so high you can’t remember how you got home last night might seem like harmless fun at the time. But once that kind of thing is on the Internet, you never know who will see it.


If a male student writes derogatory comments about women on his Facebook page, how do admissions officers know if he could be a danger to female students or if he’s just exhibiting teenage male bravado to impress his friends? Do you really want to give them a reason to wonder?


At most colleges, there’s barely time to read the huge numbers of applications being submitted, so it’s hard to imagine that admissions officers have time to routinely do additional research on each applicant. But if an application raises some question or concern, someone will investigate. A student who claims to have won an award or done community service for an organization that doesn’t sound familiar may find that award or organization being Googled in the admissions office.


Applying to college is like applying for a job in many ways. Any questions about judgment or integrity can be the end of your chances. You may be tempted to exaggerate or even lie about your accomplishments, but it is best to present yourself honestly. In order to be taken seriously, you need to communicate in a professional manner. That means no texting an admissions officer as if she’s your BFF. An e-mail address that seems funny to a student could be offensive to an adult, but perhaps more importantly, an e-mail address with your name in it is easier for admissions staff to match to you, and anything that makes their lives easier when they are deluged with application files is a good thing. While interviews are not usually a major factor in college admission decisions, you don’t want to be remembered for getting (and even worse, taking) four phone calls during the meeting.


Of course, students aren’t the only ones who can sink a college application. Parents are quite capable of alienating admissions officers. When a parent calls to say, “I’m working on your supplement to the Common Application and need to know if the essay can go over by 20 words,” admissions officers are likely to wonder if the student really wants to attend the college and is ready to handle the demands of living away from home. Even worse is the parent who pretends to be the student on the phone. Then there are the parents who insist on going into the interview and speaking for the student.


Annoying an admissions officer might not be reason for a denial, but if you’re applying to selective colleges, you don’t want to stand out for negative reasons. A student’s judgment and maturity can factor into admission decisions, so think about the message your actions are communicating.