College Application Tips from an Admissions Expert

This Saturday, I had the pleasure of speaking as part of the Center for Student Opportunity‘s bookfair at the Barnes & Noble in Bethesda, Maryland.  Yes, we were in front of the cookbooks, but we were actually talking about preparing for college.

The event’s main speaker was Doris Davis, an educational consultant who formerly worked as part of the admissions teams at Cornell and Barnard.  As an admissions insider, she provided valuable thoughts for the college students and parents in attendance.  Among them:

  • Consider the intangible.  A student’s strongest quality might be compassion.  Think about how that could be turned into an application-worthy activity.  For example, by volunteering with people or animals in need.
  • Be honest in your college applications.  Doris told of a student whose acceptance to Cornell was revoked when he indicated that he was a member of a racially underrepresented group but was not.  On a recent Yale application, students had to answer a question about what they would do if they had an entirely free afternoon.  The student who said “Sleep” curried favor with the judges, who admired the student’s honesty.  (That student did go on to explain why sleep was significant and beautiful; it wasn’t a one-word essay.)
  • Interpret essay questions creatively.  One application asked students what historical moment they’d like to have witnessed.  Many students took “historical” to mean textbook-worthy material, but one applicant wrote a beautiful essay about how she wished she could have seen her mother’s reaction to her (the student’s) birth.  Why?  The student was born in China under the one-child policy, in an atmosphere that strongly favored males.  She wanted to see how her mother reacted to the news that she’d delivered a girl.

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