The secrets, tips, and common sense of the college application process
Admissions officers share their favorite do's and don'ts for high school seniors
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On Thursday night, Oct. 9, 2014, more than 80 representatives from colleges and universities around the country gathered in the Watertown High School gym to offer students a chance to learn more about what their schools have to offer.
Many of these representatives took time to talk with the Raider Times reporters and offer advice about how high school students can excel (or not) in the college application process. Here is what some of them had to say:
As UMass-Amherst is one of the most popular schools in the Northeast, it was no surprise that it was a big hit in the Watertown High School gymnasium. The table consistently had students lined up, eager to hear about the application process.
Some tips for getting into UMass-Amherst are to be outgoing and consistent throughout your high school career. According to Julia E. Pelczarski of UMass-Amherst, it looks better when the admissions officers see that a student has been in a club for for years instead of joining five clubs senior year.
“Consistency is key,” she said. If you are a diverse student with good grades and consistent extracurriculars, then you are the type of student UMass-Amherst is looking for.
“We generally look for someone who is strong academically, and has taken the highest-level courses offered by their schools,’’ she said. “Athletics and extracurriculars also play a huge factor. Anything that can set you apart from the common applicant will improve your chances of getting accepted.”
She also had some advice for future applicants.
“The biggest mistake applicants make is applying early decision,’’ she said. “It’s the biggest mistake because they may need their first-term senior-year grades to boost their GPA.”
Bentley University is a small university located in Waltham, Mass., and is one of the nation’s leading business schools.
When asked how to make a good impression, Julianna Jennings, senior assistant director of undergraduate admissions at Bentley, said, “Visiting the campus, whether it’s going to an open house or on a tour.
“The most important thing is name recognition. Colleges want to be able to recognize your name and know that you’re interested in attending their school.”
The biggest mistake on the application, she said, is not proofreading the essay. Coming to an interview unprepared is another mistake — and if interviewing isn’t your strength, you should avoid it altogether.
As for the most memorable college essays she’s ever read? “One about chicken nuggets, a person’s pre-shower routine, and someone meeting his brother for the first time in Kindergarten,” she said.
Wentworth Institute of Technology
Julie Lanman, associate director of admissions at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, said that for applicants to improve their chances of acceptance, they should show interest in the school and in the major that they will choose, whether it is by courses taken or afterschool activities.
She also said that extracurriculars, including jobs, greatly help an applicant’s chances.
Although Wentworth doesn’t do interviews, she said one of the greatest problem areas is essay. She students should proofread more and make sure to catch any mistakes, and to write the correct name of the college!
— JONATHAN AZEVEDO
Pine Manor College
Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill is looking for college readiness. According to admissions counselor Shary Browne that means students who are excelling in their courses; students who have challenged themselves in all four years; students who have good leaderships skills and maturity; and overall well-rounded students.
She said the admissions officers don’t like when students do not put their best foot forward, especially in senior year, and when students don’t challenge themselves.
Pine Manor prides themselves on individualized attention, and lots of one-on-one professor-student time. The school’s big sports are basketball and volleyball.
She also said that volunteering is also a big part of their school, saying how many people went down to New Jersey after the hurricane to rebuild homes.
This is one college that is test optional. Plymouth State stands out because the New Hampshire school looks at a student’s transcript for the entire four years. The admissions office looks at the student, not one test score. Can the student do the work? What are the grade trends like?
These are good self-examining questions Plymouth State representative Leslie Castonia recommends to applicants.
In the end, students should make themselves known to the admissions officer. Reach out and leave a good impression of yourself. Admissions officers remember the kids who reach out to them.
When it comes time for the interview, the biggest mistake students can make is coming unprepared. Even though it is completely natural to be nervous, make an effort to hide the nerves. Do the research on the school and come into the interview armed with questions. In the end, remember that you are there to promote yourself.
Lasell College is located in Newton, Mass., which is extremely close to Watertown, so it is perfect for commuters and boarders alike.
When I approached the table, the man and woman standing behind it were very friendly and approachable. They were asked how can prospective applicants impress them so that it helps improve their chances come application time.
“What really gets our attention is when an applicant has a very strong essay,’’ said Jill Reitzell. “We also love it when someone has a really strong passion, especially if that person likes to do a lot of to community service. Community service is very important to us.”
The next question was about the biggest mistake students make in the application and interview process.
“The biggest mistake that people make so often is sending in a completed essay with the wrong name on it!” she said. “You would be surprised to know that a lot of people send in the same supplemental essay to every college, and often they forget to change the name of the college in their essay, so instead of saying, ‘Hello, I would like to go to Lasell College,’ they say, ‘Hello, I would like to go to Smith College.’
“This is a huge turnoff to any school, so remember, take the time to write a different, thoughtful essay for every school!”
Daniel Richer, the admissions representative for Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., made it clear that applicants who talk about things that are important to them, instead of just academic accomplishments, are ones who are more likely to get accepted. These important things include applicants’ interests and hopes for the future.
He said that the greatest mistake that applicants can make is shifting focus away from their true selves. He also mentioned that spelling and grammar is an important thing to pay attention to when writing an application essay, and it is something that students don’t often pay attention to when writing.
What did Mount Ida admission rep Luke Wilson recommend doing to impress the Newton, Mass., school? He said one of the best things to have on your transcript is some sort of related job-shadowing/internship in your future major. While the whole transcript is important, you will stand out if you make yourself known to the admissions office and if you show early interest in your desired major.
The biggest mistake applicants make is not having enough information. If something extreme happened in one of your high school years that greatly affected your grades, the admission office wants to know. He said for students to be honest in the applications and explain the truth of that dip first quarter junior year. It will give the school a better basis to judge you and will avoid any confusion .
Western New England University
Western New England University is in Springfield, Mass., and suburban. This is a private liberal arts university that costs around $33,500.
According to Michael Russell, assistant director of admissions, the best way prospective applicants can impress the admission officers is by doing well in classes and in SATs, along with being a well-rounded student.
The biggest mistake students make in the application/interview process is by not proofreading their essays and putting the wrong college name in the essay. For example, students often apply to multiple colleges and reuse their essays, but forget to change the name in the essay. As a result, the essay for a student applying to Western New England says, “I want to go to Westfield because…”
Only about an hour and a half away, the Providence College campus is located in beautiful Providence, R.I. The alumni representative at the table was very willing to give advice to prospective students.
When asked about how students can make a good impression, the alumni rep said that a student who has a well-rounded personality is a very valuable asset to the college. Providence is not looking for students who only play basketball or devote all of their time to academics and has no other interests. In short, a student with multiple extracurricular activities, such as a student who plays a sport, is a dedicated student, and spends a lot of time volunteering and helping others.
Community service can show a lot about who a person is, so colleges are really looking closely for how students spend their time. A willingness to help others and be involved is especially important to Providence College, and the school even has a Community Service major. (I didn’t even know these existed!)
When asked, “What is the biggest mistake students make in the application and interview process?”
The answer was simple: Not applying.
Oftentimes, students will be on the verge of applying to a school, but they will doubt themselves and think that it is out of reach, and they decide that it is not worth it to apply.
The truth is that it is always worth it, because you never really know what the college’s impression of you will be, the rep said. So if you want to go to the school, you might as well just apply to see if it works out. It is definitely worth it to at least apply, even if you don’t think you have a very good chance. The odds could actually work in your favor!
Located in Franklin, Mass., Dean College is a private college that focuses on both academic and personal success.
“The biggest mistake is not sending everything in,” said Christina Berardi, assistant director of admissions at Dean. “It’s important to make sure you send in everything necessary to the application process [such as recommendation letters], and making sure to fill out every section of the application.”
She also said that taking ownership of the process, asking questions, and being assertive go a long way in impressing admissions officers come application time.
Her tip for college essays: The most important part is that it’s truly personal. The topic isn’t as important as how passionate the student is about it.
Stony Brook University
The best way to impress Stony Brook? It all comes down to your transcript. The admissions officers look at it all, every last bit of the last four years. Grades, courses, athletics, extracurriculars. What matters is the whole academic prospect.
If your transcript isn’t exactly one to impress, another way to make yourself stand out is to reach out and introduce yourself. Amanda Mills, assistant director of admissions for the New York school, said it is easier to remember kids who make the effort to reach out, instead of the other way around.
Want to know exactly how not to make a good first impression? Submit a letter of recommendation letter with a different school’s name on it.
So, clean up that transcript, make the effort to reach out, and double check who you’re addressing!
Minuteman Technical Institute
Ron Marino, representing Minuteman Technical Institute in Lexington, Mass., described the application process for technical schools like Minuteman, and acknowledged that it is slightly different from most higher-education institutions, as it is based around a paper application with a recommendation from a vocational high school teacher, and an in-person interview.
He said that what impresses Minuteman’s admissions officers the most is an applicant’s desire to work hard and better themselves. Ron went on to say that since Minuteman is a public college, not many applicants are turned away. Those that are turned away are those who are going into a field where there is not enough interest among the student body to have classes in that field.
Westfield State is in Western Mass., and in a suburban location. Combined tuition, room, and board is $18,300 and students are not required to live on campus. It is a broad liberal arts school and provides guaranteed housing all four years.
Prospective applicants can impress admissions officers by sending in letters of recommendation and essays, even though they are optional, as they make a student seem like a person as opposed to a test score.
Westfield State will “super score,” meaning the admissions office will only look at the highest standardized test score earned.
A common pitfall is that people apply too late for popular programs, so students should apply as early as possible.
University of Rhode Island
Eric Simonelli, the admissions representative form the University of Rhode Island in Kingston said that to stand out or improve applications, applicants should state why they like specific subjects, such as math and science. That, he said, shows interest and commitment.
Again, extracurricular also come into play and can make one student stand out from another.
He said a huge mistake the admissions officers see at URI come application time is physical signs of what a lot of us call “senioritis.” That is the laziness that catches on to many students during senior year, causing a decline in grades.
Eric also said that many students fail to challenge themselves with higher-level courses, so that even though the grades remain OK, it still shows a degree of laziness.
— JONATHAN AZEVEDO
“We look for kids who are ‘Clark-fit,’ ” said Jake Mattleman, an assistant director of admissions.
Clark is a liberal arts-based research university in Worcester, Mass. Clark looks for applicants who are unique, passionate, well-rounded, and those that challenge social norms.
“The biggest mistake that a student can make is not advocating for themselves,’’ he said. “They need to be able to communicate if there are any problems.”
Clark is a test-optional school, so it’s important that applicants understand they should only send in scores if they are truly a good reflection of their abilities.
“You should write about something you’re passionate about,” Jake said, in regards to college essays. “It should be deep, and there should be many layers to it, so that it’s personal.”
As for the most memorable college essay he’s ever read? “Someone’s story of how they went through a civil war in their homeland, and were able to come to America for refuge,’’ he said.
Stonehill College in North Easton, Mass., had a very popular table at the College Fair. Stonehill is an excellent college that is filled with a very diverse student body and is test score optional.
If you are planning on applying, you better have an interesting personal essay and a good GPA. Getting in is not easy and a lot of time should be set aside when filling out the application.
According to Stonehill’s admission rep, there are ways an applicant can make an a good impression: “When someone shows interest and asks questions during an interview, that shows that they were prepared and are seriously considering Stonehill. Being a well-rounded student, having a good GPA, really unique personal essay, and good test scores help the application process go smoothly.”
There were also words of advice: “[The biggest mistake is] not being careful when filling out the application. Sometimes students get the applications confused with other college applications and put information meant for that other college in the application meant for Stonehill.”
University of Delaware
The University of Delaware likes to see students who go above and beyond, said admissions counselor Amanda Gearhart. She said the school likes when students are involved in a combination of sports and lots of extracurricular activities.
She said they are looking for students who have improved over their four years in high school and continuously took challenging honors and AP-level classes. Delaware likes to see a very well-rounded student who likes to be involved.
Study abroad, service opportunities, and sports are all things that Delaware takes pride in. She said the school offers a plethora of Division 1 sports, and most students chose to study abroad at some point in college.
Matt had recently graduated from Assumption College in Worcester, Mass., so he was very involved in the current scene at the college.
He was asked how prospective applicants make an impression so that it helps improve their chances come application time.
“The best thing a student can do is to send in a good resume, and let us know what you’re interested in,” Matt said.
He also said that the school values community service, and the college itself is very connected to the community.
He was asked about the biggest mistake students make in the application and interview process. His response was the same as that of Lasell College: “Don’t write an essay to a school and forget to change the name!”
It’s really as basic as it gets, but this one mistake can hurt you a great deal.
Ultimately, each senior is going to be moving on to the next stage of life next year, whether it be work, college, travel, or something else. But the choices students make now in applying to college will help decide where they end up next fall.
Colleges will notice commitment and dedication if students put the effort into their applications and show that they are thoughtful, taking the time to think about about each individual college, and how they can contribute not only to their community, but to the world around them.
(Story reported and written by Julia Perry, Jeremy Holt, Hannah Cook, Ghi Coulter-DeWit, Jonathan Azevedo, Katherine Dolan, Tina Touri, and Sergio Guzman of the Raider Times staff.)
–Nov. 20, 2014–
Hannah Cook is in her second year as a member of the Raider Times staff (2013-2015).
Jonathan Azevedo is a member of the Raider Times staff in 2014-15.
Katherine Dolan is a member of the Raider Times staff in 2014-15, and is currently serving on the Executive Board.
Sergio Guzman is a member of the Raider Times staff in 2014-15.