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ServiceScape Incorporated

Inside the Head of an Undergraduate Admissions Officer


The list of duties assigned to college admissions officers is seemingly endless. From filtering student applications, responding to information requests, delivering information sessions, and communicating with students about their application status, it's surprising they have time to review each submission individually. Considering their workloads, these admissions officers have strict schedules and limited time to review these applications. They're seeking the ideal candidate for their respective colleges, and they're on a deadline.

While there's no secret formula for acing an application, there are guidelines to follow to provide yourself the best chance at acceptance to your dream college. Keep reading to find out what admissions officers are looking for in candidates.

Be authentic in your essay

Admissions officers are inundated with application essays every year. What wins them over is not a manufactured, generic essay in which the applicant presents themselves as something they're clearly not.

Writing an admissions essay is an individual act. Each application is unique, and their essays should reflect their individuality. Admissions officers are aware that not all students are provided the opportunity to live a wild, unique, and enlightening experience that can become the basis of their essay. Expecting this from every applicant would be unfair. Instead, they seek to remind students that lessons can be gleaned from anything that has caused substantial change and personal growth. They want to see a presentation of you that illustrates how you've persevered through adversity, your unique perspective on life, and why you would be a welcome addition to their campus.

Avoid the boilerplate application

There's no one-size-fits-all when it comes to college applications, and admissions officers can easily identify a generic application. If your application is written in such a way that you can remove a college name and simply slot in another, you'll likely alienate the colleges you're applying to.

A genuine and vested interest in an institution is clear to admissions officers and will provide you an advantage over an applicant who tenders essentially the same application to a variety of colleges. This isn't to say students shouldn't provide themselves with options. Every student should be encouraged to apply to as many institutions as they choose, but it's vital that they tailor each submission for each college in their respective applications. You might place a college in your "maybe" file, but there are likely many other applicants who have proven it's their top choice. Show the admissions officer that you consider their institution a priority. If they feel as though you don't rank their college as a legitimate option, they will reject your application to make room for someone who does.

Adopt a policy of full disclosure

If you've experienced a temporary dip in grades and overall performance, eventually recovering from the decline, it might be tempting to bury your head and hope the rest of the application speaks for itself. Admissions officers understand this temptation, but they advise students to address it head-on.

While they can clearly see an upturn in performance following a slump, they're missing the "why" and the "how." Setbacks will come and go throughout life, so prove exactly how you handle them.

Admissions officers want to learn about the obstacles you've faced and how you've overcome them, whether they were unavoidable or self-imposed. Even if the reason behind the performance drop is your fault or even something you wouldn't want to share, admissions officers want to hear what you've learned from the experience and how you've made amends. Taking full responsibility and adopting a personal policy of full disclosure lets admissions officers know an applicant is mature enough to handle setbacks that come down the line.

Take on meaningful extracurricular activities

An entire world exists outside the classroom from which you can garner an unofficial valuable education. Admissions officers will never dispute the importance of an impressive high school transcript, but they often see applicants relying purely on grades and forgoing the benefits of an education beyond school doors. They encourage applicants to join clubs years before college applications become a factor in their lives. A student entrenched in an organization that they're dedicated to and passionate about will illustrate to an admissions officer that this is an applicant who is open to learning and self-discovery.

Admissions officers know there is no one club to join that will compel them to immediately stamp "accepted" on that application, and they encourage each student to take their own individual path in terms of extracurricular activities.

Fight the urge to pad your application

Yes, extracurricular activities are important and can demonstrate that an applicant has a broad, well-rounded focus. But signing up to every club you find is counterproductive. Admissions officers' time is becoming more limited and valuable, so rather than perusing a list of every club you've ever joined, these officers prefer to read about the extracurricular activities you've devoted real time to. They're aware that students who over-burden themselves by joining every organization they encounter will inevitably feel an overwhelming burnout before their college education even begins.

Admissions officers also have a keen eye and know when an applicant has joined a club purely to pad their submission. They advise students to get involved with organizations early on in their education, find the clubs that are right for them, and learn the most they can from those environments.

Create an applicant-officer relationship

The college application process is fast-paced, and admissions officers can inevitably feel disconnected from the applicants they're reviewing. While the insurmountable workload prevents them from reaching out to each applicant individually, these officers encourage applicants to keep in touch with them throughout the process.

Preparation for college applications – coupled with school demands, personal lives, and extracurricular activities – puts a strain on students. In dealing with the pressure, students often take a step back and let their parents take over the official administrative side of application.

While it might seem impossible to find the time to establish a relationship with an admissions officer, they highlight the benefits and ensure that it's time well spent. This relationship allows officers to understand applicants personally, becoming more than a name, face, and transcript in a file. If you've established yourself as asset to the respective college, the relationship you've formed allows your admissions officer to advocate for you when the time comes.

Be social media savvy

A social media presence poses no problem in the application process. However, issues arise when the "you" that's presented to an admissions officer is in stark contrast to the "you" online. Considering the formality of the application process, and the informality of social media, allowances will be made to a degree.

But if an entirely different persona is at the helm of your online accounts, admissions officers say students run the risk of appearing underhanded, making officers feel as though they've been duped. Admissions officers warn applicants that nothing online is ever really hidden. Students might feel secure with accounts set to "private," but they run the possibility of a friend screenshotting and broadcasting a post to the entire Internet, potentially hindering the applicant's future education.

The way to avoid this, admissions officers say, is to carefully consider each piece of content before hitting post. If it's something you'd be happy for your parents to see, that's generally safe territory. If not, admissions officers advise that you keep it to yourself.

Always take the interview

Another way to establish and maintain a connection with an admissions officer is to always accept an interview when one is offered. While interviews might not be the norm in the one institution's admissions process, they may be an integral part of another college's procedure.

As with any interview, preparation is key. Be prepared to answer any question thrown your way. Admissions officers find that students can become flummoxed and overwhelmed during this stage of the process, but they say that applicants have nothing to fear. The interview isn't about tripping students up or exposing them as frauds; it's simply to learn more about them and whether they're a good fit for the college in question. Admissions officers encourage students to arrive as relaxed as possible with talking points in mind, coupled with a clear enthusiasm for the institution.

Bragging might seem forward and arrogant, but the secret lies in how you state your achievements. Officers prompt students to be clear and concise about their accomplishments and what they bring to the table.

Essentially, admissions officers want to admit students who will add to the campus, culture, and community of their institutions. Admission tips and tricks are useless, and admissions officers have seen them all play out many times throughout their careers. While they understand the temptation to use these techniques, they say that it's time and effort wasted. An impressive school transcript can speak for itself. But, alongside this requirement, admissions officers search for insight into a candidate's personality and depth of character. A strong and authentic impression will provide any applicant a significant advantage as they maneuver the admissions process.

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