Fun Facts for Harvard Hopefuls

The Wall Street Journal: “Harvard’s admissions office pays special attention to recruits from 20 U.S. states labeled internally as ‘sparse country’ because students from those places, including Maine, Arizona and Montana, are relatively underrepresented on campus … Applicants from two dockets—the greater New York City and Boston areas—had admit rates of 11.3% and 12.8%, respectively, for the class of 2018. That’s roughly double the rates for other dockets … For the class of 2018, 7.4% of applicants who said they planned to study humanities were admitted, compared with 4.6% of aspiring engineers and computer scientists.”

“Harvard instructs admissions officers to give top marks to recommendation letters if they are ‘truly over the top,’ with phrases like ‘the best ever’ or ‘one of the best in X years’ … At trial, Harvard highlighted moving applicant essays, including one from a Vietnamese immigrant who was bullied in school for his accent … Harvard’s interviewer handbook said applicants who were “bland” should get low marks on the personal rating, which measures their personal qualities through their essays, recommendations and interviews … Roughly 86% of recruited varsity athletes who apply to Harvard were admitted, according to trial testimony.”

“Children of major donors often get flagged by the development and admissions offices … Socioeconomically disadvantaged applicants also get special consideration … And the admit rate among students with at least one parent who graduated from Harvard was 33.6%, more than five times the rate for everyone else … Harvard admitted 14.5% of early-action applicants for the class of 2022, and about 2.9% of regular-decision applicants.”

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Harvard: ‘Bubbly’ Candidates Rise to Surface

The New York Times: “Days before the opening of a trial accusing Harvard of discriminating against Asian-American applicants, the college issued new guidance to its admissions officers earlier this month on what personalities it is seeking in its incoming freshmen, a question at the heart of the case. The new guidelines for the Class of 2023 caution officers that character traits ‘not always synonymous with extroversion’ should be valued, and that applicants who seem to be ‘particularly reflective, insightful and/or dedicated’ should receive high personal ratings as well.”

“One of the odder quirks of the trial testimony has been how often the word ‘effervescence’ has come up. It has been hammered home that Harvard values applicants who are bubbly, not ‘flat,’ to use another word in the Harvard admissions lexicon. Admissions documents filed in court awarded advantages to applicants for ‘unusually appealing personal qualities,’ which could include ‘effervescence, charity, maturity and strength of character.’ Now ‘reflective’ could be a plus as well.”

“The guidelines on assessing personal qualities also say that a top-rated student might have ‘enormous courage in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles in life,’ or perhaps ‘a singular ability to lead or inspire those around them,’ or even ‘extraordinary concern or compassion for others.’ One thing has not changed. The lowest rating, once defined as ‘questionable or worrisome personal qualities,’ is still the same.”

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Unlocking The Mysteries of The Essay

The New York Times: “Documents showing that Harvard rated Asian-American applicants lower on personality traits than applicants of other races raise questions about how college admissions officers evaluate intangible criteria. What constitutes ‘likability’ or ‘courage?’ How do they know someone is ‘widely respected?’ … Most schools look at grade point averages and standardized test scores and may also review letters of recommendation, college essays and extracurricular activities. Colleges that do consider personal qualities are highly variable in the traits they look at and how they are ranked. Nor are they interested in disclosing their criteria.”

“In a study of 10 unidentified schools commissioned by the College Board, traits included ’emotional intelligence,’ ‘self-efficacy’ and ‘creativity’. Leadership, education experts said, is perhaps the most obvious and the most common trait colleges consider in applicants … Colleges don’t like to talk about this much, and officials don’t like to be pinned down. In general, they say they look for traits that reflect the college’s values or that make a student a ‘good fit’ for the institution.”

“Admissions officers say they look for a ‘hook’ in an applicant’s file that may lift the student into consideration, but just what that is hard to define … similar objections have been raised about the emphasis traditionally placed on standardized tests, which many experts believe fail to measure the potential of minority and low-income students. Earlier this week, the University of Chicago became the first elite research university in the country to drop the requirement that applicants submit ACT or SAT scores, instead announcing a program inviting students to submit a two-minute video introduction — where they can perhaps convey their likability.”

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The 8-Minute Application Review

The Wall Street Journal: “As application numbers surge, admissions officers at some elite colleges say they don’t have time to read an entire file. Instead, staffers from more schools—including the Georgia Institute of Technology, Rice University and Bucknell University in Pennsylvania—now divvy up individual applications. One person might review transcripts, test scores and counselor recommendations, while the other handles extracurricular activities and essays.”

“They read through their portions simultaneously, discuss their impressions about a candidate’s qualifications, flag some for admission or rejection, and move on. While their decision isn’t always final, in many cases theirs are the last eyes to look at the application itself. The entire process can take less than eight minutes.”

“Admissions directors say it is better for staffers than spending solitary months reading essays, transcripts and recommendation letters. They also say it helps train new readers and minimizes bias by forcing readers to defend why they think a candidate is qualified or not, and as a result they’re more confident in the decisions the new committees are making … Readers at Bucknell, which gets more than 10,000 applications, used to take 12 to 15 minutes to review each application. Now a team of two is done in six to eight minutes.” A Bucknell admissions officer says that still adds up to 16 “person minutes.”

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Essay Advice: Fortune Favors the Bold

Business Insider: Ross Galloway “decided to answer Harvard Business School’s (HBS) sole essay question in the voice of an ESPN anchor on SportsCenter.” He explains: “The prompt was: ‘Introduce yourself to your section mates,'” so I wrote my essay as if it was the script. I tried to create this picture for readers.”

His lead-in:

*Turns on SportsCenter theme music from his phone.*

“Hello and welcome to SportsCenter! On today’s special edition of our program we will be providing you the top 3 highlights of Ross Galloway’s life.”

“He had some doubts about this approach, especially as he received some advice to stick to a more traditional response to the question. But he wanted to remain authentic to himself … That bet paid off. Galloway finished his first year at HBS in May.” Says Ross: “Fortune favors the bold.”

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When Followers are Leaders

Susan Cain: “If college admissions offices show us whom and what we value, then we seem to think that the ideal society is composed of Type A’s. This is perhaps unsurprising, even if these examples come from highly competitive institutions. It’s part of the American DNA to celebrate those who rise above the crowd … So now we have high school students vying to be president of as many clubs as they can. It’s no longer enough to be a member of the student council; now you have to run the school.”

“But many students I’ve spoken with read ‘leadership skills’ as a code for authority and dominance and define leaders as those who ‘can order other people around.’ And according to one prominent Ivy League professor, those students aren’t wrong; leadership, as defined by the admissions process, too often ‘seems to be restricted to political or business power.’ She says admissions officers fail to define leadership as ‘making advances in solving mathematical problems’ or ‘being the best poet of the century’.”

“Perhaps the biggest disservice done by the outsize glorification of ‘leadership skills’ is to the practice of leadership itself — it hollows it out, it empties it of meaning. It attracts those who are motivated by the spotlight rather than by the ideas and people they serve. It teaches students to be a leader for the sake of being in charge, rather than in the name of a cause or idea they care about deeply.”

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Application Anxiety: Please Don’t Ask About College

The Wall Street Journal: “Anxiety over college admissions is reaching a fever pitch as high-school seniors await decisions from colleges for next fall. Making it worse, students and parents say, is a barrage of unwelcome and inappropriate questions from prying adults. Sales of T-shirts reading, ‘Don’t ask me about college. Thanks,’ are rising on Redbubble … Some parents make their homes a college-free zone and ban all talk on the topic.”

“Spencer Neville, 17, has started dreading social encounters with adults.” She comments: “Every adult you meet, all they want to talk to you about is, ‘Where are you going to college? What do you want to study?’ They ask, ‘What’s your top school?’ and I say, ‘Oh, I don’t have a top school’.” High school counselor Brennan Barnard observes: “People aren’t going to walk up to someone at a cocktail party and ask, ‘How much do you weigh?’ But they’ll ask a student, ‘How did you do on the SATs?’.”

“The speculation peaks just as students most need a break … One mother kept quiet on Facebook when her son was admitted early to his No. 1 school, in an effort to be considerate … She later learned that because she hadn’t trumpeted the news, other parents assumed her son had been rejected. Many students try not to reveal their No. 1 choice. Asking teens their dream school is like making them announce that they have a secret, unrequited crush … After all the applications are in, counselor Jane Shropshire advises students to tune out the noise from peers and adults and immerse themselves in arts, sports, academic or community activities they enjoy.”

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Common App Update: Big Changes This Year

Washington Post: “The Common Application, used by nearly 700 colleges and universities in the United States and abroad for admissions, just announced its essay prompts for the 2017-2018 college admissions season — and there are some big changes from last year.”

“So here they are …

1. Some students have a background, identity, interest or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. [No change]

2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? [Revised]

3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? [Revised]

4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma — anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution. [No change]

5. Discuss an accomplishment, event or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. [Revised]

6. Describe a topic, idea or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more? [New]

7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design. [New]”

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LinkedIn: An Emerging Tool for College Applicants

The New York Times: “Public schools from San Francisco to New York City are teaching online conduct skills as part of a nationwide digital citizenship push to prepare students for colleges and careers. Teenagers who set up LinkedIn profiles in the hope of enhancing their college prospects represent the vanguard of this trend. But the phenomenon of ambitious high school students on LinkedIn also demonstrates how social networks are playing a role in the escalation of the college admissions arms race.”

“For high school students, LinkedIn is partly a defense mechanism against college admissions officers who snoop on applicants’ public Facebook and Twitter activities — without disclosing how that may affect an applicant’s chance of acceptance. A recent study from Kaplan Test Prep of about 400 college admissions officers reported that 40 percent said they had visited applicants’ social media pages, a fourfold increase since 2008.”

“Some high school students are establishing LinkedIn profiles to give the colleges that do look something they would like them to find … To attract high school students, LinkedIn in 2013 dropped its minimum age requirement for members in the United States to 14 from 18. Since then, the site has had a significant increase in high school users.”

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Admissions Officers Offer Essay Advice

The Washington Post asked dozens of college admissions officers for insights into what they like to see in essays. Here are a few choice quotes:

“I look for beautiful, clear writing that comes to life on the essay page and offers insight into the character and personality of the student.”

“If you’re a serious person, write your essay with a serious voice. If you’re a funny person, be funny. If you’re not a funny person, your college essay might not be the best place to try on that funny writer voice for the first time.”

“We want to enroll students who will contribute to the life of the campus, so we are eager to see how you have contributed to your high-school community or the community in which you live.”

“It is a pet peeve when we see an anomaly in grades and the student never addresses this. Tell us what happened and how you turned it around.”

“You can’t fake it during the admission process. If you do, you’ll end up at a college or university that’s a poor fit.”

“Some of my most memorable offers of admission have gone to students who like to color outside the lines.”

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