College admission: We are looking for that “fire in the belly”
This is a statement from an admissions officer at a liberal arts college in the Northeast. The year 2011 was one of the toughest college admission seasons on record. A record low number of applicants were accepted by the colleges of their choice. An article by Kristina Dell discussed some of the whimsical and arbitrary reasons for being rejected.
The acceptance rates included Harvard at 6.2%, Princeton at 8.4%, San Diego State at 10% and Yale at 7.4%. The admissions officers contacted offered the following comments in explanation of the process. Some declined to identify themselves or their universities.
Brown University who accepted 8.7% of applicants: “There was a really strong candidate we didn’t admit because he used an enormous amount of profanity in the personal essay. He had a string of F-bombs that was pretty remarkable.” -Jim Miller, Admissions Officer
Regarding essays, one admissions dean from an undisclosed school wrote that “The tone of the essay matters a lot. One kid wrote about why men shouldn’t wear “jorts,” which I guess are jean shorts. How it’s a bad fashion statement. I was waiting for the punch line.”
On the other hand, one admissions officer wrote that “One school’s horrible essay is another school’s favorite.”
In listing references, it is suggested that you pick teachers that know you. Sometimes they will unintentionally hurt you rather than help. One teacher wrote about an applicant: “”He is not just an athlete. There is so much less here than meets the eye.” In another case, a teacher wrote “Over time, he has developed a set of friends who have learned to tolerate and even accept him.” Neither of these students were accepted.
On the lighter side:
One applicant sent a life-size poster of herself in a box with a catchy jingle. It was attached to helium-filled balloons that were suppposed to raise the poster when the box was opened – but it failed. The admissions officer commented that spending a few more minutes on the essay would have been a better use of her time.
Another applicant sent homemade pies with her application asserting that although she’s not an athlete she’s a great baker. “That was really sweet,” commented the admissions dean. “We didn’t take her, but we ate the pies.”
To sum it up, Eric J. Furda, admissions dean at the University of Pennsylvania who accepted 12.3%, stated that “There is no one who is a shoo-in anymore. There is no foregone conclusion about a student being admitted.” It appears to be a combination of high SAT scores, solid grades, a tough curriculum and a lot of luck. We wish the best to all high school juniors and seniors going through this process.