Applications with Flair: Ticket to the Accept Bin or the Trash Bin?

Competition is certainly heating up every year in college admissions. In desperation, students are doing their best to stand out from the crowd and show their creative side. Yesterday, I suggested that some flair might be a good idea. I did not expect that students would go as far as they have:

A Smith College applicant glued words to a Scrabble board trumpeting her attributes. A Tufts University hopeful designed a neon-green flower made of duct tape. And a teenager desperate to get into Harvard sent in a homemade chocolate replica of the school's Veritas shield.

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"The ultimate question is, 'Does this help the student get in?' " said Debra Shaver, Smith College director of admission. "And the answer is no. It certainly entertains the staff, but it doesn't help the student get in."

Giving an even more pointed answer, William R. Fitzsimmons, Harvard's dean of admissions, said, "[d]on't do it."

As important as it is to stand out in a crowd, none of the admissions officers quoted in the article and certainly none that I have ever spoken with advocate the use of gimmicks to do so. Instead, most recommend that you show your history of creativity through past activities listed in your resume or offer a unique perspective of yourself in the personal statement.

Flair will almost always make it appear as if you are trying to compensate for something. You want to show to the admissions committee that you are proud of your accomplishments and believe that they stand on their own without needless decoration. And as I mentioned in the how to get rejected article, ideas which you think are clever rarely are. Backing up my disdain for the advice given in books about 'great personal statement ideas' is Tufts director of undergraduate admissions Susan Ardizzoni, who gave the perfect summary when she said, "[w]e think there's some guidebook telling them this is a good thing to do."

It isn't. Stick to the materials that the college actually requests and leave the gimmicks to your straight-to-the-trash competitors.

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