7 Things Savvy Good Students Do to Avoid Being Rejected Good Students

Yesterday I spoke briefly about the various reasons why good students are not accepted. I also provided some advice for parents. Today, I'd like to discuss 7 techniques that savvy students may use to avoid the various reasons that get good students rejected:
Acceptance Packet College Acceptance Materials Enclosed

  1. Submit your application early - Quotas or preferences for a specific geographical location or gender occur at many universities. Unfortunately, because it is based on simple, statistical information, there's no way to color your application if you're disfavored. Instead, get around these ceilings by submitting your application as soon as possible. If a university is committed to accepting only 100 applicants from Massachusetts, make sure you are one of the first 100 they review. Naturally, you'll never know what statistical quotas each college is using on any given year, so submit every application early just in case.
  2. Do your research - Colleges frequently talk about the types of students they're looking for, but many applicants are not listening. Be different by actually keeping your eyes and ears open. Note the types of recruitment presentations each college gives, and if they seem particularly dedicated to finding, for example, first-generation students and you happen to be one, play up this fact in your essay. Also, read through each university's enrolled student information (usually available on their websites) and note any underrepresented population that you may be a member of. Statistics for racial groups, genders (both males and females are sometimes underrepresented), geographical location, and other basic statistics are available here. A sharp eye for phrases like, "we're committed to expanding our gender diversity" will let you know what types of personal features you should comment on in your essays.
  3. Fish DiversityExplore your own personal diversity - Even if a website or college admissions officer does not explicitly mention a certain group they feel their student body is lacking, you should still discuss the types of things that make you unique. This doesn't need to be only racial diversity, but also things like special personal experiences, status as a first-generation student, birth in a foreign country, physical disability, or anything that makes you diverse. For tips on how to discuss these types of things, consult my article on expressing diversity in the personal statement.
  4. Make yourself internally diverse - Even if you are interested in a college looking for more first-generation students and come from a lengthy Ivy League pedigree, all is not lost. There is rarely only one thing a college is looking for. So make sure to at least mention all sorts of facts about yourself that may put you into a niche the university is looking to fill. Avoid creating a laundry list of statistics, of course, but do feel free to discuss all of the unique features and experiences that have contributed to making you who you are.
  5. Appear interested and dedicated - If you're an otherwise qualified candidate but fall into a group the college simply feels it has too much of already, the admissions committee will be looking for reasons not to accept you. Make this job harder (and also encourage them to reject other applications in your same pile instead) by sounded interested in and dedicated to the university. Opening an essay with, "I have always wanted to attend X College" is trite, but weaving in an anecdote about how the school library reminds you of a beloved building from your youth will make you seem much more interested in the college than the average applicant. Subtlety weaving in something that would make the admissions officer think that you would be likely to contribute to the alumni fund will help as well.
  6. quill penWrite an essay with universal appeal - You may be incredibly passionate about football, but a college admissions officer who hates sports will be bored by the subject matter. This does not mean that you should avoid writing about it -- all personal statements should be about topics you have a passion for -- but merely that you should try to avoid any technical jargon that a non-fan would be confused by. Also, try to connect your topic to a more universal experience. For example, use a metaphor to compare your proudest in-game football moment to falling in love. Read your essay and ask yourself if everyone would be able to relate to it. If not, try to broaden your language.
  7. Above all, be the best you can be - You're not going to be able to anticipate every little thing the college may be looking for. So don't stress about quotas too much; instead, do the best you can to highlight yourself. If you put your strongest foot forward, the university is much more likely to be interested in you despite any quotas or preferences they might have

The process may seem unfair at times, but these techniques should help to transform you from a rejected good student, to an accepted good student.

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How do you feel about the "risky essay" or "risky application" -- for example, the student that writes a tongue-in-cheek essay to try to make him stand out more?

- Andrew Hunt, 03/28/08 at 4:57 pm

I think that it's important that students try to stand out, but they also need to be careful. I've heard from some admissions officers that out of 10 students who attempt to write a genuinely funny essay, only about 1 or 2 succeed. And those that do succeed generally don't stand out any more than those who write a more "traditional" essay.

The best route, typically, is to write an essay that matches your own personal style. In other words, if you're not a "risky" person, don't write a "risky" essay or else you will simply seem disingenuous. If you write using your own voice, the essay will automatically sound unique and will 'stand out' amongst the others who rehash the same essay techniques that do not properly fit them. Always be yourself in the personal statement.

Thanks for your comment, Andrew!

- Brian Cavner, 03/28/08 at 6:36 pm

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