Why You Must Grab Attention on your Application, and How

I once asked an admissions officer at a large, public university for a candid answer about how much time they actually spend reading an application. The answer surprised me. "About one minute," the officer said. It is somewhat disheartening to know that an application you have spent countless hours on is captivating for only a single minute, but it does highlight the importance of making sure you grab a reader's attention quickly and give them a quality -- albeit short -- experience.

Ivy League-focused IvyClassified.com finished its two-part series on "The Time Factor" yesterday, and offered some useful tips. As to why it's important to grab attention, IvyClassified said this:

Admission officers love reading some applications. They want to get excited, but it is your job to get them going. Time pressure leads to a trade-off between applications, and the you cannot expect the reviewer to dig through details to find something they want. You have to make something pop out at them.

The solution for how to 'pop' is a difficult one. I have previously discussed the risks of overdoing application flair and advise students to avoid 'clever' ideas like chocolate sculptures or Scrabble boards. IvyClassified agrees in its second post, saying:

[U]nusual acts make it seem as though you do not take your application seriously, so why should the admission officer? [In addition, y]ou will notice that most applications warn against sending extra materials. Admission officers don't have the time and experience to evaluate the unusual.

A better solution IvyClassified offers, and I agree with, is to "spend your time perfecting the large amount of materials you already need to submit." An admissions committee is attempting to compare your qualities as a potential student with the qualities of other applicants. If you send them things they haven't asked for, it becomes more difficult to compare you.

Colleges already ask for a great volume of information that they believe is sufficient to make these comparisons. If they thought they needed more, they would have asked for more. So instead of trying to stand out with unusual materials, try instead to grab attention with what you are already sending. Offer an unusual anecdote in your personal statement, or highlight an atypical job in your resume. Whatever it is that makes you unique, emphasize it to show your strengths. You might also find my article on how to express diversity in the personal statement helpful if this applies to you.

In the end, remember that you could have only one minute to convince an admissions officer to accept you. Try to read your application as they would and make sure your packet pops.

Have any insight on this topic? Want to ask a question or make a suggestion? Click here to leave a comment.

Related Articles



I mean applying to college is about the same process as applying for a job. You are lucky if they actually do give your resume a whole minute when applying for a job. I definitely agree though, applications and resumes should be kept classy and professional.

- Carl, 03/05/08 at 10:29 am

Have a question or comment about this article? Leave me a message.