I admit, I’m a tiger mom. I think about and plan for how my boys will get ahead. When it comes to higher education, I’m focused on them getting into prestigious schools. Yes, they need to be the right fit. And yes, just because a school is ranked highly doesn’t mean my kid will thrive there. But I would be lying if I said all I care about is my kids getting college educations at any college that suits them. Granted, my kids are only 10 and 12 (I feel your eyes rolling! lol), so we have some time before we start worrying about college. Even so, I see how competitive the admissions environment has become since my days of applying, and it makes me nervous.
The following post is perspective from my friend Allie, who is part of an admissions committee for a competitive graduate program.
I recently gave a presentation about our college to a group of eager undergrad students interested in our program.
I spoke about the profession and our program and allowed ample time for questions and answers. Here’s their chance to ask the admissions chairperson anything they want! How many questions do you think I got? Zero. Zilch. Nada. None. More surprising was the line of over 20 students who wanted their turn to ask me questions at the end before I left.
The questions were reasonable. “What kind of experience would be most helpful for admission?” “Do you count Freshman year grades in the GPA calculation?” There was a young woman, maybe 20 years old, wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and thick-framed glasses. I had to ask. “Why didn’t you ask me these questions during the Q & A session so everyone could hear the answers?” She replied with a smile and said, “Exactly.”
The competitive nature of so many programs has led students to be anything but themselves. They strive to be what the admissions committee wants to see. They ask questions in secret so that no one else hears the same answer and they won’t have an advantage in the admission process. They take courses on “how to get into college.” Some pay upwards of $3000 to have a personal one-on-one interview coach to help train and prepare them for the college interview.
The irony of this: From an admissions standpoint, all these applicants start to sound the same. I’m looking for someone who stands out. I want to feel that I know the “real” applicant to some degree by the end of the admissions process. It’s becoming quite obvious who has been over-coached, over-trained, and phony……and they all get “NO’s” from me.
What makes an applicant stand out and compels me to give them a high score?
To the Students
- Dress the part. Looks matter, but only in that you cared enough (and want this enough) to take the time to make yourself presentable and professional looking.
- Authenticity. No memorized lines!
- Answer the question we ask. Don’t respond with your memorized statement that doesn’t directly answer our question.
- Do you have a personality? Show expression when appropriate. You don’t need to be flat and overly serious.
- Think of something you did well and share the story. Don’t memorize anything. If it really happened, you should be able to speak off the cuff.
- Grades matter.
- Grades aren’t everything.
- Maturity – will you represent our college and profession well? Are you mature enough to succeed in a difficult program?
- Spend some time thinking about what you might actually like to do with your degree. Don’t memorize anything. We want to know the truth…not what someone told you we want to hear.
- Applicants who are serious about completing a tough program know a lot about the profession they are applying for, including current trends or changes within the profession.
To the Parents
- Encourage your child to be themselves. Coaching your child to memorize lines and be “someone else” will erase their uniqueness.
- Teach them to think on their feet and not function as a robot.
- Teach them to have the confidence and heart to ask questions even if it means others may benefit.
Mastering these skills will allow them to not only shine in the admissions interview, but become great at their profession.
Very good points to consider. Will Allie’s advice prevent me from getting a college admissions coach for my kids when they get older? I don’t know. But I will keep reminding myself that authenticity is key. And really good communication skills! And an over 4.0 gpa (haha just checking if you are still reading).