Inside the Admissions Office

Be_yourself Arun Ponnusamy, director of our Los Angeles office, is riding high these days. His beloved Ohio State Buckeye football team is ranked #1—he hasn’t missed a game on his flat screen all season.

When she’s not in the office next to Arun, Collegewise Counselor Jessica Schattgen is planning her wedding. This means she can recite all the advice from Martha Stewart’s last six “wedding guides.” And in our Irvine, CA office, Allison Cummings thinks that Burger King’s “Whopper with cheese” is a culinary delicacy to be enjoyed as frequently as possible. She’s acting on that belief. Regularly.

Fascinating? Not necessarily. But that’s the point. All three of these Collegewise counselors are regular people like the rest of us. And all three used to work as admissions officers at selective colleges.

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College Essay Do’s and Don’ts

Even the most stellar applicant is comparatively boring when reduced to just
grades and test scores. That's why admissions officers will use your college
essay to get to know you better. Here are some Collegewise do's and dont's to
make sure they like what they read.

1.  DON'T try to impress admissions officers.
Don't inject deep, philosophical meaning into your tenure as junior class
treasurer, or try to extract life lessons from your time on the wrestling team.
Instead, just tell the truth. If you got the snot beat out of you on the
wrestling mat, but still liked wrestling anyway, say so. It's more important to
be honest than it is to be impressive.

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How to Ruin Your College Application

Stupid_4 Jay Mathews of the Washington Post does it again.  We love Jay's take on the college admissions process because he's a member of the press who takes every opportunity to inject a healthy perspective, not fear, into his writing on education.  In fact, we like his book Harvard Schmarvard so much that we give it to our Collegewise families as a thank-you when they refer a friend to us. 

This week, Jay's column offers up Ten Stupid Ways to Ruin Your College Application.  From posting questionable photos on Myspace to letting parents get too involved, all of his "don'ts" are mistakes we've actually seen kids make. 

October News for Friends and Family

Parke Back from NACAC

Kevin, Arun and Alex enjoyed our stay at the annual NACAC (National Association for College Admissions Counseling Conference).  Some people get excited about seeing Angelina Jolie or Leonardo DiCaprio on the street, but NACAC lets us meet and learn from people like Parke Muth (at left), an admissions officer from University of Virginia and the inventor of the McEssay analogy we’ve cited hundreds of times in our Collegewise essay seminars.  His session for counselors about writing letters of recommendation was standing room only.  We caught up with Lloyd Thacker from the Education Conservancy (at right) whom we’ve really come to like and admire for his organization’s efforts to remove Lloyd_5 commercial interference in college admissions.  And most importantly, we were able to spend time with admissions officers and counselors who over the years have become friends as well as colleagues.


The best part about NACAC is that we’re annually reminded just how many smart, good people there are  working in the world of college admissions, and how sincerely they all want to do the right thing for kids.

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Five Things Every College Wants You to Be

It’s that time of year when seniors begin sitting down to
fill out college applications.  And when they do, a lot of those seniors
will be wondering, “What do these colleges want to hear?” and “What are they
looking for ?” and “Would winning the presidency of a small but
quickly-developing country improve my chances???”

While colleges aren’t looking for just one type of student,
there are certain things every college would like you to be, especially when
you’re filling out applications.

1.  Be focused.

When you fill out your applications, remember that more
information isn’t always better.  Admissions officers are inundated with
material at this time of year. If you send them a five page resume listing everything
you’ve done since birth, they won’t be able to tell who you are and what you
really care about.  Focus on activities that really matter to you. 
Don’t include extra materials unless the college encourages you to do so. 
And most importantly, remember that you have a limited amount of space to use
to help them get to know you.  It's better to use that space to share a
lot about the most important parts of your life than it is to share a little
about everything.  

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September News for Friends and Family

Erikscake20032 Happy Birthday to Us

Collegewise celebrated our 8th birthday on August 16, as it was exactly eight years ago that Kevin officially submitted the "Doing Business As" paperwork to County Clerk’s office in Orange County.  Since that day back in 1999, we’ve helped over 2,000 kids apply to college, and Collegewise students have attended over 500 colleges in nearly 40 states.      

We celebrated with a dinner out together and were joined by Arun and Jessica from the LA office.  We know that might seem like a fairly reserved celebration, but the birthday event took place on a Thursday night.  And when you work with high school kids, Thursdsay nights are school nights, no matter how old we get. 

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Not The Same Old Back-To-School Advice

Back_to_schoolGet good grades.  Get involved.  Get good test scores.  It’s all good advice.  But it’s advice you’ve probably heard before… a lot.  As students head back to school, here are five bits of Collegewise admissions advice to help you get in to college that might be new for you. 

1.  Practice the art of participating in class.

Raise your hand.  Ask questions.  Participate in classroom discussions.  Colleges don’t want students who just plow through courses and get good grades; they want students who are engaged in class, who like to learn, and who make contributions by participating.  In fact, that’s why colleges ask for letters of recommendation from your teachers–to learn if you’ve demonstrated these qualities.    

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For the Admissions Officers…

College_fair_2 As Arun and I gear up for our annual trip to NACAC, I remembered a conversation I was lucky enough to have with Llloyd Thacker of the Education Conservancy at last year’s conference.  The subject was college fairs, and how so many admissions officers are under enormous pressure to generate student interest in their schools.  Given that the vast majority of admissions officers we’ve met are smart, likeable people with a genuine interest in education and students, how could these reps use a college fair to really help kids make even better decisions about their educations and their futures (if these reps were allowed and encouraged to do so)? 

Here were some of the ideas we discussed, (though I’m sure the best ones are probably all courtesy of Lloyd). 

1.  Don’t focus only on the features of your college–share the real benefits of the process of education (this one was definitely Lloyd’s).

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Five Tips for Parents of New College Freshmen

MoveinIf you’re a parent preparing to send your son or daughter off to be a freshman in college, congratulations.  This is one of those things you’ve likely dreamed about doing since you first became a parent, and now it’s about to happen. 

Every year about this time, we send our Collegewise parents a list of 5 things they can do to help their kids make the transition to college.  This year, we thought we’d use our blog to share the list with any parent who might benefit.  We hope you’re excited to watch your kids go from happy and successful high school graduates to happy and successful adults. 

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I am not a tuba player. And I’m OK with that.

When we go to college admissions conferences, we’ll always attend any session in which Bruce Poch, Dean of Admissions from Pomona College, is participating.  He’s outspoken, honest, and refreshingly forthright.  With so much mystery surrounding the admissions process, it’s nice to hear from a decision maker who’s comfortable discussing what admissions officers look for–and what drives them crazy–when reading applications. 

His article in Newsweek this week makes the process seem so complex, and with good reason–it is.  A lot of parents and students make themselves crazy trying to decipher exactly what combination of grades and test scores and activities will guarantee admission.  But that magic combination doesn’t exist.  Poch reminds students that while there are no guarantees, you’re always better off just being yourself.