By Andrew Kuhry-Haeuser, Carmenta Founder
Every year tens of thousands of high-achieving American and international students compete for a relatively small number of undergraduate spots at a handful of elite US universities. They’re all highly dedicated and hard-working, but the unfortunate fact is, the vast majority of those who apply to top colleges will not be accepted. Surprisingly, this often won’t be because the student doesn’t deserve to be accepted but instead because the student (like most who apply) has been doing the opposite of what he or she should have done!
Here’s the big mistake: Most of these high-achievers do their best to turn themselves into carbon copies of all the other high-achievers, thinking there’s some precise profile of those who are admitted, when in fact this actually hurts their chances. The best way for a student to increase his or her chances of admission is to do the exact opposite, to forget about what everyone else is doing and pursue his or her own unique talents. The student should then, when applying, emphasize these unique talents and deemphasize accomplishments that are typical of high-achievers.
Read on to find out exactly how to turn your own unique talents and accomplishments into acceptance into the college of your choice!
The 6 Keys to Acceptance into a Top Univeristy
1) Turn in a superior application
This part is actually quite simple. As I’ve said above, the ideal application is a true reflection of the student, not of the “standard” applicant. The best thing you can do is to find out what everyone else is saying, then don’t say that. The worst thing you can do is to make yourself look like everyone else. At the same time, obviously, you should avoid saying anything that the admissions personnel are likely to hate. Still, even if you do include something they don’t love, in the end this is much less risky than coming off as a clone.
2) Have a great admissions interview
As with the written application, allow your unique self to shine. Ideally, you should go in knowing all the “normal” answers. It’ll be easy to find out what those answers are; just talk to your high-achieving friends. They’ll likely be meeting together and practicing for their interviews, each one working at sounding more “normal” than the rest, at always coming up with the “right” answers. Then, once you know all the “right” answers and the “right” way of thinking, do everything you can to avoid these answers in your interview.
Instead, go out of your way to be honest. If you are a good student, then you’ll be perfectly capable of providing the interviewers with thoughtful, interesting answers to their questions. Admissions personnel interview thousands of students. They’ll immediately see through your BS and be impressed with any answer that is uniquely yours.
3) Be unique!
Of course, the students who turn in unique applications and give unique interviews almost always are unique. So, if you want to impress admissions personnel, don’t spend your high school years doing what all the other high-achievers are doing. The best way to maximize your impressiveness is not to do things that you have no talent for simply because that’s what everyone else is doing. Instead, be involved in activities that are unusual, impressive, and match who you are and what you’re truly interested in. I was able to do it with my cartooning, the one unique thing I was truly interested in. I’ll talk more about that below.
4) Understand how admissions personnel think
Remember that admissions officers are human beings who have to wade through thousands of applications (or even tens of thousands) and interview hundreds of applicants. They quickly tire of seeing the same thing over and over, but of course that’s what they end up seeing! I have given college admissions interviews myself, so I can say from experience that admissions personnel are desperate to see unique applicants who give unique answers to their questions. When I was an interviewer, we automatically marked applicants down for answers we’d already heard and tended to give much higher scores for original ones, even if the applicant didn’t come off as intelligently as others.
5) Apply to as many schools as possible
This is a bit of a no-brainer, but you should apply to at least ten colleges in order to increase your odds of finding the perfect fit and the admissions personnel most interested in who you are. The unique person you are with your unique accomplishments may not appeal to every admissions officer, but you will appeal to some.
My unique interest as a high school student was cartooning. I was a huge fan of comic strips like “Calvin and Hobbes” and “The Far Side”, and as a teenager I created my own comics and cartoons, getting better at it over the course of years. The key, of course, was that I was genuinely interested in it and passionate about it. I didn’t do it because I thought college admissions personnel would care but instead because I loved it.
When I was a senior in high school, I wrote and drew four full-page comics for the yearbook, each starring a teacher at the school. I also drew cartoon caricatures of a dozen teachers at the school for the yearbook’s front and back inside cover. As always, I didn’t do it because I thought it would help me get into college but only because I really wanted to do it.
I applied to eight colleges (all of which I was accepted into), but the one I eventually went to had a special honors program within the school for the most elite students. All students who had been accepted into the college could apply for this special program, which accepted only 20 students each year. The program had its own application and interview, which was held over the phone. In the interview I was asked the same standard questions posed to all applicants, and I did my best to provide them with intelligent answers, but it wasn’t until nearly the end of the interview that I made a real impact. I found out then that they were most interested in my yearbook cartoons, and when they brought them out (I had submitted copies with my application), the tone of the head of the program and the three program students who were interviewing me changed.
It was clear that not only were they impressed by the artwork itself but also that no other of the 150 to 200 applicants had submitted anything like this. In future years I became an interviewer for new students applying to be admitted into the program, and though most of these high-achieving applicants had a higher GPA and SAT score than mine as well as a longer list of extracurricular activities, these activities were almost always the ones organized by their high schools and so identical to those of every other applicant.
I was accepted into the program, and when I arrived at college in the fall, I realized almost immediately that I’d outkicked my coverage. I was in a program with 19 other freshmen students who were almost all more intelligent than I was and very likely had more academic support than I had had growing up, with parents far more ambitious for their children than mine. Seeing the quality of the other students, it was obvious I had beaten out students with transcripts and lists of accomplishments that common wisdom would say were more impressive than mine. I was an A or B student, my GPA closer to 3.5 than 4.0, and I scored a 1400 out of 1600 on the SAT, which was higher than the national average but lower than my high-achieving peers.
Serving as an interviewer for new freshman applicants to the program, I was allowed to look behind the curtain and experience things from the perspective of admissions personnel. Assuming that a student met the minimum requirements, we generally looked for just two things:
a) Unique answers to the questions we asked (which were the same for every single applicant). Unique answers indicated intelligence and that the interviewee was in general an interesting person.
b) Unique accomplishments (which, obviously, indicate intelligence and interestingness as well).
But beyond this, most interviews were so boring (and I participated in no more than a couple dozen; imagine how dull it is for a typical admissions officer, who may give hundreds of interviews!) that we felt indebted to the applicants who made the interviews at all interesting. Admissions officers are human beings, and like almost all humans, they much prefer real human interaction over people who are trying to be someone else.
None of what I’ve said above conforms to the common wisdom. Most high-achieving high school students and their parents are certain there is a formula for success in college admissions, and that the best thing to do is to rack up a list of activities and accomplishments that look exactly the same as that of every other high-achiever. They prefer a definite list of steps to get them where they want to go, which is understandable since they only have one life and one chance at it. Still, the reality is that this approach is counterproductive to achieving their aim, and perhaps even worse, it tends to create students who are both less interesting and less happy.
If you would like to optimize your chances of being admitted into the college of your choice, I encourage you to check out Carmenta Online PhD Tutors’ highly experienced tutors and college admissions counselors. We go out of our way to provide each student with the individualized approach that he or she needs.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Magister Andrew Kuhry-Haeuser has a B.A. (Honors) in Latin from Gonzaga University. He is currently the Founder and Head of both Carmenta Online PhD Tutors and Grey Fox Tutors. Magister Andrew has taught a number of classes for Carmenta, including "Classical Literature" and all levels of Latin, Conversational Latin, and Ancient Greek. He has also tutored a wide range of subjects, including Latin, Ancient Greek, English, Writing, German, Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, Calculus, Geology, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, and History.
Click here to see Magister Andrew’s full profile on the Carmenta website.