How I Got Into College: This Admissionado Life

This week’s episode of This American Life, “How I Got Into College,” is all about trying to decode college acceptance. Which, you know, we find kinda interesting.

In the first part of the episode, the show reporters go to Columbia University on the first day of the semester and talk to freshmen, asking them why they think they got accepted, or what worked about their application. But a lot of students admit they they just have NO FREAKING IDEA why they got accepted.

Here’s what host Ira Glass has to say about his own experience:

I remember I was completely clueless when it came to applying to college. What to do to get in. What to say on the essays to convince them that I was worthy of their schools. And even more basic than that, I really had no idea what would possibly make one school better than another. How to figure out what schools to apply to. It was overwhelming.

We feel ya, Ira Glass. And you’re awesome and your show is great, so it’s comforting to know that you share the frustration of many.

But we’re a little worried that this particular episode may have left folks feeling a bit more clueless than clued in to what works in the application process. So we rounded up our team of College Consultants and Editors to have ’em weigh in on all this.

HOWEVER. We’re not gonna answer the question, “How I Got Into College,” because like many of those Columbia freshies, we can’t actually KNOW that. So instead, we answered this more helpful question:

“What was the best thing you did when applying to college?”

Ann-FordAnn Ford, Senior Editor: Letting the (essay) dough rise. I started my essays super early, and made sure I was in a relaxing/calming place while writing them. Then I’d leave the essay alone and come back to it. I have to believe my essays were a lot more insightful and clear because I had been giving the ideas time to germinate, rather than trying to write a ton right before a deadline.

Stephen-BlackStephen Black, Senior Consultant: By far, the best thing I did was working ahead. This simple strategy not only helps manage stress, but it also allows your applications to breathe, giving you the chance to reflect and amend as you go along. You’ll be surprised at what you’re able to create when you give yourself a generous time window. My strongest and most memorable essay emerged from this exact process.

Katherine-Kendig

Katherine Kendig, Supervising Editor: I listened to my older brother. Dartmouth probably wouldn’t have made my application list otherwise — I was too dazzled by the REALLY big names, Harvard, Princeton, etc. But he told me all about how amazing Dartmouth was and convinced me to apply…and I’ve never regretted it since.

Chris-EliasChris Elias, Senior Consultant: I think the best thing I did was to write my essay on a topic about which I truly felt passionate, rather than try to anticipate what the admissions committee wanted to hear.

 

Alison-DevineAlison Devine, Senior Editor: After a very boring first year in high school, I realized that I could take courses at the community college to earn credit for my high school diploma and my AA, so that’s what I did (which also allowed me to graduate from high school a year early). I believe that on the app itself, my community college coursework demonstrated my drive and commitment to academic excellence even when my local resources were limited.

Dillon-ClausnerDillon Clausner, Senior Editor: The best thing I did when applying to colleges was to go visit many schools. I remember feeling skeptical about the whole “perfect fit” thing and felt I could just apply without visits. However, my Dad was gung-ho about taking a road trip to visit the Ivies and East Coast schools, and the trip turned out to be eye-opening.

Cleo-HandlerCleo Handler, Senior Consultant: It’s really hard to say, but I guess the best thing I did was working really hard on my essays to make them as personable, passionate, and ME as possible. Also, interspersing all that work with 15 minute trampoline jumping breaks so I didn’t go insane definitely helped, too.

Tiffany_ChenTiffany Chen, Senior Editor: I played to my strengths. I had solid grades but I knew I wasn’t a very good tester, so I prepped hard for the SATs and ACTs. I focused on only 2 extracurriculars (where I could excel and be a leader), and I got my recommendations from the teachers who knew (and loved) me best (completely unrelated to my proposed major). I think adcoms know that no one is amazing at EVERYTHING…so they don’t expect you to be. It’s better to just be who you are and play to your strengths.

John-Owen

 John Bailey Owen, Senior Editor: I think the best thing I did was give them a sense of who I actually was. I made sure that everything that was actually important to me found its way into my application. I used my essays to show the most personal, least-school-related side of me (one of them was about how much I loved exploring the woods around my house, one of them was about how much I enjoyed raising cacti and succulents)…stuff that my grades wouldn’t show, stuff that my teacher recommendations wouldn’t touch on, either.

 

By the way, did you know we ALSO have a podcast?

Katherine’s College Essay Breakthrough: First Drafts Aren’t Final Drafts