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College Application Case Study: Rock it Like Angie

May 19, 2014 :: Admissionado Team

Ah, springtime. The flowers are blooming like crazy, and so are the college acceptances! Woohoo!

Every applicant we work with has something to teach us about how to succeed in the college application process, and we here at Admissionado have learned a lot from our applicants this year. And considering the direction those acceptance rates are going (the answer is down), it’s important for us not to keep all that wisdom to ourselves. So here’s a bright, fresh bouquet of awesome coming at ya!

Angie is a shining example of how to turn your weaknesses around and crush your college apps. So far she’s gotten accepted to GeorgetownTuftsUniversity of MichiganBrandeisBabson College, and Fordham University. And she’s not done yet.

Is this what it feels like to be a proud parent? Cuz, damn, it feels GREAT.

We know you are dying for the inside scoop, so here’s some info about Angie:

GPA:  4.13

Test Scores: SAT Math 800, SAT Verbal 630, SAT Writing 640, TOEFL 111.

Intended Major: Business (marketing)

School Activities: Student Council, Chinese Culture Club, Community Service Organization, Blue Key Club, and Mock Trial.

Other hobbies/interests: Chinese calligraphy, Ping-Pong, photography, reading, listening to speeches and interviews, varsity tennis, varsity basketball.

Misc. profile information: She’s a foreign student who goes to an unspectacular boarding school in the US.

Angie was super on top of stuff, and contacted us early (a whole YEAR early) for help with her apps. Admissionado founder Jon Frank counseled her on her profile, editor Ann Ford coached her on her essays, and consultant Stephen Black took the reins on interview prep.

Here’s what we learned from Team Angie:

Write More about Less, not Less about More

Angie had done so many amazing things, both academically and extracurricular..ly. You name it, she did it. Now, everyone should have this problem, but sometimes this could get in her own way, especially in her essays. There was so much to write about that she wrote too much about too many things. A big part of our work was figuring out which topics to zero in on. We picked the ones that highlighted leadership.

Say It Like You

In Angie’s early essay drafts she wrote stuff like “Be the change you want to become,” and other platitudes. Now, Angie fully believes in those things, but to us, they came across as pretty cliché ideas. So we tried to tone those down, get her to put things into her own words, and focus on how she could SHOW us her beliefs…rather than just list other people’s ideas.

Go With Your Gut

Angie didn’t just passively absorb our feedback; she questioned it, pushed back against it, maybe decided to go a different direction than what we told her. And that’s awesome, because then we knew she was saying what she wanted to say, not just taking our feedback on blind faith. She really took tons of ownership over the essays. That enthusiasm was incredibly infectious, and it showed in her final applications.

No Trail? Pave Your Own Way

Then there was the issue of Angie’s less-than-super boarding school. This was her biggest application red flag. How could we get her to stand out in this standard backdrop? We advised her to launch a Chinese culture club at her school. It was a great way to show her 1) being effective in the US, 2) taking a major leadership role and 3) talking to NON-Chinese people.  This is a fear that admissions committees have about international applicants – that they can’t do stuff in the US, with US people. Their fear is that international students will come here, and not only will they not take part in the overall community, but they won’t be able to succeed in such a foreign environment. So we went on the offense to prove them wrong, allowing Angie was able to say, “Hey look, Admissions Committee! I am successful in the US already!”

Conversation, Not Interrogation

When it came down to her interview prep, Angie’s natural warmth set a relaxed tone for the mock interview, which allowed it to be less Q&A and more intellectual discourse. And that, of course, is the goal. Good interviews feel like comfortable conversations. When an interviewer can just chat with an applicant comfortably, it stands out.

Always Room to Grow

The biggest lesson that future applicants should take away from Angie’s experience is that even when you’ve already got a great background and an interview-ready personality, there’s always room to improve that profile and increase your competitiveness. You can never forget that no matter where you’re applying, you’re competing against a LOT of people. And everyone applying is going to have a solid background, good scores, and a few reasons why School X is the school for them. So you gotta stay one step ahead of the competition. Stretch yourself a little further. Do a little more. Practice a little longer. That is how you succeed.

And with all of her acceptances, Angie is most certainly proof of that.

So to boil it down, here are the big Angie takeaways:

  1. For your personal essays, write in detail about less, rather than writing in less detail about more.
  2. Don’t use clichés or tired phrases to write about stuff you care about. Put it in your own, carefully chosen words.
  3. In the editing process, be open to the ideas of others, AND go with your gut. If you feel strongly that something MUST stay in your essay in order to keep it personal, keep it.
  4. In terms of extracurriculars, take on leadership roles, and if none exist, create them for yourself.
  5. Anticipate what the adcom might see as a red flag in your app, and find a way to get ahead of it.
  6. Let the interview be more of a relaxed discussion than a formal Q&A.
  7. Put in the work. It’ll be worth it.

All in all, with her hard work and determination and shining personality, Angie shredded some rather big application red flags into kitchen rags. That’s how you get it done, folks.