How to Get Admissions Officers to Say Yes

From essays to interviews to teacher recs, make sure your authentic voice comes through.

  • Show, don't tell. Use examples and anecdotes.
  • Be polite (but not too humble).
  • Ask a friend to read your essay, and say, "Does this sound like me?" It should.
  • Don't do your essay at the last minute. Mastering the art of selling yourself takes practice.
  • Reread what you've written with a cold eye. Using humor or sarcasm? Make sure it translates well on paper.
  • Killer Extracurrics

    • Unless social activism is one of the core values of the school you're applying to, "heartfelt cello playing trumps obligatory service work," says J. Leon Washington, dean of admissions and financial aid for Lehigh University. And building latrines in Ghana is not intrinsically more valuable than coaching basketball at the local Y.
    • Say what motivated you to get involved and what you learned.
    • Put your activities in context by providing a few details. If you were president of the poetry society, say how many members the club had and what you did.
    • Be succinct.
    • TIP


      Be genuine. Every student knows an overambitious classmate who picked up an activity (or instrument or sport) to look good on paper. Colleges can spot that sort of thing a mile off.

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