Instead, we want you to display, through your application, that you have a meaningful understanding of our institution and how and why you see yourself as being a good match. This kind of authentic, thoughtful engagement with the admissions office is what all colleges value most.
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Paul M. Cramer
Vice president for enrollment, Elizabethtown College, Pa.
Forwarding vague recommendations: The best letter of recommendation is not the one from the teacher of the class the student "aced." Rather, it is the one from the teacher of the class in which the student had to work extra hard to succeed. The following recommendation did not tell us anything we didn't already know about Robert (not his real name), and so did not contribute to his candidacy: "Robert is an outstanding student in my class. He keeps a good notebook and is always well prepared."
On the other hand, the following recommendation gave us confidence in Mary's ability to weather the challenge of an Elizabethtown degree and suggested she would take advantage of the many resources we offer students to aid in their academic success: "Mary is a strong student at XXX High School. Midway through a difficult first quarter, Mary sought extra help in my optional study sessions. As a result of that extra help and concerted efforts on her part, Mary's grades improved in the first quarter and throughout the year."
Dean of admissions, U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Md.
Being careless in social media: Your presence on the Internet matters. We encourage our applicants to exercise due diligence when sharing pictures, posts, tweets, and videos with the public. We often interact with our applicants via Facebook and YouTube to provide information and answer questions.
Many of our applicants tag themselves in photos after they have visited the campus, so it's not hard for us to see what profiles are open to the entire world. We encourage our applicants to take a very close look at their privacy settings on Facebook and recheck them often.
My best advice is to remember that if your grandmother wouldn't be proud to see what you're posting online, it probably shouldn't be public.
Director of undergraduate admissions, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland
Disrespecting staff members: One of the cornerstones in the admission office is the frontline support staff who have been in their roles for 20, 30, or more years. You can imagine all the things that they've seen. They are people who love this work, and they love the students.
A few years ago, a student really just kind of laid into one of these staff members on the phone. He was so vitriolic—using foul language. What ended up happening was that we withdrew the application because that was just an outpouring of disrespect.
Vice provost for enrollment and undergraduate admissions, University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill
Trying too hard to curry favor: Students can definitely go overboard. A few years ago a person I worked with had a strange experience: A student actually found out where he lived and sneaked around to the back of his house, left a cake inside his fenced backyard on his picnic table, and the cake was decorated in some way encouraging the guy to admit him to the school.