College Admissions: Getting In Do’s and Don’ts

Admissions officers spill secrets about what will get your application noticed—or tossed

DO Make your mark as a leader “We’re not looking for a long list of activities,” says Villanova’s Steve Merritt, “but for students who were recognized by their peers as leaders: team captains, class officers, chairs of fund-raising committees.”

DON’T Hire someone to write your essays “We want to hear your voice,” says Penn’s Eric Furda. “And that should be the voice of a 17- or 18-year-old.”

DO Connect with admissions officers “We make our decision based on the information we have,” says St. Joe’s Maureen Mathis. Adds Bryn Mawr’s Jenny Rickard, “It’s more difficult to deny a person than a piece of paper.”

DON’T Send cookies,serenade the admissions office, or stalk your admissions rep while wearing Renaissance garb “Use avenues that have been provided,” Rickard says delicately, “rather than creating new ones.”

DO Apply early decision—if you’re absolutely, positively sure that’s the school you want “I don’t know any school where it doesn’t increase your chances of admission,” Ursinus’s Rick DiFeliciantonio says.

DON’T Have Dad or Mom call admissions “A call will only help if it’s to bring something to our attention that’s unique or has changed,” Merritt says, “not just general advocacy.” And it’s better if you make that call yourself.

DO Visit, and maintain contact “Colleges want students that want them,” says DiFeliciantonio, “and we track that: Did he respond to e-mail? Visit? Interview? That’s all recorded on our computers.”

DON’T Be blinded by prestige, or rack up major debt to go to the school of your dreams Where you go, everyone we spoke to agreed, isn’t nearly as important as what you do once you’re there.

DO Consider unusual areas of study at highly competitive schools “We’re the only Ivy League nursing school,” says Furda. “Our nursing and engineering schools are under-enrolled.”