About Admission Essay

Joseph Allen
Dean of Admission and Financial Aid and Author of The 10-Minute Guide to Choosing a College (ARCO)University of Southern California

Your essay should provide the reader with a fuller view of who you are and how you think, you don’t need to write about thermonuclear war or a life-shattering event. Everyday happenings in our lives often reveal more about who we are and what makes us tick.

Jane Reynolds
Dean of AdmissionAmherst College

The essay is one of the most important parts of the Amherst application, primarily because it is where applicants are able to reveal the thoughtful side of themselves which only they can speak about. The essay is where the voice of the student is heard most clearly – where the student can say something that only he or she can talk about.

Theodore O’Neil
Dean of Admission
University of Chicago

The essay may well play a large role at the University of Chicago than at most other schools because we are looking for interesting thinkers. A student can be a successful test-taker with strong grades and yet not be an interesting thinker. Our essay questions are quite distinctive; we declare something about the college in our very questions. By the way we ask our questions students realize that their responses will be read closely and carefully. As a result, I think we probably elicit better writing than do other colleges. Most good students write good essays, but more than once in a while we read something in a n essay that awakens something in us and that we find very interesting.

Pearls of Wisdom about Applying for College Admission

Richard Shaw
Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid
Yale University

Realize that there are lots of options in higher education. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. You will have at least two or three good choices if you applied to a range of schools. Most students who do not get into Yale will get into other fine schools that offer equally extraordinary opportunities. Realize that there are many viable and wonderful possible outcomes.

At the outset of this process, step back and take a deep breath. Don’t panic. Start early. Begin to conceive your college plans in your junior year. Look at the essay questions for the schools you are applying to as soon as you can. Spend thoughtful time approaching the process so that when you do complete you essay you feel good about it. Notify school officials early if you plan to apply. If you apply with a prepared, clam approach within a reasonable amount of time, then your outcome will be better than if you do a rush job.

Most of all, be yourself. Don’t try to package yourself the way somebody else thinks you should. Starting now, think about your hopes and dreams and about who you are. Hopefully, all of this will come through in the way you express yourself to us so that we can determine if you are a good “fit” for Yale.

About In-Person Interviews

Eric J.Furda
Director of Undergraduate Admissions
Columbia University

We were able to interview 6,000 students last year out of an applicant pool of around 13,000, considering both the College and the Engineering School. Because we can only interview half of the applicants, it will not (on its own) be the reason for being admitted or not being admitted. Nevertheless, interviews are evaluative and informative providing students with another medium to express their ideas.

About Letter of Recommendation

Christoph Guttentag
Director of AdmissionsDuke University

We place a great deal of weight on letters of recommendation; in fact, they are perhaps the most important factor in determining who is admitted among similarly-qualified applicants. Recommendation letters provide us with input similar to that of the essay – how well a student thinks, the student’s attitude toward learning, and the extent to which the student uses his or her potential – but from a different perspective. Letters that go beyond just character to actually illuminate the essence of a student are the most helpful.

Recommendation letters also illuminate aspects of the student’s relationships with his or her peers and tell us about the impact the student has made in school. This is critical information, since in admitting a class of students a college is not simply awarding the students’ high school accomplishments but rather building a community. The character of the members of that community is very important to the college, which wants students who are not only going to be good collegiate citizens but who will take advantage of opportunities provided. Colleges look for more than a “match” between the college and the student; they look also for those who will best take advantage of the unique opportunities offered at that particular institution. Letters of recommendation, then, are essential and irreplaceable.

Theodore O’Neil
Dean of Admission
University of Chicago

We believe that we are admitting students for the benefit of our faculty; the faculty are in a sense our bosses, and we try to please them with our selections. Therefore, it is of crucial importance to hear from a student’s teachers. We want to be able to gauge a student’s willingness to share, ability to write papers, generosity toward classmates, and capacity to be excited by ideas. It is from the student’s teachers that we can best learn all of this. The more we hear from a teacher, and the more teachers we hear from, the better our decision. Some letters are, of course, more useful than others; some teachers don’t have a lot of time to devote to writing recommendations. Letters from counselors are also helpful, but in a different way. From counselors we learn about the student’s citizenship and role within the school community.