Guidance counselors often say that students need a “hook” to attract the attention of colleges.
It was probably inevitable that someone would take that advice literally.
Mark Hatch was reading applications for Bates College in Maine one weekend a few years ago when he became intrigued by a student’s essay about fishing. Turning the page, Mr. Hatch felt a sharp pain — and realized that the student had attached an actual hook.
After a trip to the emergency room and several stitches, Mr. Hatch finished reading the essay. Now a vice president at Colorado College, Mr. Hatch has the scar to prove that he did, in fact, admit a student with a hook.
As I wrap up these glimpses at the frenzied month of October, I’ll share a few mishaps and bloopers from applicants. Many of my favorites, sad to say, have to do with overinvolved parents.
Like this one: the University of South Carolina noticed that a boy had plagiarized a speech by Senator John McCain. The father protested, saying his secretary had typed all the essays and put them into the electronic application, so the boy should not be penalized. The father explained that his son hadn’t gotten around to proofreading and adding citations for the McCain material.
“The new defense for plagiarism is to blame your dad’s secretary?” says Scott Verzyl, assistant vice provost for enrollment management at South Carolina, who adds that the boy was rejected.
Some readers have asked why I take a less-than-serious approach to subjects like interviewing. The answer is simple: Families of high school juniors and seniors need to lighten up. Too many make the college quest too stressful. Applicants are not being grilled by the board of directors for that one-in-a-million chief executive position. Instead, they are teenagers trying for a spot at a school.
And from what I’ve seen, most of those who end up at their third- or fourth-choice school are soon elated to be there.
This college application business is out of control. Take a look at the waiting room at the admissions office of Gettysburg College. Several times a year, applicants show up dressed for Civil War re-enactments because they assume that the college is obsessed with the war. The admissions office says those in costume get no edge, by the way.
Maybe the applicants should go back to their history books. Quite a few essays refer to Gettysburg’s being in Virginia or Maryland. For the record, it’s in Pennsylvania.
That brings us to proofreading, always a topic of conversation in admissions offices.
The staff of Stevenson University in Maryland was moved by a student’s memories of being a Big Brother, even though he repeatedly spelled it “Big Bother.” Barnard College was puzzled by an applicant who kept referring to her enthusiasm for the “Peace Core.” (If she was that gung-ho, she probably would have known how to spell “corps.”)
Another sent in an application with a yellow sticky note that said, “Mom, what do you think about this answer?” Oops. And a third, responding to the question that asked why she was interested in Barnard, forgot to polish her answer. “Insert stuff from viewbook, blah, blah, blah,” she wrote.
Kristen Collins, who works in the admissions office of Adelphi University on Long Island, reads more than 30 essays a day. She has found that too many students thank their mothers for being such great “roll” models or lament the loss of their best “fiend.”
Ms. Collins reads essays about students’ determination to be world-class architects, which fails to dazzle a university with no architecture program.
Recently, she’s seen a spate of cute essays that draw on the shorthand of texting. That’s become a cliché.
Her advice: “u shud reale b careful wit ur spelling.”
In the spirit of Mr. Marcus’s admonition to lighten up a bit, and with the Choice in a festive mood as Halloween approaches, please use the box below to share some admissions bloopers of your own.
Mr. Marcus is the author of “Acceptance: A Legendary Guidance Counselor Helps Seven Kids Find the Right Colleges — and Find Themselves” (Penguin Press), and a former education reporter at Newsday and U.S. News and World Report. This month he is taking on a new post directing public relations for the New York Institute of Technology.
Tired of obsessing over your SAT scores? Don’t worry. Columbia and Barnard are too — among other schools.
Barnard College, a women’s liberal arts school in New York City, dropped its SAT Subject Test and SAT/ACT essay score requirements from their undergraduate applications in June.
The SAT Subject Tests are exams on single topics, like physics or French. The SAT tests for reading, writing and math, while the ACT adds on a section for science. Both include an essay portion.
Barnard will be the fourth college of the Seven Sisters — a group of historically women’s liberal arts colleges in the Northeast — to nix the essay score requirement, and the third of the group to drop the Subject Test requisite. So applicants for future classes won’t have to submit these scores.
This comes less than a month after Columbia University dropped the SAT Subject Test and essay score requirements from its applications.
“Standardized tests are simply one component of our holistic admissions review, in which quantitative credentials are assessed within the broader context of an applicant’s interests, background, personal qualities and accomplishments,” says Columbia Undergraduate Admissions on the change. “We hope the increased flexibility with our application will ease some of the stress students may feel when going through the college admissions process.”
Columbia will be the second Ivy League school to drop the essay requirement, and four Ivies — Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, and the University of Pennsylvania —already have gotten rid of the Subject Test requirement entirely — though they all recommend submitting scores. Cornell has done so for entrance to some — but not all — of its colleges. And in 2014, Harvard revised their application requirements so that Subject Tests would not be strictly required.
Related: No, the SAT is not required. More colleges join test-optional train
“I like that colleges are dropping standardized testing requirements not just because they’re hard, but because they’re stressful,” says high school senior Sarah Chow, who will be applying to college in the fall. “For me, even though I work hard and actually do the work, I don’t do very well on tests.”
“I feel a number shouldn’t equal a person’s intelligence as it does with many high school students stressing about college,” Chow says.
But the College Board, the company that runs the SAT, may disagree.
“The more information in the college admission process, the better,” says James Montoya, the senior vice president of higher education and international at the College Board. “However, we respect every institution’s right to use college assessments as it sees fit.”
“Admission policies evolve, and we are working closely with partners in higher education to study various models and systems to ensure we continue to put student success at the forefront of our collective efforts.”
Admissions policies are indeed evolving, and not just at the Ivies. In February, the University of Delaware dropped SAT/ACT requirements for in-state applicants. Last summer, Temple University instituted a “test-optional” policy. In 2009, all University of California schools dropped their SAT Subject Test requirements, concerned that the additional test requirement would make some low-income students ineligible to apply.
Each subject test costs $20 to $26 to take in addition to the $26 registration fee. The College Board does offer fee waivers for two SATs and two SAT Subject Tests, if you meet their criteria.
But now, not all those fee waivers will be needed anymore. It seems that Columbia and Barnard will be joining the group of colleges with lessened testing requirements, making college admissions an ever-changing field.
Grace Li is a student at Harvard College and a USA TODAY College correspondent.
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