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College Applications

What’s Going Through the Mind of an Admissions Counselor?

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By Matt Musico on October, 22 2018 | 5 minute read

What looks good to a college? What does an admissions counselor want to see on an application?

Those are just a couple of the most common questions I hear when working with students during the college application process. I don’t blame them for asking, either – it’s natural for a student to want to put their best foot forward in an application.

But these questions are typically based out of fear. There’s this belief that if students don’t get everything right – and I’m not talking about fixing typos or mentioning the right school in your essay, which you should be doing – then the counselor reading their application won’t accept them.

Ironically, students who feel the need to look like the “perfect” candidate don’t take into account what an admissions counselor actually wants to see in an application, or what’s really going through their mind when reading them.


They’re Regular People

It almost always seems like people imagine an admissions counselor as a very distinguished person who sits behind a big, beautiful mahogany desk next to a bookshelf that holds many leather-bound books.

Believe it or not, they’re probably a lot closer to you in age than you realize. There are tons of counselors who are fresh out of college, meaning they’re 22, 23, or 24 years old. This leaves the possibility that you share some common interests, like listening to the same music and staying up-to-date on the latest hip lingo. Based on that last sentence, I’ve aged out of that bracket, unfortunately.

Don’t use this as an invitation to act in an unprofessional manner, but it’s helpful to remember that you’re likely more similar than you think. Plus, one of the reasons they’re in undergraduate admissions in the first place is that they loved college and didn’t want to leave.


Are You Really Interested?

Just like admissions counselors are real people like you and me, they’re also not naïve. The Common Application has made it easier than ever for students to apply to multiple schools than ever before.

Colleges expect that you’re interested in other schools and will likely be applying to five or more. With that in mind, they just want you to keep it real with them when it comes to your level of interest in their specific school.

At Collegewise, we talk a lot about showing demonstrated interest, and it makes a big difference (without being very hard). Simple things, like writing an email to the counselor covering your geographic area, attending their presentation at school, or stopping by at a college fair can go a long way once it’s application reading season.

Instead of opening up an application and seeing the name of someone they’ve never met or had contact with in the past, they’ll recognize your name think, “Oh, this is Jane Doe, I know her! Let’s see what she wrote her essay about.”

Keep in mind that all of this can be done without even visiting the campus, which sometimes isn’t possible before submitting an application.


Being “Perfect” Isn’t Necessary

If we go back to one of those original questions above, students who look “perfect” on paper aren’t who an admission counselor want to admit. It’s actually your background, education, activities, and unique passions that make them think you’re a perfect fit for their institution.

That’s why it’s important to just be yourself, which includes always telling the truth and sounding like you in the all-important essay. Counselors know there isn’t enough time in the day to be involved in everything outside of the classroom, so don’t think it’s necessary to make it look like you are.

Colleges like looking through activity lists because they want to know how you currently spend your free time, but it’s also a way for them to get a sense of what you’d like to participate in moving forward. So, make sure you spend the time outside of school doing something you enjoy! It’s more fun that way, too.

The best way to communicate your passion for any activity – whether it’s on your activity list or in an essay – is focusing on the why. Colleges are assuming you’re involved in certain activities because you enjoy them. Why are they important to you, though? How have they impacted your life? Have they altered your perspective in any way?


Their Goal Isn’t What You Think

What exactly are we getting at here? All of the things mentioned above are connected to one another for one simple reason: Admission counselors aren’t looking for ways to deny applicants. They’re actually looking for ways to say yes and send an acceptance letter out, especially for the students they know and have created some kind of rapport with.

College was likely the best time of their lives—if it wasn’t, they probably wouldn’t be in this line of work. After having that kind of life-changing experience, they want to help as many people as possible experience it, too.

When going through the college process, just remember: you likely share more common interests with your admissions counselor than you realize, they care if you’re sincerely interested, and they want to get to know the real you.

Most importantly, they want to help you achieve your goals and make dreams come true. Having to deliver bad news is the worst part of any admissions counselor’s job, so they try to avoid it as much as possible.


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About Us: With more than twenty years of experience, Collegewise counselors and tutors are at the forefront of the ever-evolving admissions landscape. Our work has always centered on you: the student. And just like we’ve always done, we look for ways for you to be your best self - whether it’s in the classroom, in your applications or in the right-fit college environment. Our range of tools include counselingtest prepacademic tutoring, and essay management, all with the support of our proprietary platform, leading to a 4x higher than average admissions rates. 


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