"How I Got Into College"

Today's WSJ profiles six college students who give their first-hand accounts of the admissions process. They ended up at Stanford, Cornell, Wellesley, Michigan, Grinnell, and Lafayette (Pennsylvania). The lessons:


  • It's possible to defy the odds and get in off the waitlist (Stanford), even after everyone tells you you won't get in.
  • Repeatedly misspelling basic words like literature ("literatre") and chemistry ("chemestry") on one form likely got an applicant dinged at Dartmouth, and after fixing them he got into five other schools, including Cornell. Attention to the smallest details matters in applications.
  • You can be happy at the school you considered your safety (Michigan -- lucky boy, not a safety for most people). "And make sure that all the schools you're applying to, you're pretty sure you'd be willing to go to." Very true.
  • Don't be a poser in your essays, and don't try to tell admissions officers what you think they want to hear. The school she got into -- Wellesley -- is the one for whom she wrote an essay that "really sounded like her." The schools that received the phony-baloney essays all rejected her.
  • Be honest with yourself about where you'll thrive. One applicant turned down Georgetown and Cornell, because she was worried she'd stress over the student loans (Georgetown) and that she'd get lost in a sea of 13,000 undergrads (Cornell). She ended up at Lafayette.
  • Taking a "gap year" made the difference between getting dinged the first time and getting in the second time for an applicant to Grinnell.

Read the whole article here. All great advice, to which I would add the following:

  • It is the kiss of death to have your application essays worked over by a bunch of people, because essays written by committee are never, ever good, and the applicant's voice gets lost in the process. Even worse are the essays that the parents wrote themselves. Aside from the ethical violation that poses, those essays always stink, because no teenager ever writes like a 40 or 50-something, or sees the world the way they do. People who are trying to help you with your essays should be doing two things, and only these two things: helping you figure out what you want to say, and helping you say it in your best voice. Any other kind of assistance leads to junk.
  • I'm a big fan of gap years, as are admissions officers, even at top schools. Parents are usually the only skeptics, and I would urge them to read my gap year postings here.