Issue 3: Denison University (1/2), The Dip

Exclusive Insider Interview: Denison University, Senior Admissions Interviewer

This week, we hear from Radhika Joshi, one of Denison University’s former admissions interviewers. While an undergraduate at one of the top liberal arts colleges in the U.S., Radhika interviewed prospective applicants on behalf of the Office of Admissions.

Founded in 1831, Denison is the second oldest liberal arts college in Ohio with a 34% acceptance rate. Nearly 20% of Denison students are international students.

A little bit on admissions interviewers. Admissions interviewers get to see a side of an applicant that most application readers and committee members don’t: they get to actually meet and converse with the hopeful, then pass on their recommendations to the committee. The insights they gather from a face-to-face conversation are boundless: quality of character, ability to connect with others, interest in the university, maturity, and eloquence, among others. I was an admissions interviewer for Northwestern University who worked alongside the Office of Undergraduate Admissions to seek true standouts and filter out the average in my local area. Though admissions interviews are sometimes optional for certain institutions, they do matter.

As Radhika explained, “there’s only so much that you can communicate through a piece of paper, through your SAT scores, your activities. It really makes a difference to have an interview just so you can really explain what you’ve been up to and why you want to go to this school you’re interviewing at.”

SocratesPost: “What was the biggest stumper question you’d ask prospective students?”
Radhika at Denison: “I like to ask questions like, ‘how would your friends describe you? Or what are your 3 most important characteristics?’ And I don’t think students expect that. It was mostly questions that were more introspective and looking beyond their academics and extracurricular activities that usually stump students.
SocratesPost: “What types of applicants impress you the most?”
Radhika at Denison: “What really impressed me with some of the most impressive students that I interviewed was the passion for whatever it is they’re doing. You can be doing six extracurricular activities and have a 4.5 GPA and have a great SAT scores, but if you’re not passionate about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it then that really comes across — as opposed to doing fewer activities or being involved in fewer things that you truly care about, or you’re doing it not just to look at it on your résumé or not just to look at it on your college application but because it’s something you truly enjoy.

I remember one time a student I was interviewing told me that he was a state-level champion for boomerang throwing. Now, I didn’t realize boomerang throwing was a competitive sport at all. But really, it was something that he shared with his family and something that he really enjoyed, and that really came across to me as somebody who’s passionate and hard-working, obviously not in the conventional arenas that we see, but still an athlete who’s very accomplished in something they love doing.”

SocratesPost: “How would a prospective applicant show passion through a list of extracurriculars or in an interview? Because it’s not convincing enough for me to just say “I’m passionate about engineering.” I have to show it.”
SocratesPost: “Along those lines, it seems like every applicant these days have really strong grades, strong leadership, great test scores and essays… How does someone really, really stand out from the crowd?”

Dear Socrates Q&A

“Dear Socrates, I keep hearing this in different renditions.

  • Do something you’re passionate about.
  • Show you’re passionate about your activities.
  • Pick one or two activities you’re truly passionate about instead of five or six you don’t truly care for.

What does ‘showing passion’ really mean to the admissions committee? I swim on my high school’s swim team and am a staff writer for the school newspaper. I enjoy them enough, but I’m not sure if I’m ‘passionate’ about them.” — Tenth grader from Maryland

Passion is an overused word in college applications, isn’t it? High school students these days are going crazy trying to figure out not only what a passion is, but also what theirs is and how to show it.

Frankly, most working adults don’t even know if they’re passionate about their jobs or lives, so it’s perfectly normal for you to wonder as a teenager. As a high schooler myself, I competed in four sports, multiple bands and small ensembles, and countless leadership activities. I enjoyed them, but never knew if any of those activities were my “passions.”

The Oxford Dictionary defines passion as “an intense desire or enthusiasm for something.” Why would colleges look for young people with an intense enthusiasm for something? An intense enthusiasm for a subject, an activity, or a cause is a pretty good predictor of future success in it. It brings liveliness and vivacity to a college campus where students are open to being inspired, awe-filled, and active. These students lead movements, people, and organizations. Without extreme enthusiasm, it’s easy to fall short of these impactful accomplishments because, let’s face it, rising to the top of anything is difficult. You’ll be distracted by other commitments, peers, setbacks, plateaus, and voices telling you to stop aspiring for the success you want. What’s the one thing that fuels us when times get rough? An intense enthusiasm for what we’re doing. Not money, not time, not people, and certainly not parents telling us what to do. In other words: passion.

Showing passion and commitment for a self-chosen activity — whether it’s playing musical instrument, competing in a sport, promoting a cause, or even mastering a subject matter — as a highschooler demonstrates you have the character and experience to be the leader whom colleges want to represent their institution. Colleges want their students to make them look good. They use their successful students as free testimonials. Others see a university’s sampling of students who embody typical traits of success — executive leaders of large corporations, creative inventors and entrepreneurs, Broadway actors and singers, famous scholars and writers, revolutionary political figures — and think highly of the university that produced them.

For example, SocratesPost’s latest investigation into the 2019 college ranking methodologies taught us that the schools who produce the most alumni recognized in one of Forbes “Top” People lists get ranked higher.How did most of those individuals make it to the “Top” lists? They accomplished the feat by demonstrating an intense enthusiasm for what they’re doing, thereby overcoming all obstacles and setbacks. Admitting individuals who have proven bouts of passion as a high schooler is a safe way for colleges to ensure they’ll get the good publicity they need. A higher ranking can mean more attention and fame, which ultimately means more money for the college. Never doubt how much large institutions like colleges will do for money.

The ultimate question is this: how do we show admissions committees our passion?

Continue to read how I advised my college consulting students to demonstrate “passion” in the most authentic way to the admissions committee → 

The Skinny

Most of us don’t have the guts to quit…Instead, we get mediocre… Do ordinary work, blameless work, work that’s beyond reproach. Most people suck it up and try to average their way to success.” – Seth Godin

Contrary to what most people tell you, you should probably quit whatever it is you’re doing. If you’re not going to be the best at what you do, there’s no point in doing it. This might sound a bit like dramatic “tiger parenting,” but it actually steers us on a path toward true excellence.

Seth Godin’s The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick) explains why getting through the “Dip” — or what many call the “bottleneck” — is so crucial when pursuing any goal. If we don’t think we can make it through the worst parts and the toughest struggles on our way to our dream, we might as well be honest with ourselves and quit now. And quit fast.

How does this pertain to students during the college prep process? Continue to read the 5 Crucial Takeaways from “The Dip” for Elite College Hopefuls →