Issue 5: Wesleyan University (1/2), The Price of Admission
Exclusive Insider Interview: Wesleyan University, Senior Admissions Interviewer
The admissions process is when the student must show us they know their voice, that they know what they like to do and what they want from the institution they end up attending. If you’re a student who has let your parent define your voice for you, it shows in the interview. Some students are super arrogant and think their accolades will carry them into an acceptance letter. Here at Wesleyan, we value the aspect of community on our campus. If we witness in an interview that a student is borderline rude because of how bloated their ego is, we’ll take that into consideration because this campus is a community. Please do have pride in your work, appreciate all that you’ve accomplished at such a young age, but if you aren’t a team player, why would we want you on our team?”
Dear Socrates Q&A
You’re on the right track thinking about this now. With almost all college applicants these days boasting top grades and test scores, strong, unique recommendation letters and essays really make the difference. Unfortunately, your senior friends might not have had the foresight in early high school to prepare for a shining rec letter. Most students don’t know that an excellent letter of recommendation takes quite a bit of planning, and not just planning the summer before senior year. It requires awareness of your college goals as early as freshman year.
An excellent recommendation letter includes three important aspects:
1. Be from a teacher or coach who has known you for at least 2 years.
The length of your relationship with your recommender tells the admissions committee how credible the rec letter is. If your teacher has only known you a few weeks, he or she is less equipped to fully understand who you are as a growing, maturing human being.
2. Reveal the positive aspects of your character and personality outside of the classroom, not just academic performance.
Colleges are keen to know your personality, because who you are heavily influences a campus culture. What grades you get in class — not as much. It’s easy for any recommender to see a report card and tell a college admissions officer that you’re a straight-A student. But can he describe how you treat your classmates and teammates? How you respond to critical feedback? How you think? Answers to these questions matter more.
3.Enthusiastically describe your growth and contribution to your community, whether it’s a classroom, a campus, a club, etc.
The key here is enthusiastically. SocratesPost talked to Bryan Enochs, the Director of Admissions at University of Michigan, who said they get way too many lukewarm letters of recommendations. The more enthusiastic an adult like your teacher or coach is about you, the more credible your application seems. It’s one thing to describe yourself as a passionate, unique, and hardworking student. It’s another to hear that from an adult who has taught thousands of students. If they’re so excited about you and an aspect of your growth, why wouldn’t a college be too?
Contrary to some beliefs, an excellent recommendation letter does NOT need to be from:
- A famous, influential, or wealthy individual. Unless this person also happens to be a close teacher or mentor who has witnessed positive changes in your growth.
- An alumnus of the college. Unless it’s coming with a million plus dollar donation.
- A great writer. Some teachers aren’t the best writers and admissions officers know that. They’re not trying to nitpick their grammar and sentence structure.
Most likely, you won’t be able to read your recommendation letters. Some teachers will be willing to show you, but colleges will think your letter is less credible if you read it before submission.
If we can’t read our teacher’s rec letters, what’s the best way to ensure the content is everything we want it to be and nothing we don’t want? Continue to read 4 Ways To Get A Stellar Rec Letter From Your Teacher →
But a little more taboo are the kids of alumni, wealthy donors, faculty members, and celebrities. At elite colleges, these applicants – oftentimes less academically qualified than their peers – get in before our regular valedictorians and salutatorians are even considered.
Daniel Golden exposes these “special consideration” applicants in his book The Price of Admission: How America’s Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges–and What Gets Left Outside the Gates.
Are you a part of the ruling class or are you left outside the gate? We read it and summarized it so you don’t have to.
Here are the 5 groups of people sweeping colleges off their feet, while valedictorians and the rest of America get left behind:
Established donors – a Harvard study
Kids of these individuals get special consideration for admissions, even if their kids are not academically qualified.
Case in point: Annie Grayson, graduate of Hotchkiss, a boarding school in Connecticut, scored somewhere in the 1200s on her SATs, a couple hundred points under Harvard’s average. She ranked below the middle of her class. Her parents, both Harvard alums and COUR members, noted that they have “plenty of money, money enough and to spare.” She was admitted. Annie’s parents donated at least $1 million during her senior year at Harvard.
Harvard professor David Herwitz said it concisely, “What kind of a crazy world would it be if people who had gone to the school and made contributions would be told: your kid is very close, but not close enough?” p. 27
Similarly, at Duke University, the development committee seeks students from wealthy families who haven’t yet donated, but have the potential. Takeaway here: boatloads of money can make up for academic deficiencies and get you in. After all, universities are businesses that thrive off money and reputation.