Issue 9: Colorado School of Mines (1/2), What I’ve Learned from Reading Over 10,000 College Essays

Exclusive Insider Interview: Colorado School of Mines, Admissions Counselor and Application Reader

Amanda Rodriguez, admissions counselor and application reader at highly-selective Colorado School of Mines, tells SocratesPost what impresses her and what applicants get wrong. A public teaching and research university founded in 1874 and devoted to engineering and applied science, Mines only accepted 48% of applicants last year. The Wall Street Journal reported Mines graduates boasting the highest starting salary in Colorado and the seventh highest nationally.
Mercy at SocratesPost: “Tell us a little bit about yourself, what you do now, and your experience with admissions.”
Amanda at Mines: “My name is Amanda Rodriguez and I’ve been working in college admissions for about 2 years now. I used to work at a small university and worked specifically with International students and with students seeking to learn English as a second language. I have been here at Mines for a little over a year and a half now and I absolutely love it. My team is amazing and my supervisors are amazing, so I very much enjoy what I do here. I do both the recruiting side of the house and the reading side of the house.

My side role is actually social media, so I manage the Mines Admission Twitter, which is specific to admissions. It’s not just a general university Twitter, so we put additional application tips on there and really try to gear the content of that page toward the prospective student audience. During the admission cycle, once we actually have students who’ve been admitted, I manage an accepted students Facebook group and a family of accepted students Facebook group. I provide additional content in there specific to accepted students and, of course, helping them to get the information that they need to decide if Mines is the right fit for them or not. Then I put on a couple of different events, one of which is a Meetup event. Because about 60% of our student population comes from out of state, it can be challenging for them to meet other people who might be going to Mines. Actually, each cycle we have several pockets of students from different states and so I try to get them together. I don’t put any staff members at these events; it’s really just an organic event where students can get to know other students and families in the area and potentially find a future roommate and things like that. So that’s a part of my role and then I just talk about roommate conflicts and once students have actually committed, help them through the housing process and what does that look like and really just be kind of a one-stop shop for a lot of pieces of information.”

Mercy at SocratesPost: “When you’re recruiting, are you also interviewing the students or are you only meeting them face to face and informally getting a sense of who they are?”
Amanda at Mines: “We don’t do formal interviews as a part of the Mines admissions process. When I say recruiting, for me, what that looks like is college fairs in the Colorado area and then my territory specifically this year is Texas and Oklahoma. I’m from Texas originally so I know the area a little bit better and I know the competitor schools a little bit better. My recruiting is helped by the fact that I read applications as well. I think it’s very beneficial to be able to know what applications look like and actually be making decisions and be able to counsel students better when I’m recruiting on the application process because I’m actually reading the application. We don’t have a huge recruiting budget like many schools do, but we do the best we can with the resources we have to reach interested students. We are not like many schools that are hurting for applications. We receive way too many applications for what we can actually admit, but my recruiting is helped by the fact that I read applications as well. I think it’s very beneficial to be able to know what those things look like and actually be making decisions and be able to counsel students better when I’m recruiting on the application process because I’m actually reading the application.
Mercy at SocratesPost: “When you’re either meeting with a student or reading an application, what characteristic traits, accomplishments or profile tends to impress you most?”
Amanda at Mines: “This past cycle, just to give you kind of a range, we had about 12,600 undergraduates freshmen applications and many of them were very highly qualified academically, so we do not hurt for academically qualified students. Some students think “Oh, I’m taking 10 AP classes and have a 4.0 and this amazing test score” and of course I’ll get in, no one else at my school is like me.” When I see that, of course I’m impressed. I think, “Wow, that’s more than I was ever able to accomplish in high school. Wow, I can’t believe they have so many college credits.” They’re taking engineering classes where they have the opportunity to take all these really interesting different electives, whether they be engineering or cooking or veterinary sciences — all those sorts of things are impressive, but it’s not the main thing that I would say makes them stand out. Many students across the country look just like them academically. Something that you see rarely that I would say is what impresses me the most is students who come in with relevant work experience or are innovators. So, a student who has done research at a local university in their area. Working with a professor is quite impressive in my mind. I think my colleagues would say the same. That and then work experience like an internship the student obtained during a summer between their junior and senior year of high school or sophomore and junior year, whenever it was. An internship in some field is a rare thing that we see on applications so I think it really does make students stand out. And then students who are innovators. We had students apply who started their own company designing drones and taking photos of various different things but they are making the drones themselves and then they’re marketing their company and saying “This is what my drone can do. Hire me on and I’ll get pictures of your house or your farmland or your business or what have you.” That’s really impressive. We had students design their own T-shirt making company. If they’re larger scale, that kind of thing is quite impressive. Or just a student who has longevity in a job and is showing that they’re able to have a job and manage school at the same time.
Mercy at SocratesPost: “It sounds like that real world experience and ability to innovate and put yourself out there creatively is important to Mines.”
Amanda at Mines: “Yeah, absolutely.
Mercy at SocratesPost: “You said you counsel students even before they apply and during the application process. What part of the college admissions process do applicants tend to misunderstand?”
Mercy at SocratesPost: “So what is a good answer to that question? Should they be focusing more on the academics, the campus culture, or maybe their peers?”

Dear Socrates Q&A

Our subscribers ask us college admissions questions. We select one to answer and publish each week. Subscribe to ask us a college admissions-related question!

This week, we selected a question from K.D., a parent in Port Orange, FL:

“In an earlier article you stated that legacy status and coming from a family who donates can help the applicant’s admission chances. Regarding Northwestern, does this hold true even if my donations have been small ($25-50/yr) and if my child’s SAT score is well below (~300pts) the average at NU. She is in the IB Program, did a 5-week prestigious (Cherubs) camp there, is passionate about film and screenwriting, seems like a great fit beyond being a horrible test-taker. Does it even make sense to apply, much less early decision?”

Great question, K.D.!

It sounds like the only thing “missing” from your child’s profile is a high SAT score. From what you described, she has taken academically rigorous courses (IB program), demonstrates extracurricular excellence (Cherubs and film/screenwriting) involvement, and has legacy status.

Donating $25-$50 a year won’t put you in the “donor” category — those donors are people with buildings or scholarship funds named after them. With the sheer number of applications, it’s unlikely that the admissions readers will get in contact with the alumni association and check your donation history since you graduated.

We confirmed that with Valerie Smith, the Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions this week who told us: “We are not aware of whether or how much a family donates during our review process. We would note a legacy tie during any review when a family has ties to Northwestern, but our focus would remain on the student and his or her credentials and fit for campus.”

However, donation thresholds aside, as a highly active alumni, whether through volunteering, donating, or hosting alumni events, you might have some name recognition with the admissions office. For example, an applicant whose father is the president of the Chicago NU alumni club would garner more attention than an applicant whose alumni parent never associated with NU after graduation. For a school like Northwestern, though, just merely having a legacy tie is advantageous enough, which we’ll talk about in a bit.

Secondly, your daughter has direct legacy status. Luckily for her, her connection to Northwestern is you, her parent. Alumni connections through parents or siblings, as opposed to more removed relatives like fourth cousins or great-grandparents’ in-laws, appear more attractive to admissions committees. Strong alumni affiliations and loyalty tend to lead to more donations to the “family alma mater” over the years. That’s why Northwestern and similar schools look for direct legacies.

SocratesPost asked an insider connected with the Northwestern Office of Undergraduate Admissions to gather another layer of insight into your question. And this is what the anonymous insider unofficially told us:

Continue to read the rest of our analysis and get the Northwestern insider’s unofficial scoop on how legacy affects the selection process →

The Skinny

Parke Muth served 28 years in the Office of Admissions at University of Virginia. There, he held titles of Associate Dean, Director of Application Assessment Training, Director of International Admission, Director of Selection and Recruitment of Honors Scholars, among others.
SocratesPost listened to, analyzed, and summarized a 90-minute College Essay Guy podcast episode What I’ve Learned from Reading 10,000 College Essays in which Parke reveals what admissions officers really think about your essays and what some of his favorite essays were about. Now an admissions and essay coach, Parke independently guides students on their college applications and essays, positioning them for the best chances of admittance.

Parke has a wealth of experience and seems like an effective coach, but not unlike many academics, he seems to struggle to answer questions directly and succinctly. The content is helpful, but the delivery…not so enjoyable. Don’t worry. We parsed through all the filler and gave you The Skinny on what you need to know.

Here are the 7 best takeaways from Parke Muth’s nearly three-decade career in admissions:

1. When writing your college essay, use the pyramid theory.

“You are looking for something to grab you if you’re sitting in your chair 8 hours at a time. It helps to have something in the first paragraph that’s focused and concrete rather than ‘I wanna save humanity.’”

Parke recommended starting the essay with an extremely specific hook. Then, as the essay progresses, connect these specificities to abstractions and bigger ideas, emulating the shape of a pyramid. Parke quoted the first sentences of a few very memorable essays. It’s difficult not to want to continue reading.

i. “I sat in the back of a police car.”

ii. “Grandma started about the rats today — six foot ones.”

iii. “The woman wanted breasts.”

 Continue to read the rest of SocratesPost’s 7 best takeaways from the lessons of a 28-year veteran in college admissions →