Student loans are worth it, says former Ivy League admissions officer

Elvin Freytes has worked in student affairs, recruitment, and admissions at Northeastern, Boston U, Columbia, Berkeley, Michigan State, and now Touro Graduate School of Education. In this week’s interview, we discuss most impressive applications, why student loans are worth it, international student roadblocks, most memorable essays, and how to approach writing applications with congruence. Elvin’s resume:

  • Northeastern University — Office of Residence Life
  • Teachers College at Columbia University — Resident Director
  • Columbia University — Application Reader at Admissions Office
  • Michigan State University — Resident Director
  • UC Berkeley — Resident Director
  • Boston University — Resident Director
  • Touro Graduate School of Education — Director of Recruitment and Student Relations (current)

 SocratesPost: You used to read applications for Columbia University, the Ivy League school that admits only about 5.5% of applicants these days. What was the most impressive application you read?

Elvin at Touro: I had to fight for the people I wanted to get in. I’ll never forget that I fought for this one student, this applicant who was in Ghana. He actually had been able to change the law in Ghana. I can’t remember what it was, it was so long ago, but I just remember saying, “This guy is amazing. Yes, he’s got low SAT scores, they’re not the greatest, but his GPA’s high.” He was an activist. I know that he changed the law. His letter of recommendation was from the president of Ghana back then. I was so excited to be a part of that.

He was an activist… His letter of recommendation was from the president of Ghana

SocratesPost: Wow. You had mentioned earlier that you still have student loans, but it’s worth it to you. Why?

Elvin at Touro: It’s worth it because it’s an investment in yourself. I knew that I was lucky. My grandma came from Puerto Rico. She had not had a single day of education in her life, but she came to this country and she knew that education was the way to improve yourself, move up, and do well.

SocratesPost: How did your grandma teach you the value of education in the U.S.?

Elvin at Touro: I almost dropped out in elementary school. I was like, “I’m done with this; I don’t like this.” I was failing. She took me by the ear and she put me into school and said, “You’ve got to go to school.” She always taught me that school is number one.

SocratesPost: What have you been able to gain from sticking through school and getting an Ivy League degree?

Elvin at Touro: I was able to gain this knowledge but also create this amazing network of friends and colleagues and professors that I could use as a resource to help me learn more and to help me progress in my professional life and my personal life. So it’s absolutely worth it.

SocratesPost: How have you been able to manage your student loans?

Elvin at Touro: Loans and all those companies, they’ll work with you to make it. I went to China and I said, “Listen, I can’t pay loans.” They’re like, “Oh, don’t worry about it. Just fill out some paperwork and then we’ll do it a different way.” Sure, it increased my interest rate, but it was worth it. And now I’m paying it back and I don’t mind. I still have another 10 years to go, and I don’t mind that. It’s a monthly payment that I do.

SocratesPost: Instead of staying in one university, you’ve worked for shorter periods of time at seven or eight institutions. Why did you decide to do that?

Elvin at Touro: I didn’t travel a lot when I was in high school or college, so after I graduated, I made it a point because I wanted to see the world: see something different, try something different. That was what brought me happiness…There was a time where every year for five years I went to a different country for the new year. I celebrated in China, in Australia, in Chile, in Brazil. I celebrated New Year’s in different countries because I wanted to get out.

SocratesPost: In all your years of university recruitment, enrollment, and admissions, what sort of intuition have you developed on how to recruit the right students?

Elvin at Touro: That’s a good question, because I feel as though everybody wants to go to college. My thought is that they just need to be provided with the information. They’re looking for information, and they need to be provided with the correct information that’s going to help them make the decision about whether they want to go to college or not. For me, the number one thing has always been customer service, always customer service.

SocratesPost: The media rarely talks about customer service in regards to college admissions. What do you mean by that?

Elvin at Touro: It’s about personalization. It’s always trying to figure out, “Okay, I know you want to come here. But what are the roadblocks? Is it financial? Is it travel? Is it the faculty, the courses, the academics?” That has always been my number one: trying to figure out the roadblocks and pain paints. And then providing them information: timely information. So the right student, for me, is a student that is inquisitive. They’re just trying to figure out: “Do I want to go to college? Why should I go to college? But this is why I hesitate to go to college.”

SocratesPost: Having served so many students, what have been strong clues that a student wouldn’t be a good fit?

Elvin at Touro: There are only very few, and it’s basically international students that are coming from countries where I know they can’t afford it. I know they’re not going to get the visa, because it’s very rare that consulates give out visas for students. Based on experience, I can tell right away. They’re asking for a full scholarship, and it’s not going to work. Unfortunately, it’s usually countries from Africa; that’s very difficult for them.

…international students that are coming from countries where I know they can’t afford it… it’s very rare that consulates give out visas for students… They’re asking for a full scholarship, and it’s not going to work.

SocratesPost: Earlier you shared with us the story of the Columbia applicant who changed a law in his country. What’s another example of an impressive candidate?

Here’s a preview of the rest of our conversation! Subscribe to read the rest and support our ad-free newsletter.
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…a very heartwarming essay where she talked about how… her parents did not support her, but she had to fight on… And that’s really difficult to do: to do something you’re passionate when you don’t have support from your parents. She was able to be funny about it.

SocratesPost: What are common threads between that essay and other memorable essays you’ve read for admissions?

In any good essay, make sure the reader develops an emotional connection. If you can convey that in 650 words or less… that’s extremely powerful.

SocratesPost: Having been on both sides, as an admissions officer and as a consultant, how can you tell when an application’s been touched by a consultant?

SocratesPost: What do you mean by overly-edited?

SocratesPost: How should college applicants ensure that their essays are congruent and coherent?

 

SocratesPost: Congruence requires that all aspects of the application align. How does what you say relate to recommendation letters?

SocratesPost: What do you think about students hiring college coaches?

SocratesPost: How do the lessons from putting together a college application apply to your life today?

SocratesPost: Wow. That’s huge. What do you say to parents who are very nervous about the college admissions process and the results?

Stay tuned for the rest of our interview with admissions insider, Elvin, next week!
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