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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 11/ 3/2009

What do college admissions officers really want?

By Valerie Strauss

As you sit there filling out your child’s college applications and writing their essays--um, I mean, as you sit there HELPING your child fill out and write their way into college--you probably would love to know what admissions directors are really seeking.

I asked admissions offices from coast to coast and received dozens of answers.

Some of the answers surprised me. I had expected more uniformity in the responses, but, it turns out, different admissions offices are looking for very different things and offer very different advice.

Are colleges, for example, looking for students who are well-rounded, with long resumes of an assortment of extracurricular activities, or young people who have displayed a sustained passion for something?

The conventional wisdom is that years ago it was the former and today it is the latter. The answer, in fact, depends upon whom you ask.

The same holds true for how admissions directors think students should approach their essays, which are the one part of a college application that the student can do entirely on their own.

Most of the time, admission decisions do not turn on submitted essays, school officials say. But perhaps 20 percent of the time they do, persuading a school to accept someone or, instead, to pass on the application.

The next few posts on The Answer Sheet will have questions that I posed to admissions directors and some of their responses.

Here are links to the questions and responses:

Question 1: How to write the college application essay?

Question 2: What should students NEVER write in their essay?

Question 3: Do colleges want well-rounded students or those with a passion?


If you have any questions (not specific to your child) that you would like to see posed to admission directors, please email me.

By Valerie Strauss  | November 3, 2009; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  College Admissions  | Tags:  College admissions  
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Next: Question 1: How to write the college application essay?

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