The College Admissions Game, Part 7: Applications

Stories about caps on the number of Asian Americans admitted to elite universities might make a student applying for college wonder if he or she should check the box for Asian American.  That applicant might balk at applying to many universities given the cost of application fees.   In a previous series, George covered the application process in detail.  I’ll give my opinion and experiences on the application process and also try to cover a few things that I think that he missed.

Checking that Asian American Box and Social Networking

To be honest, when The Daughter and Number One son were applying to colleges and high schools, I really didn’t think about whether or not to check that Asian American box.  Now that I do have time to think about it, I don’t think it is a bad idea to check it.  I do think it is a bad idea to lie about it and say that you are some other non-Asian ethnicity.  For one thing, your name might give away your ethnicity, as can other demographic information like birthplace and and language proficiency.  If there is a personal interview, that can definitely reveal your background.

Also, getting caught could be as simple as typing your name into a Google Images or Facebook search box.  Checking Facebook as part of the application?  Stalking you say?  No matter what you call it, admissions officers are doing it.   I have not heard about selective high schools looking up applicants on Facebook, but I would not be surprised if some do.  This is yet another reason to be careful about what you make public on social networks.

The Recommendation Letter

It’s worth the time and effort to cultivate teachers or other people who know you well such as coaches (Number One Son selected one of his coaches for his high school applications) to write you a good recommendation letter.   One admission officer said at a talk that no one writes recommendation letters saying bad things.  That may be true in many cases, but a letter from someone who can provide insight into you and your strengths and weaknesses is much more effective.

Pick those who will write recommend letters carefully.   The most brilliant student that I have ever interviewed didn’t get in.    When I met a staff member of the student’s school at grant reception and mentioned how brilliant that I thought that student was, the staff members only comment was a terse “very outspoken.”    While I don’t have any definitive proof that this student got bad recommendations because of outspokenness, evidence does point in that direction.

Application costs – Look for Free Ones

The Daughter ended up having a number of free applications, offered by colleges that she was interested in.  While I was very happy that she was on the ball with her applications, it was annoying to have paid for an application and then receive the offer from that school for a free one.  We did manage to get a few for free.    Check out this website for a list of college that offer free applications and under what circumstances they offer applications for free.

The Essay – Don’t Screw It Up

Essays are critical to the application process.  The Daughter feels that the reason that some of her friends with better grades and more activities didn’t get into the colleges that she did was because of personal essays.  She read the essays of some of her classmates and gave feedback, but a lot of them didn’t take it.    Essay help was one of the most valuable services that we got from our admissions consultant.  Some teachers and counselors may also be willing to help with the essay.  Number One Son got help from some of his teachers, unlike some of his classmates who didn’t get into the high schools they wanted to attend.

If you are going to apply to a religiously affiliated college, think about what you are going to write.   One of The Daughter’s friends applied to a Catholic University and wrote about her agnosticism and surprise (well, not really), she got waitlisted.  Also, parents, if you are going to “help” with the essays, give feedback but don’t write them.  It’s usually easy to tell.  I personally stayed out of it this, having The Daughter and Number One Son work with their teachers and counselors and our consultant.

8Asians Guide to College Applications

Here are links to George Chen’s “8Asians Guide to College Applications”:

While there is some overlap within this series, it focuses on the application process.

Tune in for Part 8:  The Interview



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About Jeff

Jeff lives in Silicon Valley, and attempts to juggle marriage, fatherhood, computer systems research, running, and writing.
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