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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

How admission rumors gather steam

Admission officers around the country, from deans to rookie counselors, become mail room employees at this time of year. I always found the ritual amusing...everyone gathers staplers, highlighters, paper clips and date stamps and sets up shop in some spot in the office that's not quite big enough. At one school, it's a beat up table in the back of the office. At another, it's the nice conference room that's usually reserved for staff meetings. At another, it's the floor. Regardless, we're surrounded by US Mail crates crammed with envelopes from all over the world. We take our orders from an office manager as we relearn how to open the mail (it's more complicated that you'd expect!).

This year, I made the smart decision to sit at the end of our conference room table closest to the Parke Muth, who is oversees the international admission process. Most people shy away from opening the envelopes from DHL (that obviously hold international applications), but those people don't realize that the most interesting supplements arrive in those envelopes. Surprisingly popular, especially in China: "introduction" books that look surprisingly like the viewbooks we send out. They appear to be professionally produced, with book binding, action shots of the applicant at school, work, and play, and copy talking about the applicant in the third person. They're pretty amazing.
Let me take a "time out" and say that by no means am I advocating submission of elaborate supplements with applications. An art supplement is the only real "extra" we want to see. Anything that arrives in a binder or special folder is immediately yanked out and stapled along with the rest of the credentials. The person who reads the application won't see how the documents were presented.
Seeing all those introduction books had me thinking back to the fall, when juniors were stuffing resumes in my hands at college fairs and high school visits. When I quizzed Parke about the source of the books, he surmised that there was a website somewhere telling students that this was how they should apply to schools in America. Apparently, this is as big a business in China as in the Unites States. One Chinese student wrote a book about getting in to Harvard and made millions. Another person wrote some sort of instruction book for visa interviews and likewise, made millions (by the way, the advice was bad and many had their visa requests turned down).

I'm frustrated by the number of "experts" out there who post information on the internet as if it were gospel. I imagine that some of these people make money, but I wonder if others derive satisfaction at being regarded as "all knowing". The internet "experts" are here to stay. I just hope students and parents don't start paying more attention to them than to the colleges!