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Friday, January 26, 2007

On taking risks

I love risk takers. I'm impressed by a kid who's willing to go against the grain in their application. During information sessions, I talk about taking risks, especially when it comes to essays. My thinking is that there are three essays on the UVa application and if a student wants to do something wacky or funny with one of them, there are two others to balance that out.

There are, of course, risks that shouldn't be taken. Be thoughtful and clever and you'll probably find the right topic. Some conversations I've had in the last week with my colleagues have prompted me to address the less-than-thoughtful responses. Ones that for some, are offensive. I'm not talking about political or religious essays, as those often give us insight into the student's perspective on major issues. I'm talking about using swears in college essays, something I'm sad to say is gaining in popularity.

I'm sure students think they're taking a risk when they say their favorite word is a swear. Years ago, when I was a rookie, I remember being shocked by one of these essays. They've become more common and illicit only mild annoyance these days. On average, I read one or two "swear" essays a year and the chosen swear is always the same one (no, I'm not going to write it, but I'm sure you can figure out what one). This kind of essay is rarely thoughtful and almost never clever. Risks are good, but use your judgement and stay away from being offensive.

Remember that admission officers aren't all as hip as yours truly (yes, I'm aware hip is no longer in circulation, that was a joke).

I'm curious as to whether there's a generation gap here. What do you think?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

In the most sincere form of flattery inevitable?

I once sat in on a colleague's information session to get ideas for sprucing up my own (we borrow and personalize a lot of what others say in these sessions). At one point, he asked the audience to identify the author of the phrase "sound and fury, signifying nothing". Some people answered that it was a line from Shakespeare's MacBeth and others guessed that it had been written by Faulkner, who published a book in 1929 called The Sound and the Fury.

My colleague replied that Faulkner had borrowed the line from Shakespeare. I guess those who said Faulkner were correct, but those who said Shakespeare were "more correct".

I'll come back to this...

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I spent last night doing what I do every night in January (and February and part of March): reading applications. I came across an essay that almost identical in style to one I read last year; one I read out loud at almost every evening program I gave during the fall travel season during my "you can write an awesome essay" pep talk. I checked the applicant's address and it was in a town where I had given a program.

At first, I seethed. The style and theme were so specific that it'd be silly to assume no one would notice. After a little while, I was more disappointed than annoyed. I remember the frustration of application essay writing. I know that the pressure has increased exponentially since I was applying to schools. Perhaps this poor kid had been desperate to get our attention and forgot where she heard the quirky essay she adapted. I set the folder aside and moved on.

In the morning, I googled a line from the essay and was shocked...both essay styles matched an example given on an application essay advice website. I went down the hall to my colleague and presented the facts. Was this a case of "Sound and Fury"? Were these students just adapting a catchy idea to work for them? Or, was this a case of plagiarism? Should these essays be considered stolen because the starting line and overall theme matched the essay on the internet?

Each time I decide the essays were copied (I go back and forth on this), I think of something I heard years ago during an interview with Billy Joel. He said that there are a finite number of melodies possible and that while that number is high, that someday all "new" music will inevitably be like something that's already been composed. Are we getting to that point with college essays? Even the ones that seem quirky and different are recycled?

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Last Minute Questions (follow up)

The comments on the post below are getting a little unwieldy, so I'm posting some of the questions and answers here.


Q1. How far back in a prospective students record do you look back. For example elementary/middle school awards etc. Thank you. (from Anonymous)

A1. Colleges are only really concerned with the high school record. Of course, if you did something amazing in 8th grade, you're welcome to tell us about it, but by amazing I mean something that garnered national attention. You don't have to tell us that you won the Presidential Fitness Award in middle school. ;)


Q2. Hi, is the extended deadline Friday 11:59pm, or Thursday 12 midnight? (from Jane)

A2. You can read all deadlines as 11:59 PM on the date listed.


Q3. I am a Hispanic female from Texas seeking admission to University of Virginia as a freshman applicant. On your application, I am writing an essay responding to the prompt about your favorite word. My favorite word, quite honestly, isn't actually a word--it's my last name. In my opinion, I wrote a strong essay about why I enjoy my last name and related this to my heritage and the diversity I could offer at UVA. Would this essay be viewed negatively because I did not follow directions and choose an actual word? I am unsure if you can comment on this, but I was just curious. Thank you. (from Anonymous)

A3. We see people take the questions in different directions all the time. No worries about being a little different.


Q4. On the "Deadlines Looming" post, it was mentioned that teachers and guidance councilors have until January 10th to get their information to you. On my Application Status Checking, it says that my transcript has not yet been received. I understand that there's a lot of processing going on and I'm fine with waiting, but the January 10th deadline has me nervous. I mailed my recommendations and transcript and school profile, etc. the last week of December (from New Hampshire). Should I fax another copy of my transcript, etc. down to be sure I make the deadline, or just wait? Thank you very much! (from Anonymous)

A4. Don't worry about anything for at least another three weeks. We'll contact you if there's something missing in your file.


Q5. My son's ED app was deferred. Per your advice on earlier posts, he will be sending new materials that will strengthen his app when it is reconsidered during RD. The most significant additional data piece will be available around 2/9. If all his new info is in by the 2/15 fall term grades deadline, will it receive full consideration when his app is re-read and argued?
Are deferred ED apps held until after 2/15 for "re-review"? Thanks for the help and insight you give to this application process! (from Anonymous)

A5. There's no specific date set for the move from reviewing RD applications to ED defers. In general, that happens in mid-February. I think that having everything in by February 15th, when we ask for all mid-year grades to be in, will be just fine.

If you're asking in reference to standardized test scores, I have to say that they rarely "make or break" an application. ED applications are often deferred simply because we only have information from 9-11th grades and we want to see senior grades before making a decision. Getting the mid-year report in to us is most important at this point.



Just a general note: if you want to be anonymous in your comments, that's fine, but perhaps you should think of a name to make replies a little easier! I believe Blogger allows you to pick a name to put on your comments without registering.

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!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Last minute questions?

If you have any last minute questions about your application, I'll be online at night for the next few days (as late as possible) to answer questions here or on IM (UVaDeanJ). Feel free to comment or IM if you need some help!

DEADLINE EXTENSION

Due to the National Day of Mourning, which has closed the post offices, the deadline for paper applications sent by US Mail has been extended to Friday. The online application will remain open until Friday as well.

We've also received calls from students in China saying that internet access for some has been cut off due to the earthquake that hit Taiwan. We're telling them that their applications will be accepted whenever they arrive. Obviously, they can't read this blog, but perhaps word can spread about this.

I'm sure all schools will be making similar announcements today. Good luck with finishing those applications!