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April 4, 2022

3 Minutes Read

Hi friends,

Greetings from San Diego!

After a two year pause, I got married last weekend! It was different than what we originally planned, but I'm so grateful that we were able to celebrate with a small group of family and friends. 

The occasion also made me think about the tricky balance between experiencing incredible joy, and going about regular life, while others in are in such dire situations.  

In one sense I struggle to justify writing about college admissions while war rages in Ukraine. In another sense, however, it feels important since the selective admissions process requires considering timely and timeless aspects of our humanity that are intimately related to this war.

Becoming a truly savvy college applicant is predicated on democratic values including the desire to actively learn about the world around you, distinguish between sources of information, develop self-awareness, and understand the power of stories.

Those of us far away from the fighting can provide immediate support in different ways (2 Harvard freshman are matching refugees with hosts), but long term we all can, as Gandhi said, "be the change we wish to see in the world." 

I love meeting ambitious students with big plans and if they ask, I usually give this advice: start now. Don't worry about getting into college to make an impact; start making an impact and then use your education to further it.  Think about it like this and selective colleges will be inspired to support you.

Peter and I are at a conference in California, but as always, if you have a question you'd like answered, just hit reply and let me know. If you want to share this newsletter with friends, you can use the link toward the bottom of this email πŸ™.


Here's what I want to share this week:


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✍️ College Essay Gold
Ernest Hemingway once said, "There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." Like him, most students face the tyranny of the blank page (screen) when beginning their personal statement.
It's true that choosing a topic that aligns with your overarching application strategy (your "Genius Zone") is a difficult step, but starting to write doesn't need to be as painful as Hemingway implies.


⚑ Admissions Insight: To be successful, you need to understand that writing a compelling essay is a process. This is worth repeating: writing a compelling essay is a process.


πŸ”₯ Strategic Action: Don't let yourself get paralyzed by wanting to have the perfect topic nailed down before beginning to write. Use your character strengths and core values to generate ideas and accumulate content. Here's how


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πŸ“Š Return of the Required 

While most highly selective colleges are continuing a "test optional" (or test blind) policy, MIT is bucking the trend. I understand Freud's insight about repression, but it's surprising that standardized testing has returned to MIT
According to MIT's dean of admission, Stu Schmill, the decision to require an SAT or ACT score from all future applicants was made to help build "a diverse and talented class." That reasoning doesn't pass muster with me.
On the other hand, if they are not excited by the influx of applications from students who have little chance to be successful and thus inadmissible, then requiring scores should reduce some of those apps. In other words, it isn't in the interest of their ranking that they are making the move. Bravo to that at least. 
Elsewhere in Bean (America's College) Town....
Besides MIT and Harvard, Tufts and Northeastern now have single digit admit rates. Tufts has noted that 50 percent of their applicants submitted test scores and 60 percent of their admitted students submitted. Here's more data on their incoming class.
Northeastern, infamous for gross manipulation of its US News ranking, has received 91,000 applications for the 2,500 spots in their freshman class. The co-op program is excellent, but there also seems to be a pretty big bandwagon effect happening... 
Maybe in the future Boston College will join its illustrious neighbors, but for now their admit rate will stay in the teens and, just in case you're wondering, BU's is now at 26 (exactly the same as Dartmouth's 1992). 
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A few more things...


  • πŸ“« Bad Recommenders: Letters of recommendation are one of the least understood aspects of a college application. Considering asking the congressman your uncle knows to write for you? Don't! Choose recommenders who know you well (particularly how you think). Check out what several deans of admissions have to say about LORs. 
  • πŸ‘“ In Your Eyes: It's often said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It is  rarely said, however, that "Appreciation of Beauty" is a character strength you can actively cultivate. Colleges are interested in what you find beautiful and why. Use the VIA guide to help you reflect.
  • 🌿 Oh, MG ColumbiaMalcolm Gladwell, one of the most astute observers of our college admission system, weighed in on Columbia's manipulation of data to move up in the U.S. News rankings. I don't pull any punches, but Gladwell eviscerates both Columbia and the U.S News rankings that encouraged them to cheat.  Read his critique here.


And I'll leave you with a reiteration of the Gandhi quote from above and an image illustrating 15 elements of your character that colleges ask your recommenders to evaluate you on. 

πŸ—£οΈQuote: "Be the change you wish to see in the world."  - Gandhi


πŸ“Έ Image: Grades, test scores, and the activities on your resume are important, but it is ultimately the stories told about your character that will distinguish you.