Curated Interview From College Admission Officers (From Reddit’s IAmA)

By Lu


As requested, IAmA college admissions officer, AMA.

  • What are the qualities you look for the most in an applicant? Do they need to be smart, artsy, quirky, or all of the above?

At my school, we do consider consider how a prospective applicant would fit in with the rest of the student body. Generally, this is due to the fact that we are fairly small, and we require everyone to live on campus. Not every student would do well in this sort of living environment. On the whole, we look for students who are intellectually curious, and would be capable of contributing to the academic and social life of the college.

  • A lot of people say that a college essay needs to be quirky or weird to get you noticed. Is this true, or do people also write equally good, yet strictly utilitarian, essays?

It depends on the school. At some schools, they simply want to see if you are able to write at a college level. Being able to write well can definitely set you apart from other applicants, although some students take it too far. The essay is your chance to let us know who you are, and is especially important if you did not interview.

  • How is an admissions decision made? Is it like a board of people who decide together, or are applications allocated to different groups/people who made decisions without input from the rest of the board?

This also varies greatly by school. At my school the applications are read by members of the admissions committee. Each application is read three times, typically by the counselor who is assigned to that particular geographic area, along with two other committee members. Decisions are generally made by the committee, although individual members can state their case if they disagree with the committee’s decision.

  • So basically it’s SAT score and GPA?

No, not at all. We are holistic in our admissions process and honestly SAT and GPA are not the most important factors. We consider rigor of secondary school education, along with class rank, to be the most important factors. We also consider things (in no particular order) such as geographic location, extracurricular, awards/honors, writing sample, interview, LoRs, personality, diversity, and alumni connection. The only factor we don’t really consider is your ability to pay and whether not you would need financial aid.

  • Does your college accept International students? If yes, what are some common issues you find on these applications?

Yes, we do accept international students. Frequently we run into the issue of having transcripts translated, but usually most students know how to deal with this. We have an entire office on campus dedicated to helping international students transition into college life here. The biggest issue is financial, since international students are not eligible for federal financial aid. However, we do offer institutional aid for international students. International students are the only category where we do consider the ability of the student/family to pay in the admissions decision, since it is a major factor.

IamA college admissions officer. AMA

  • What is the overall process of selecting a student for admission at the universities you’ve worked at (from application to acceptance)?

Once a student’s application is complete, I do a first read on the application and recommend a decision, then one of my bosses does a second read and signs off on the application. At my last school, I did the read on the application and would sign off on the final decision unless I wasn’t sure of what to do, in which case it would go to a committee made up of all of the other admissions officers and myself.

  • How can a perspective student catch your attention?

Students who ask a lot of questions grab attention. They have to be good questions, though, not things where you can easily find answers to them on the website. Say nice things to us, we like to hear nice things!

  • What are some major Do’s and Dont’s for college applications and essays?

The number 1 thing is to proofread (not like I did with this post)…lots and lots and lots. Don’t make mistakes in it, at all. Have everyone and your next door neighbor proofread it and spend some time on it. Also, don’t write what you think we want to hear. If I read one more "this is how (fill in x sport) changed my life" or "I look up to (fill in family member) because…" I will tear my eyes out. Be unique, don’t be afraid to be different.

  • How important are extracurricular activities/GPA/Standardized Testing Scores?

In order of importance (different at every school): 1. Grades/Type of classes that you are taking (AP/Honors/etc.)–Usually first 2. SAT/ACT scores 3. Personal Statement 4. (far fourth) extracurricular/recommendations. There’s a common misconception that being super super involved is going to get you into college. Yes, we like to see that you are involved–we don’t like to see people with no extracurricular. BUT, we don’t really care if you are the president of 15 clubs if you have a 2.0 GPA.

  • Any general advice for applicants?

Do the application early, and spend time proofreading. Visit the colleges/unis that you are interested in. That won’t just help you, but we like to see that you visited. Think about why you are actually applying to the school–and make sure they know your reasoning in some way. Just remember that you will need to pick a school eventually, so keep that in the back of your head while you’re doing this whole thing.

  • International Students: How does the weightage of parameters change for international students?

International students are judged pretty similarly to domestic. We care a bit more about your standardized test scores (TOEFL or SAT/ACTS) since we do need something that will compare you to domestic students.

  • International Students: How much does country of origin/study matter?

Country of origin doesn’t matter a whole lot. It doesn’t hurt to be from an underrepresented area, but at the end of the day most countries are underrepresented. At my school, major doesn’t matter a whole lot–but that really differs.

Unfortunately, ability to pay is going to factor in quite a bit more for international students. Not saying it’s fair, but there are many less financial aid options for international kids, so we want to make sure you can afford it.