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Fundamental Mistake #5: Failing to Find Liaisons (and Forgetting That College is a Crapshoot)
Colleges are selfish. More importantly, they have very limited resources when it comes to evaluating applications. As a result, they take shortcuts. The most common shortcut:
Colleges eliminate most applications before they’re ever even reviewed based purely on grades and test scores.
If you don’t have the grades and test scores that match a particular college’s expectations, your application won’t even get looked at. Colleges aren’t going to learn all about you, read your essay, watch your DVD, then find out that you have terrible SAT scores. They look at the scores and the grades first as a shortcut. If they don’t stack up, your child has a 0% chance of admission, regardless of how strong the rest of his application is. Unless…..
If you can find a college “liaison,” you’ll get your application reviewed, EVEN IF you don’t have the scores and grades necessary.
I’ll fill you in on what a liaison is very shortly. However, I want to make a quick point:
If you don’t have the grades or scores necessary, you need one heck of a liaison. This is NOT a strategy that you can use unless you already have an extremely well-developed area of expertise. For everyone else, I highly recommend checking out my online SAT and ACT system, Green Test Prep, to begin working on your test scores as soon as possible.
But, assuming that you do have the grades and scores necessary (and I hope you will), there’s still another issue:
COLLEGE ADMISSIONS ARE A CRAPSHOOT
One of my students recently got into Brown, Stanford, and Amherst, but rejected from Duke, Williams, and Dartmouth. Why? At face value, there is literally no explanation.
She was totally qualified for all of the above schools (4.0 GPA, 2280 SAT scores, head editor of her school newspaper, multiple articles published in major US newspapers and magazines, founded a charity for improved literacy and writing skills in her community and helped it to raise over $75,000), yet she still got rejected by multiple schools ranked LOWER than Yale and Stanford on the almighty US News and World Report rankings.
All of these schools have strong liberal arts departments and would love to have a girl like her attend. But she had something going for her at Brown, Stanford, and Amherst that she DID NOT have going for her at Duke, Williams, and Dartmouth: liaisons.
Here’s all you need to know:
If you don’t have someone speaking on your behalf to the admissions committee, you are JUST A NUMBER.
Admissions committees don’t care about you. They don’t have the time or attention to do so. I’m not saying they’re heartless – I’m saying that they have to sort through thousands of applications in a short time period, and they want to get it done quickly and efficiently.
If your application is just a folder full of paper, then that’s all you are to admissions officers.
I don’t care how amazing you are – if there’s no one behind your application, you’re just another stack of papers.
So, whether you have the grades and scores or not, there’s something you should realize right away:
If you can get someone at the school to speak on your behalf, you are going to VASTLY improve your chances of admission.
This is a human process. Humans relate to humans. If someone the admissions officers know, like, and trust pays them a visit on your behalf, it will make a big difference.
My student had the head editor of the one of the above school’s newspapers speak with the admissions officers to this effect:
“Listen, A____ is really great, and it would make a big difference to the newspaper next year if she came on board. Can you earmark her application and make sure to give it an extra look? I’d hate to miss out on her.”
And….voila! She was in. Would she have gotten in otherwise? Maybe. But did she get into every school where she had someone speak on her behalf to the admissions committee? Yes. Did she get rejected from multiple schools without liaisons? Yes.
If you have sub-par scores and grades, you need to have a REALLY powerful liaison.
Certain “inside men” are more powerful than others. My college experience is a prime example. I was an extremely good rower in high school – crew coaches have a lot of sway at the Ivies, and at Columbia and Cornell, the coaches spoke on my behalf with the admissions offices. As a result, I got into both schools even though I had pretty bad grades. I had great test scores, which definitely made a difference, but my grades were not nearly good enough on their own to get me into either school.
Division I varsity coaches, extremely heavy donations, and other “recruitment rods” are the best liaisons in the world. But they’re not easy to get.
Unless you’re a celebrity, a recruited athlete, an award-winning musician/writer, or a highly sought-after minority (this last one is becoming less and less powerful), you won’t be able to secure one of these “mega liaisons.” This means that you probably need incredible grades and test scores regardless of who you have speaking on your behalf. Getting a helping hand is just an extra step that you can take to tilt the scales in your favor.
If you’re the #1 recruited quarterback in the country, you can send colleges a bowl of jello instead of an application – you’ll still get in. For everyone else, listen carefully:
The only way to ensure that college is not a crapshoot is to ensure that SOMEONE is speaking on your behalf to the admissions committee. Who? That’s up to you to find out.
If you’re really into philanthropy, contact the heads of the school’s biggest charity organizations, share your plans with them, and then see if they can put in a good word. If you’re really into computer science, see if you can chat with the head of the Comp-Sci department.
This is why extensive research is so important. If you don’t know anything about the schools to which you’re applying, you certainly won’t know anyone at the schools to which you’re applying, and that’s a big disadvantage. Furthermore, if you make a halfhearted attempt at this, don’t even do it in the first place. Sending a sloppily written email to the head of the Comp-Sci department asking for his help is a joke. Respect his time and attention. But if you find something he’s working on, research it, then sincerely offer your help and ask for more materials to learn more about it, then read the materials, do the work and research, and actually commit yourself to helping him out and demonstrating your expertise, that’s different.
If you give a great interview, and you have your interviewer, the head of a certain department, and even the head of an intramural sports team all go to the admissions office and ask them to give you an extra look, it is an enormous advantage.
Colleges like to maintain that “who you know doesn’t matter.” That is a bunch of rubbish.
Get the grades. Get the scores. Specialize. Then, do your research and find a liaison.
Before we get into the biggest mistake of college applications, there’s another thing I can’t forget to mention that you absolutely MUST not do: Including fluff in your application. For that, we’ll move on to the next section.