— Prove Interest —
Fundamental Mistake #4: Not Proving Interest in the Schools to Which You Apply
When I applied to college, I got into both Columbia and Cornell, two Ivy League universities. However, I also got rejected by multiple schools that weren’t in the top 50 US universities.
How does that happen? How did schools so much “worse” than Columbia reject me while Columbia and Cornell let me in?
ANSWER: Because they didn’t think there was even a 1% chance that I’d attend.
Colleges are selfish. They care about their statistics and their rankings, and they care about them a lot.
Arguably the most damning college statistic is a bad ratio of admittees to attendees!
Why is Harvard Harvard? One reason is because they reject practically everyone who applies. They’re very selective, and selectivity is one of the most important college metrics. It’s also the one that everyone seems to focus on. But there’s another incredibly important ratio that no one pays attention to:
Admittees / Attendees
If this number is too large, college rankings will drop. Additionally, it’ll cause massive administrative headaches for the college.
Think about it – if a school lets in 10,000 people, and 5 of them decide to go, what does it say about the school? That it stinks, that’s what. Harvard is Harvard not only because they let in very few people, but also because almost everyone they let in attends. Schools avidly try to avoid letting people in who they don’t think will attend. Therefore,
IT IS YOUR JOB TO MAKE SURE THAT EVERY SCHOOL YOU APPLY TO THINKS YOU’LL GO IF YOU’RE ACCEPTED
Even if you’re a really strong applicant, no school will let you in if they think it’s obvious that you won’t be going.
In my case, I was a nationally ranked crew recruit with near-perfect SAT scores coming from one of the top prep schools in the country. I knew nothing about the “lower tier” schools I applied to, didn’t make mention of them in my applications, and never went for visits. Guess how likely they thought I was to attend? And guess what happened?
Again, let me repeat: if you don’t sell your desire to go to a school, they’ll reject you out of pure self-interest.
A lot of people are “me, me, me” on their applications, and in many ways, that’s a good thing – if you’re not selling yourself, you’re not going to get in. However, that’s not enough. You also have to be “you, you, you” when it comes to the colleges you’re applying to.
Think about it: if lower-tier colleges are rejecting qualified applicants, imagine what top-tier colleges will do if they “smell a rat.”
Proving your interest is simpler than you might think. All you really need to do:
A) Research the school. Learn about it. Figure out a bunch of specific reasons why you want to go to THAT school (and no, “you’re ranked well in US News and World Report” does NOT count as one of these reasons). If you don’t have a list of specific reasons why you want to go to a school, why are you applying in the first place? Please remember my earlier advice: spending four years somewhere just because of its name is disastrous.
B) If possible, visit the school and interview there. Interviews go a long way toward this cause – if you interview with a school, the school sees you as more of a person and less of a number. Additionally, the interview is a good time to sell your desire to go to a particular school. You’re automatically in a position of believability – you’re on their campus, and you’re therefore proving that they’re not just a random line item you picked out of a hat. Additionally, it’s the time to get across your enthusiasm, praising the incredible things you’ve just seen while visiting.
C) Use the college’s supplementary essays to hint that the college is the right fit for you. Are you a business fanatic? Does the college you’re applying to have a great business program? Perhaps, in your “one thing I’d do to change the world” supplemental essay, you could talk about leveraging that school’s business program to reach out to underprivileged kids and help them to start their own businesses.
Are you a big artist? Does the school you’re applying to have an art program? Then in your supplemental essay on “a person who influenced me,” perhaps a notable artist graduate of that school might be in order?
You get the idea.
If you use your supplemental essays well, and if you’re able to pass along your enthusiasm in your interview (most colleges allow for out-of-state interviews, so you don’t necessarily need to travel far to arrange one), you stand a much better chance of getting in.
Also, this ties back into something we discussed earlier:
The ultimate “red flag” for most colleges: You aren’t a good fit.
Remember Deadly Sin #2 (not picking the right schools for you)? Well, if you apply somewhere that’s clearly not a match, you’ll be in the rejection pile in a heartbeat.
If you pick the right schools (schools that match your unique capabilities and interests) and if you convince them that you’ll go if accepted, you’re starting to do things right.
However, even if you follow the above four tips, there are still some big mistakes that you can make. One of them has to do directly with the idea of “lack of research and interest.”
Let’s flip to the next page to learn a more “advanced tactic” that can make or break your application.