Lessons from an Admissions Office

Guest Blogger: Alissa Graff

Alissa Graff, Wow’s summer intern, is about to start her junior year at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. During the school year, she is an intern in Hampshire’s admissions office. Here are some of Alissa’s tips:

  • Be a school investigator. Research each school that interests you. If you apply blindly to schools, the admissions counselors will know. By researching them ahead of time, you can make sure you want to apply.
  • Do your homework. Make sure you know specifically why you are interested in each school. Is it the atmosphere? The way in which academic tracks are selected? The extracurricular opportunities? You can stress your interest in academics, but if the other opportunities are more interesting, let them know. Find something unique. Do you like the debate club, the active Amnesty International presence on campus?
  • Take your essay seriously. They read every word. For the smaller schools, the essay is the center of your application. It is what tells the school why you should attend their school in particular; why you are special and how you would make a good contribution to their student body. At Hampshire, the admissions counselors come out and tell the students who work there (when no outsiders are in the office) about the cool things they discover when reading applicants’ essays. (It is all anonymous, of course.)
  • Highlight passion. It’s a big deal. My brother, who is applying to college now, has been building robots and machines and other trinkets in his bedroom for seven years. He thinks it is insignificant and just something he does. He needs to tell people about his inventions and what he likes to do. They want to know who he is, and who you are. To an admissions committee, that is profound and interesting. Highlight your passions, hobbies and goals in your admissions package, whether in your essay or supplemental packages (videos, portfolios, CDs, short stories, poems).
  • Many small schools have large admissions staffs, and they are able to spend more time reading your applications. Stress why you are different or stand out in every essay. Each of you has a special story to share. Even if you don’t think it’s very interesting, to someone else, it just might be.
  • Ask anything. If you cannot visit the school before you apply, and all of your questions aren’t easily answered by the school’s website, call the admissions office and ask to speak to a counselor. They will be able to answer your questions and can help give you a better idea of what the school is about. No question is off-limits.