By: April Pickens, student author
For those of you who are still applying to colleges that have late or rolling admission, don’t apply just yet! Read this article first. Trust me, you will thank me later, and then again when you get your acceptance letters.
Having been in your shoes, I decided to take initiative and help my fellow students out by interviewing Todd Iler, the Senior Assistant Director of Admissions at Purdue University, to get a better idea of what Admissions Counselors are looking for when they examine your applications. Please keep in mind that Mr. Iler is speaking from a Purdue perspective; however, his advice can also be applicable to many different schools.
1. GPA Isn’t Everything
One thing Hollywood has blown out of proportion is this belief that if your GPA is not “average” or higher, you will not get considered for application. This horror is what kept me up some nights, because my math grade ALWAYS tanked my GPA (I’m more right-brained, okay?!) However, for most schools, this is simply myth, one that both Purdue and Mr. Iler agree with: “There are thousands of high schools around the United States now, and somehow every single one has figured out how to calculate GPA just a little bit differently than everybody else. So, what I would say that we focus on more are the actual letter grades, and the strength of the curriculum… We look at students in the context of their environment, so what their school had to offer to them.
2. What should you NOT put on your application?
This is a tricky question, according to Mr. Iler. “There’s almost nothing, because anything can be made relevant with context. But, I would say… you don’t want to share something that is only negative, that there’s not positive spin on it, in a sense. Sometimes people say there’s something as being too truthful, and while there is certainly some truth to that, you have to think about what you’re sharing with the Admissions Committee.” So that time you tee-peed the school’s Main Office? Yeah, I probably wouldn’t include that on your application, even though for you that might be a personal victory.
3. How can you stand out from the crowd?
Admissions Counselors read HUNDREDS of college applications per day, so how do you make yours stand out from the rest? According to Mr. Iler, think about things you have done that are specific to your major that aren’t just necessarily inside the classroom: “We not only look at students from the context of where they are coming from, their environment, but also through the lens of the major they’re focusing on… just kind of boiling down the major to its essence, if you will, of what matters most- what skills matter most to this. And when you see somebody who all these examples are lined up, it’s like, wow, everything they’re doing is really pointing towards “I’m a future engineer,” or “I’m a future creative writer.” It’s those kinds of things that stand out the most on an application to us.”
4. Is there such thing as telling too much about yourself on your application?
Should you really talk about the time you went to Karate camp for a summer? In short, yes, you can. Talk about what skills you learned that summer (other than a sick age-zuki), and how that has helped shape you as a person. As Mr. Iler said, much more eloquently, “I don’t think you can go over the top with, “Man, I told them too much stuff,” because, from an applicant’s view, you never know what may carry more or less weight from the people on the other side of things, and so you want to do the best job of representing yourself and everything you’ve accomplished.”
5. Are the essays REALLY that important?
YES. And I’m not saying this just because I’m an English major (but I might be a little biased). The essay (or essays) is really the place for you to tell the Admissions Committee about yourself, about who you are as a person. The application you fill out assigns numbers and skills, but the essays help complete the picture. “I would say that an essay is incredibly important, because it’s one of the few areas, for our application process, where you have a free response area where you can not only tell us any story you want to tell but share any information that you want to share. It’s where we get a sense of somebody’s personality, of what their life has been like, and that stuff matters to us… I also say it’s important because your application is kind of like a puzzle piece. Yes, you have your test scores, and your grades, but you also have what you’ve been involved in, and the essay is a huge part of that.”
6. Last minute advice?
After learning so much from Mr. Iler (information I wish I had when I was applying to schools), I had just had one last question left: What last piece of advice do you have for us? He did not disappoint: “I think, for anybody going through the college admissions process, step one is to do things early… The sooner you start with us, the sooner we start communicating with you, and there’s so many variables that come into play and things that you might not think about that we’ll let you know about that you didn’t realize that you needed to do. And step two, I think, you know, as we just said, don’t be afraid to share too much. Share a lot… Knowing who you are and the things that you’ve done and what you’ve been through is a positive thing on your application.”
April Pickens is a senior at Purdue University, and has been writing short stories since the age of three, so it’s probably a good thing that she is majoring in Professional Writing! She plans to work in publishing and editing, and knows that this experience will further the skills she will use in future jobs and opportunities. As an intern with My College Navigation Hub, she looks forward to sharing her collegiate experiences with others (even the mistakes and slip ups), and hopefully helping students make their college years the best they can be!