At our Admissions team meeting last week, I asked what I thought would be an easy question. I figured it would be nice to offer some application tips, and I asked my Admissions pals to suggest things that make them happy when they’re reading applications. Such a simple request! Or not! It turns out I had, instead, opened a big ol’ can of worms.
What I discovered is that, in some areas, our preferences are not in line. Interesting! I always assume that everyone will agree with me! (In a perfect world…) So today’s post will capture the points on which we achieved clear consensus, in hopes that blog readers who are starting or editing an application can benefit. And it isn’t that our points of disagreement result in differing application evaluations. Simply that what has another staffer smiling ear-to-ear may not affect me at all.
The part of the application on which we agree the most is the résumé. We all like to see a nice clean résumé, listing (in reverse chronological order) your professional and academic experience. Different settings call for different résumés, but the Admissions Staff all noted that we don’t need to see special colors, quotes from inspiring leaders, or your list of favorite movies. Stick to the basics and make it readable. (And then chat with me about movies after you’re admitted.) While we encourage you to keep the résumé to two pages, we won’t penalize you if you go over, so please, no teeny-tiny fonts. Check out these posts for more tips on the résumé.
Kristen went further to say that she’s happy when the employment information in the application and in the résumé match up. It’s so much easier to understand your story if you don’t leave us struggling to figure out whether your job lasted one year or one month.
Dan likes when applicants synthesize their interests and note the links between their experiences. It might be clear to you why you went from this to that, but if you don’t lay it out, maybe we won’t see the connection. When we do, we’re happy.
Next, Laurie mentioned, and we all agreed, that you should use the “additional information” section of the application wisely. DO use it to explain why your first undergraduate year resulted in such poor grades, or why your Peace Corps experience ended abruptly, or that you are planning to plug a gap and take economics in the spring. DO NOT use it to explain a single B on an otherwise perfect transcript, or anything else that really doesn’t need explaining and/or could be interpreted as whining.
Liz and I disagreed about what essay structure makes us happy. I personally like to see the applicant’s objectives right at the top. Liz likes when the applicant builds the narrative and states the goals later on. One thing we agree on — if you actually answer the question we’ve asked, your goals will be clear to us after we read the essay.
And speaking of essays, one of my pet peeves is when applicants are obviously using a thesaurus to make random word changes. Instead of, “I walked to the store,” the essay will say, “I perambulated to the emporium.” Sure, the essay is a type of formal document, but it calls for clear, personal writing — not someone else’s idea of fancy words. I try to keep this from being an annual theme, but perhaps I’ve written about it before…. For that matter, the Blog archive includes quite a few essay tips. Make sure your essays work together to tell us your story and to describe your goals, and we’ll all be happy!
Lucas mentioned that he likes when he sees all the information he needs in the transcripts. You should be including documentation of all courses that counted toward your undergraduate degree (and graduate degree, if applicable). We don’t need to see anything else. No certificates. No high school diploma. But we absolutely want to see grades from your semester/year studying abroad or from the first university you attended before you transferred. When all the details are included and clear, we’re happy.
Now that I’ve given you this list of what makes the Admissions team happy, I can also tell you not to worry that some strange unmentioned preference will doom your candidacy. That is absolutely not the case! My experience is that there’s a strong convergence of views on the quality of an application. The matter of our preferences relates more to the pleasure we take in reviewing it. There’s a certain satisfaction in seeing a nice clean application, but it’s the underlying qualities that result in a decision to admit an applicant.