Guidance counselors often say that students need a “hook” to attract the attention of colleges. It was probably inevitable that someone would take that advice literally. Mark Hatch was reading applications for Bates College in Maine one weekend a few years ago when he became intrigued by a student’s essay about fishing. Turning the page, Mr. Hatch felt a sharp pain — and realized that the student had attached an actual hook.
After a trip to the emergency room and several stitches, Mr. Hatch finished reading the essay. Now a vice president at Colorado College, Mr. Hatch has the scar to prove that he did, in fact, admit a student with a hook.
As I wrap up these glimpses at the frenzied month of October, I’ll share a few mishaps and bloopers from applicants. Many of my favorites, sad to say, have to do with over-involved parents. Like this one: The University of South Carolina noticed that a boy had plagiarized a speech by Senator John McCain. The father protested, saying his secretary had typed all the essays and put them into the electronic application, so the boy should not be penalized. The father explained that his son hadn’t gotten around to proofreading and adding citations for the McCain material. “The new defense for plagiarism is to blame your dad’s secretary?” says Scott Verzyl, assistant vice provost for enrollment management at South Carolina, who adds that the boy was rejected.
Some readers have asked why I take a less-than-serious approach to subjects like interviewing. The answer is simple: Families of high school juniors and seniors need to lighten up. Too many make the college quest too stressful. Applicants are not being grilled by the board of directors for that one-in-a-million chief executive position. Instead, they are teenagers trying for a spot at a school. And from what I’ve seen, most of those who end up at their third- or fourth-choice school are soon elated to be there.
This college application business is out of control. Take a look at the waiting room at the admissions office of Gettysburg College. Several times a year, applicants show up dressed for Civil War re-enactments because they assume the college is obsessed with the war. The admissions office says those in costume get no edge, by the way. Maybe the applicants should go back to their history books. Quite a few essays refer to Gettysburg being in Virginia or Maryland. For the record, it’s Pennsylvania.
That brings us to proofreading, always a topic of conversation in admissions offices. The staff of Stevenson College in Maryland was moved by a student’s memories of being a Big Brother, even though he repeatedly spelled it “Big Bother.” Barnard College was puzzled by an applicant who kept referring to her enthusiasm for the “Peace Core.” (If she was that gung-ho, she probably would have known how to spell “corps.”)
Another sent in an application with a yellow sticky note that said, “Mom, what do you think about this answer?” Oooops. And a third, responding to the question that asked why she was interested in Barnard, forgot to polish her answer. “Insert stuff from viewbook, blah, blah, blah,” she wrote.
Kristen Collins, who works in the admissions office of Adelphi University on Long Island, reads more than 30 essays a day. She has found that too many students thank their mothers for being such great “roll” models or lament the loss of their best “fiend.” Ms. Collins reads essays about students’ determination to be world-class architects, which fails to dazzle a university with no architecture program. Recently, she’s seen a spate of cute essays that draw on the shorthand of texting. That’s become a cliché.
Her advice: “u shud reale b careful wit ur spelling.”