I Review Your College Applications, And Hoo Boy Do They Suck
Not getting into your dream college is sort of like sending a long, heartfelt love letter to your celebrity crush, only to be served a year-long restraining order in response. It can be a very humiliating and frustrating experience, mainly because you are never told exactly why your application got rejected. We decided to shed some light on that, so we reached out to Kevin Martin and Michael, who work at the admissions offices of some top American and British universities, and we learned that ...
The Entire Admissions Process Can Be Arbitrary
There are all sorts of reasons why you might be rejected from your first-choice university: the quality of your grades, your lack of after-school activities, the fact you play the guitar when the 7-stringed guqin would clearly had been the better choice. In some cases, though, it might've been down to the admission officer's lunch.
"College admission often isn't fair," Kevin explains. "One thing that irritates me is some universities give the impression that the review of your application is some exact science. It simply isn't. There is a ton of interesting psychology behind admissions review, similar to judicial leniency in the criminal justice system. Judges are more likely to be lenient immediately after lunch and least lenient just before. It's the same with college. The reviewer's mood, internal biases, and all sorts of arbitrary and unknowable factors come into play. It is a human and thus imperfect process almost entirely outside of your control," and that's really underselling it.
"That burrito bowl just isn't sitting right. Maybe I'll feel better if I kill some dreams."
A former admission's officer at an elite Northeastern college admitted that he once failed all the applicants from the city of Buffalo, because he'd recently gotten food poisoning at a restaurant there.
That same guy also said he'd be more critical of applicants if his favorite football team had recently suffered a lost. But for what it's worth, admissions officers like Kevin, who work at top-tier schools with nearly 50,000+ candidates, aren't usually that petty. But with so many applicants, they can hardly give you more than five minutes of their time.
"I reviewed faster than most and averaged 10-12 applications an hour. Sometimes it could be as much as 15-18, so we're talking max 5-8 minutes. These are quick reads, not intended for analysis or feedback like an AP English paper."
"Alright, let's see. Name: 'Chad-' REJECTED!"
Five minutes to determine your future. You better make it stand out, right?
"Creative" Applications Almost Always Get Thrown Out
"A lot of applicants tend to send in a whole load of completely irrelevant stuff that we never have time to read," Michael explains. "Examples include the chap who sent in every certificate he'd ever received since Kindergarten. There was literally a certificate for good finger-painting in there, and he was applying for a Master's degree."
Another student detailed the contents of his grandmother's poop in his application. He included it as proof that his grandma was sick, in hope of getting special dispensation for bad grades, like colleges work on the same rules as Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. They don't:
"He didn't , we just passed it round the office and had a good chuckle."
"What if I overnight an actual stool sample? Would that help?"
Then there was the case of a 15-year-old prodigy who submitted a DVD with his application. "It had a picture of him on the front in his traditional native dress with weird equations all over it," Michael recalls. "It was basically a 45-minute video giving background on him and his life etc, but then it breaks into a weird dance routine, spliced with footage of him doing math in a classroom. It was truly bizarre. He got rejected of course."
Sure, that sounded like cute attempt, but when you're powering through the entire lives of a dozen people in less time than an episode of NCIS, it's just an annoyance.
So what are colleges looking for? To put it simply: Authenticity. It's all about being able to present the most honest and real version of yourself. Provided that self is undeniably awesome.
So basically do the opposite of whatever you do on social media.
Oversharing Will Get You Rejected (With One Exception)
For some people, college is the only chance of escape from the tedious torture that is their life. That's why so many of them mistake their college applications for a confessional.
"I suspect sometimes students write about things they have never told anyone else," Kevin says. "Living with hoarders, suffering from sexual abuse from a family member, suicide attempts, watching their father shoot themselves, cheating on their significant other, drug use, being attracted to a teacher, gangbanging, you name it."
Kevin thinks this may be the result of a generation raised on social media, where dick pics have replaced the handshake. It might also be the case of students searching for an outlet for all their pent up emotions, like a form of free therapy. There's nothing wrong with that, of course. It just doesn't get you into college.
Well, maybe this one.
However, at Kevin's university, there was one exception to that rule: "If you're, say, a 15-year-old kid attempting suicide because your parents won't accept you, or a trans man transitioning at an all-girl's private school AND you're still performing at a high level academically and/or socially? That's very admirable, and it might help you out."
And that's the key: Universities don't want students that define themselves by their worst experiences. They want people who were able to get past them because those students might actually have the strength, the fortitude, the sheer indomitable willpower to show up to an 8 a.m. class.
Bribery And Cheating Never Work
There is a lot that money can buy, including a gold-plated toilet brush, for example. But contrary to popular belief, you can't buy your way into a top university, at least not by bribing the admissions guys. You've got to buy the school new buildings for that kind of quid pro quo. Not that any of this stops people from trying to bribe Michael:
"I have been offered bribes on more than one occasion. Most of the time they try and be subtle, asking if a decision would change if they made a school donation. It wouldn't. However, there was one time when a guy whose daughter was rejected just straight up asked how much he should pay me to change the decision."
If you used that for a tutor, she wouldn't be in this mess.
"A colleague of mine was also, amazingly, offered 10 white camels if this one guy's son was let in. Tempting as it was, we declined."
We can't imagine the kind of integrity it would take to turn down albino dromedaries by the score.
These offers mostly came from foreign students, who come from backgrounds where bribery is just an unfortunate fact of life. That's also why, according to Michael, "something like eight percent of all applications from international students are fraudulent on some level. They try and pull all kinds of shit, from getting a stooge to sit their English exams for them, to Photoshopping their transcripts. But what they don't realize is that almost all the top universities have special teams looking specifically for fraud, and we almost always catch it."
"Those camels aren't even white; he just desaturated the pic!"
"On one dramatic occasion," Michael recalls, "we identified fraud just as the student arrived in the country, and we had to call the border authorities to revoke their visa." This also qualified as visa fraud, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, and surely there must be less risky ways to sneak into your first kegger.
Beer pong isn't going to be as much fun when you have to use prison toilet wine instead.
Please Don't Let Your Parents "Help"
A parent will do just about anything to help their child get into a good college ... even pimp them out to the admissions officer. And you can stop making that face, because this sort of stuff does happen. Kevin explains:
"Once, I received a call from a high-level professional calling on behalf of a family friend's daughter. In addition to ensuring me she is intelligent and a great student, he spent a considerable amount of time talking about how attractive and beautiful she is."
That's as far as the conversation went, but the implication was clear (and super uncomfortable).
"I will let you bang her, I'm not sure if that's getting throu- *click* Hello?"
"Another time, I went to this one school's college fair for juniors," Kevin recalls. "Well, this daughter and mom showed up in matching sequin clothes in university colors. We hugged a lot and the mom made sure I got plenty of pictures with just the daughter. It's the sort of thing that could have been inappropriate if I took advantage of my position, but I didn't, and it was all good."
Not for the girl's self-esteem, obviously, but just, you know, generally.
Don't Try To Blame Your Rejection On Affirmative Action
In 2008, Abigail Fisher applied to the University Of Texas, but was rejected due to, and we're slightly paraphrasing her here, being whiter than a camel. In her subsequent lawsuit against the school, Fisher alleged that she was denied entry to UT because of their affirmative action policy, which dictates that the school must admit a certain number of minority candidates, even if they are less qualified than the white students.
Fisher eventually took her case to the Supreme Court, where she lost, probably because the description of affirmative action we just gave is total and complete bullshit.
Wait, a political hot topic is more nuanced than we thought?
"There are a TON of misconceptions about race in admissions," Kevin told us. "For one, there are no minority 'quotas' and there haven't been since the late '70s thanks to Regents of University Of California v. Bakke. And you can't award points based on race (Gratz v. Bollinger, 2003). You definitely can't admit 'under-qualified' applications above their more qualified white peers. It was established in 1996 in Hopwood v. State," a ruling which actually concerned the very same University Of Texas that Fisher was rejected from.
Affirmative action in college admissions is a purely subjective factor, and according to Kevin "Race is a factor of a factor of a factor and is one data point amongst many when considering the overall context and profile as an applicant. Furthermore, pissed off privileged applicants like to falsely equate affirmative action with promoting diversity on college campuses. There hasn't been affirmative action as popularly defined since Hopwood , but that doesn't stop applicants from arguing against it anyways."
We're starting to think studying is actually the key to getting into college.
Simply put, if you're a white person applying at a college, and you suck, you will almost certainly lose out to a minority candidate who does not suck.
Kevin Martin is a world traveler and writer who guides students applying to the University Of Texas at Austin through texadmissions.com. Contact him at email@example.com and subscribe to his Youtube Channel "UT Admissions Guy." Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a Cracked columnist, interviewer, and editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter.
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