How should our students prepare for the college admissions process?

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The sage advice “be yourself” is now being echoed by college admissions officers across the country. Too many formulaic and passionless personal essays are leaving top-tier colleges and universities disappointed. The class of 2009 was expected to be the most highly qualified yet, but the run-of-the-mill “professionalized” applications were viewed as too perfect and robotlike to get to know the students, leading to a difficult admissions year. Admissions officers advise that not allowing a student’s personality to shine through during the application process is making the entire process fall short. They are calling for students to quash the desire to over-polish their applications or allow parents or other admissions consultants to “spin” the application beyond personal recognition, essentially leaving the student and the student’s personality out of the process entirely.

Admissions officers cite the lack of authenticity and sincerity to overanxious students and parental meddling that leach the soul out of an application. Also, an over-polished application is not the only problem admissions officers are seeing in the application process this year.  Another issue is that students are not taking the time to find the school that best accommodates their needs. The growing number of highly competitive high school students vying for selective early-decision spots is setting aside the idea of a “good fit” and settling for the biggest name school that gives them the fastest decision. Another symptom of the overzealous application includes the actions which some admissions officers are now calling, “admissions stalking,” during which the candidate and/or candidate’s parents barrage offices with calls, letters, and visits. The overbearing student and their parents wear on the nerves of the admissions staff, but to no avail, as many have gone on record as saying no such efforts have any bearing on the applicants’ enrollment status.

The best advice admissions officers have to offer applicants looking to move ahead of the pack is for the student to add their personality back into the application process. Picking essay topics that interest the student and not writing an essay based on what parents and counsellors think the school wants to hear offers admissions officers a look into who the applicant really is. In addition to picking essay topics that are individually inspiring, advisors encourage prospective students not to be afraid to take risks in their overall applications. At the end of the day, colleges are looking for people that will best enrich the campus community with skills and traits that will set them apart and help develop the school as a whole.  Thus, the application process should be one of growth and development, as each student finds their niche university – a place where they can prosper, belong and most importantly, be themselves.

About Ellen Richards

Ellen Richards founded Ellen Richards Educational Services, Inc. in 2004. She attended Dartmouth College and ultimately graduated with a degree from Wellesley College. After assimilating into the corporate world, Ellen resolved to follow the passion ignited during her own journey to finding the right college. She subsequently completed graduate coursework for Masters Degrees in both College Counseling and Child and Adolescent Literacy at Loyola Marymount University. For twenty years, Ellen collaborated with the Wellesley College admissions office. While on campus she dedicated herself to recruiting students who found their niche at the college. After graduation, she served as the Wellesley College Los Angeles Admissions Liaison. Interviewing countless students and reviewing a myriad of college applications provided Ellen with the expertise to support students on the complicated journey to admission to college. Her deliberate and strategic approach yields excellent results. As a result of her diligent research on changing trends in college admission, Ellen remains well acquainted with the intricacies of admissions at colleges and universities throughout United States. Her experience with every facet of college admissions enables her to successfully guide hundreds of families through the college admissions process. Ellen’s tireless commitment to excellence and maintaining the highest standards of integrity is proven by the number of satisfied students who gain entry into the college of their choice. Ellen was recently named a “college admissions expert” on, a site which utilizes the expertise of only the top college counselors on the country. In addition, Ellen serves as the Los Angeles College Bound Expert for, and regularly contributes to NextStep Magazine and Center for Student Opportunity online community. Ellen is a member of the National Association for College Admissions Counselors (NACAC), the Western Association of College Admissions Counselors (WACAC), the California Association of School Counselors (CASC), the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), the Overseas Association of College Admissions Counselors (OACAC) and the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA). Most recently the Feminist Majority Foundation elected Ellen as a member of the Board which oversees the implementation of Girls Learn International (GLI), an organization that seeks to engage students about human rights and universal girl’s education.