November 2, 2012

Top Five Techniques for Getting Into Your First-Choice College

by Robert J. Moore

Customize your approach.
Applying to college is an exercise in self-promotion. When you send in a college application, you're sending a sales pitch to a customer with thousands of competing offers at its fingertips. It's important that every college feel like they're at the top of your list, so send each one an application that reflects your interest in them specifically. If you take a few extra hours to craft essays and resumes that address each school directly, admissions officers will surely take notice.

Know what they want.
If you look at a school's admissions website or thumb through the mailings they've sent you, you'll probably be left with some impression of what their campus community is like. For many schools, this impression is partly an exaggeration--they want you to apply, so their literature highlights the best of what the school has to offer. Try to fit yourself into the idealized picture they've painted. If you think you'd enjoy participating in the clubs and activities they mention, let them know. If they do student profiles, recognize what you have in common with the featured students and be sure to highlight those qualities somewhere in your application. If a school thinks your presence will help move their image forward, they'll bring you in.

Control Your Letters of Recommendation.
Few students recognize the amount of influence they have over what goes into their letters of recommendation. Just because you're not writing a letter yourself doesn't mean that you have no control over its content. Your letters of recommendation should both introduce new information and reinforce the impression that you've set forth regarding your character. With this in mind, it's perfectly appropriate to let the writer know what you've already told the college and what specifically you hope to see in their letter. In fact, your requests will usually give the writer a solid foundation, making it much easier for them to get started.

Use Every Chance You Get to Self-Promote.
Many students look at personal statements, resumes and essays as time-consuming burdens that do little more than consume their senior years. However, these are the pieces of an application that separate you from the masses. Every application has at least one section that you can take in whatever direction you want without it seeming forced. Identify that section, be it a personal statement or even your resume, and leave it for last. When everything else is done, read the whole application through and make a list of what you wish you'd included but didn't get a chance to say. Then create that final piece, making sure to include all the points you felt you'd missed.

Believe Everything You Write.
College applicants have a tendency to exaggerate their accomplishments and experiences in some way or another. If you find yourself glorifying the things you've done over the past four years, it helps to look back and ask yourself just how much of what you've put down is a reasonable representation of what you've actually done. Try to make sure that everything you advertise about yourself is strongly grounded in reality. Your modesty and integrity will show through to the many admissions offers that can detect tall tales from a mile away.

Robert J. Moore is a Junior at Princeton University and the cofounder of, a website providing practical advice for students involved in the college admissions process. The YesLetter network of students, consultants and contributors spans the Ivy League and many other top-tier universities in the United States.