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4 Tips for Finding College Admissions Advice You Can Trust

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Kimberly Asselta

Written by Kimberly Asseltaon April 28th, 2022

I started my career as an admissions counselor at College of the Holy Cross, where I traveled across the country meeting students and visiting high schools. I reviewed and made decisions on approximately 500 applications a year, supervised the admission tour guides, coordinated the transfer process, and served as the athletic liaison for several of the Division I athletic teams including hockey, baseball, field hockey and softball. I joined the Office of Undergraduate Admission at Babson College in 2004. As the senior associate director, I was responsible for all admissions communications, including both print and electronic marketing. I also coordinated staff domestic and international travel, scholarship selection, and the athletic recruitment process.
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by Kimberly Asselta, former admissions officer at Babson College Last fall, after a great essay brainstorming session with a student, I sent him off to write a first draft. A few days later he emailed me to say he had been doing some online research and, according to what he read, we needed to find a new, more unique essay idea. While the topic he’d settled on in our session was one that we generally encourage students to avoid, this student was the exception. He was nationally ranked in his sport and had recently qualified for the junior Olympics, a level of involvement and skill that surpasses most student athletes. And, when you looked at other aspects of his application, this sport was his thing. To get to his level, he didn’t have time for much else, his activity list revolved around this commitment, he had absences on his record due to travel requirements, and there would be a recommendation from his high-level coach that would point to his commitment, leadership, and exceptional skill. Why wouldn’t he choose to share, through his essay, the most important thing in his life with the person making the decision on his application? This story has been repeated many times with other students and families that we support here at Bright Horizons College Coach. They quote what they found online or heard from a friend or coworker and use that information to guide their process. I get it: just last month I searched the internet to diagnose a headache that wouldn’t seem to go away. In just a few seconds I found out I either needed to drink a lot more water or head straight to the ER. We all do it! When we don’t have the answers, or feel nervous and confused, we search for help. In my student’s case, he found generally sound advice that was true for the vast majority of students, but it wasn’t the right advice for him. The college application process can be daunting and almost everyone has an opinion. Some are helpful and some are just…not. So where should students turn for help? Here’s where I’d start. Define your inner circle. And then close it off! I often tell students and families that the college application process is the time to turn inward and tune out the noise around them. Well-meaning great aunts, nosy neighbors, even your peers, should not be allowed the greatest amount of power in your process. Determine just a few people you will allow to have input (parents, a trusted teacher, your college counselor) on your final list of schools, the content of your essay, and other important decisions. Once this is decided, don’t allow anyone else in! Use credible online resources and remember that the advice given is not customized to you. If you are looking for essay advice, check out some official college websites like Connecticut College’s Essays that Worked. Or listen to our podcast, Getting In: A College Coach Conversation. Wouldn’t you rather hear what actual admission professionals are saying about essays rather than only what comes up in a random online search? Which, by the way, I just did and got approximately 180,000 results! Don’t live and die by college rankings. Use multiple resources for college research. Rankings can be helpful in some cases, but they don’t know who YOU are, what’s important to you, and what characteristics define “good” for you. Check out the rankings, but then move on. Official college websites combined with other information from sites like the College Board’s Big Future, Colleges that Change Lives, and Petersons can help you get a more well-rounded opinion of schools. If possible, visit colleges. For campus vibe and feel, we are big fans of official college visits. But we know the last few years have been tough and travel isn’t an option for everyone. If you can’t get to campus, take advantage of virtual visits on school websites, as well as on sites like CampusTours and YouVisit. In the end my student wrote a great essay about one small aspect of his sport and how it has helped him develop into the young adult he is today. It wasn’t a typical “sports” essay about the glory of winning, the agony of defeat, or the devastation of a career-ending injury. It highlighted an essential part of his life and character and his voice was front and center. He was the exception the internet failed to see.

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