I’ve read a lot of advice about college admissions over the past few weeks. While most of it has been good, it’s also left me feeling like we at Peterson’s could do an even better job informing our readers about the intricacies of this complex process. So, I rounded up some application authorities to conduct an in-depth interview. Let’s meet our distinguished panel:
William Harrison Alexander Thompson
Dean of Admission
Bank of Money University
Current Holder of World Records for Most Expensive College and Lowest College Graduation Rate
Dr. Ursula Hoffmeyer
Director of Icthyo-Formicology Department
Associate Professor of Applica-fatigology
Ivan Darlington Ingersoll Oliver Tottingham VII
Rejected from every Ivy League school and three dozen others, some multiple times
Currently barred via restraining order from the campuses of both Harvard and Yale
I sat down with this group of experts to pick their brains on admissions topics, from school selection to submitting finalized applications. Here is a transcript of that conversation; I think you’ll agree it’s some of the best admissions advice ever given in the history of higher education.
Q: How many schools should students apply to?
IDIOT: At least 50. For starters, everyone should apply to the Ivy League, Stanford, Berkeley, MIT, and other elite ones, since getting in there comes down to dumb luck. It’s like buying a lottery ticket. Have you seen their admit rates? 5% or 7% or something – ridiculous! No way those schools review all of the tens of thousands of applications they receive annually and pick the best. No way, no how. Once I snuck into an admissions office at one of these schools. They tried to hide it by labeling the door “Faculty Lounge” – total BS. Before security dragged me out, I saw one of those giant spinning cages they use to draw raffle entries and bingo balls. They must use that to randomly select enough applications to fill a new class, knowing that only accomplished people apply anyway and any group of them will be great. I haven’t hit a winner yet but I’m confident this is my year, since I actually submitted 5-10 distinct applications to all my schools.
Q: How should a student decide if a school is a “good fit” for him or her?
WHAT: There’s one easy way to tell if you’re a good fit at a school. Check how much it costs to attend that institution and then see if you have enough money to pay for at least one semester. That’s all there is to it! The more semesters you or your family can afford, the better fit it is.
Q: Do you encourage students to visit schools before applying to them?
DUH: Absolutely not. There’s nothing colleges hate more than hopeful high school students and annoying parents showing up on campus and asking questions. While some schools say they welcome visitors and even offer campus tours, those are usually led by local homeless people or starving grad students paid to make up information and keep visitors busy without bothering actual university personnel. Don’t visit a school unless you want to torpedo your chance of being admitted. If you must go for some reason, wear a disguise and use fake personal info.
Q: When it comes to standardized testing, do you recommend the SAT or ACT?
W: At most NCAA schools today, from the PAC12 to the ACC and SEC, in addition to smaller NAIA schools like us at BMU, we prefer that students take not only both the SAT and ACT, but also the ISEEU, FML, PSAT, ROFL, SATII – SATVIII, ACT2-ACT9, TNT, WTF, and as many APs as possible. We work closely with ETS, CIA, ACT, NFL, CB, and TSA to ensure accurate score reporting. For the IS community, the TOEFL, ESPN, ELPT, IELTS, LOL, TSE, BRB, and iTEP should be taken ASAP, even if you’ve already taken some MOOCs. Graduate and professional students, including MBA, must take the GRE, DAT, QWERTY, GMAT, YOLO, VCAT, PCAT, MCAT, and WWJD at least once, often several times.
Q: What do you think of the Common Application?
D: It’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to college admissions. This process supposedly rewards excellence – and we’re encouraging students to use a “common” application? May as well submit your packet pre-stamped REJECTED. Students should absolutely avoid the Common App. Even if schools say you must use it, don’t. Instead, submit your app separately entitled something like Excellent Application, Phenomenal Application, or even just Uncommon Application.
Q: Do you have advice for students writing application essays?
I: Your essay is supposed to help you stand out so how you submit it is more important than what you write. After finishing mine, I faxed 1,000 copies to the admissions offices at my target schools. To be on the safe side, I also sent it to a few other fax numbers listed for those schools and mailed in several hundred hard copies, all sealed in their own individual envelopes.
D: Many students take word limits on essays way too seriously. The only reason essay instructions say things like, “500 words, maximum” is because most students can barely write 100 words and adcoms don’t want them to feel bad. To impress, you should write three or four times the max length. Here’s an insider tip: nobody actually reads application essays. Write original introductory and closing sentences and fill in the middle with anything. I recommend Shakespeare because if someone happens to glance at it, you’ll come across brilliantly.
Q: What is the best way to secure a letter of recommendation?
W: Most students ask for recommendations from a teacher or superior. Instead of this tired standard, seek a recommendation from the wealthiest individual you know and who may be willing to help fund your education or contribute to facilities – libraries, football uniforms, administrative bonuses, bribing US News rankers and the like – at your target school. He or she should also include a recent tax return and donation to show you’re serious about attending.
I: Since I didn’t attend class often, I wrote my own recs. Then, I looked up teachers who won teaching awards that year and signed my letters as them. I’m sure they would’ve recommended me but I didn’t want to be a bother. Besides, do you think anyone will ever call your rec writer? If you’re worried, put your phone number under the signature and answer calls in a fake voice as that teacher from when you submit your application until receiving your acceptance.
Q: What’s the most common mistake made by students when applying?
I: The biggest mistake is saying you’re from somewhere common like New York, China, Constantinople, or the USSR. Schools value diversity more than ever today so your best bet is to make up a state or country and list it as your residence. That way, you’ll have a good chance of getting in just so the school can brag that it has a student from Nebraskansas, Montanahoma, Saskatoon, The Democratic Republic of Socialist Monarchy, or something similar.
D: Often, students forget that applying means not only handling your own app, but also sabotaging your competitors. Effective techniques – filling PO boxes with concrete, cutting internet and phone lines around your town, hiring hackers to crash your target school’s application database after your materials are submitted – are severely underutilized today.
W: Most common mistake? For us, it’s forgetting prepayment. If you plan to be at our school for four years, your application should include a check covering eight semesters. You can also pay extra up front if you think it may take you an additional semester or two. I think most universities have similar policies in place today, so don’t forget that check or money order!
Q: Final thoughts or advice?
D: What I would say to every student and parent out there is this: you’re not nearly stressed out enough. Seriously. There is nothing more important in life than applying to college. Nothing. Nada. Zip. This is literally the experience that will make or break your entire future. If you’re getting any sleep, occasionally relaxing or socializing, or not working on backup plans for your backup plans’ backup plans, you need to step up your game. Everyone else is.
W: Remember, checks aren’t the only way to pay for college. Here at BMU, we also accept PayPal, Bitcoins, payday loans, home equity lines of credit, and family heirlooms, especially jewelry and fine furniture. We even have a pawnshop on campus so you can turn excess electronics, tools, and other possessions into college funds. After all, that’s our motto: “If You Can Pay, You Can Stay!”
I: Two words: Hot. Pink. That should cover everything related to your application. Paper, envelopes, ink, font, interview clothes – hurt people’s eyeballs and they’ll never forget you.
* The staff at Peterson’s strongly, strongly, strongly recommends that you cross check the tips given here with information provided on our website, blog, and partner sites. There may be a few… let’s call them inconsistencies, and, while we appreciate the help from this crack team of admissions “experts,” their input is meant to provide smiles and chuckles rather than actionable admissions advice. Though we do wonder what an application filled out completely in hot pink would look like…