There’s the adage, “Nice people finish last.” But in highly selective college admissions, nice people actually quite often finish first by earning admission to their dream schools. It’s something we’ve been saying for years: niceness matters in college admissions. How a college applicant presents herself on her application matters big time and even the smallest things that may seem inconsequential to a college applicant can have a major impact on her case for admission. Maybe it’s a word or two in the Personal Statement or a supplemental essay that comes across as pompous. Maybe it’s how an honor is presented in the Honors section of the Common Application. Maybe it’s a line a teacher writes in a letter of recommendation. It all matters. Every last word.
Misconceptions About Niceness In Admissions
Many students (and especially their parents) think that they’ll come across as nice to admissions officers at highly selective colleges by showcasing lots of hours of volunteering. Maybe they volunteered for 350 hours this year! Whoot! But let us be very clear, volunteering for many hours does not impress admissions officers at our nation’s most elite schools — nor does volunteering simply for the sake of volunteering. Trigger the shoulder sag, we know! That soup you served in a soup kitchen, that animal you took care of at a shelter…it’s all great for the sake of humanity. You’re making the world better. It’s just not going to improve your odds of admission to highly selective colleges because 1.) these activities are so commonplace on college applications and 2.) they read as though you’re trying to impress admissions officers by showcasing what you think they want to see. But that’s not what they want to see.
You don’t need to volunteer to come across as nice. You don’t need to volunteer to serve your community or the world, to make your community or this world a better one. But bragging in a college essay, touting your accomplishments, grade grubbing to a teacher (which can be subtly or overtly referenced in a recommendation letter) — well, that all makes a student present as not nice, as unlikable. And that can undoubtedly torpedo an application.
Easy to Spot the Not Nice Applicants
When students and parents first come to us after facing rejection from colleges, these small things on the applications that serve to present them as not nice are often one of the key factors in the outcome. And, in almost every case, the students and parents were oblivious to how these small things could have so negatively impacted these applications. In fact, sometimes, we can even sometimes conjecture before we glance at the applications that these students presented to admissions officers as not exactly nice. How, you ask? When they fill out our form on our website, there’s a comments section at the bottom. When the student brags about his achievements at the bottom and openly wonders why a university could possibly deny him admission (the chutzpah!), well, chances are this student presented in a similar fashion on his application. Oh, and if a parent writes similarly about a child, well, as that particular adage goes, “The apples doesn’t fall far from the tree.”