Admissions Officer Insight: The Person Behind the Application

Students eating lunch at the 2014 National College Admissions Conference at Northwestern University.


Admissions Officer Corner is a series of posts written by college admissions officers at QuestBridge partner colleges

For the 35 QuestBridge partner schools and for many others, we are considering more than just numbers as we make our decisions. We are really trying to understand the person behind the application. While there are many factors that we use to make our decisions, below are three that I find most compelling:

  • Your writing. This may or may not be a surprise, but we actually read your essays! In fact, they play a considerable role in the decision that we end up making. They help us to better understand you. Your passions, your motivations, your drive, and your genuine self. I was on a college panel last month in Atlanta, GA and one of my colleagues made a comment about how students should be “unapologetically themselves” throughout the process. I think this is the foundation of your college essay. Help us to get to know you better. Help us to understand how you will make an impact on our college communities. The quality of your writing is equally as important. We are looking for students who can thrive in our classrooms and the writing samples we ask you for help us achieve that goal. Many schools are also asking for writing supplements or extra writing samples. Please treat those with as much importance as you will for the “main” college essay. Lastly, my boss wrote an amazing piece about essays titled “An Essay about Essays.” After reading this blog, take some time and click on the link. I hope you’ll understand that essays are fun to read because they help us to get excited about people that will eventually excel in our classrooms and take advantage of various opportunities within our community.
  • What you do outside of the classroom. You will spend more time outside of the classroom in college, than you will spend inside of the classroom in college. There will be SO many opportunities to join clubs, organizations, and be involved in your school communities. How do you think colleges figure out how you’ll spend your time outside of class hours? Well, the entire application (obviously), but your list of activities is a really good place to start. Schools that are involved with QuestBridge are looking to build communities where people excel individually and collectively. We strive to provide as many resources as we can for students to find their passion inside and outside of the classroom. As we look at the various pieces of your application, we want to get excited about how you will impact our community. Think about what your life outside of the classroom looks like. How do you spend your time? What do you do with your friends? Are you involved in service or church-related work? Do you play a musical instrument? Are you an athlete? Do you have a job? Do you have a lot of family responsibility? All of the questions above (and many more) should be asked and answered as you begin to fill out the activities page within your application. Colleges care about the involvement that you care about. We can also tell when you’ve joined clubs at the beginning of your senior year just so you can fill up the spaces on the page. Participate in clubs/organizations that you have a passion for and don’t underestimate how much you do outside of school. Remember, if you don’t add something to your list, we may not get a chance to reflect on how that experience will shape our community.
  • Your personality/genuine self. Generally, I would advise that when given an opportunity to present your own voice during this process, take that chance. If colleges use interviews as an evaluative (or informational) tool, try and coordinate with the admissions office. Interviews are typically conversations with admissions staff members, trained current students, or graduates of the particular college. They tend to be conversational in nature and are really helpful to learn more about your interests, both within academics and within your involvement in the community. Most importantly, interviews give you an opportunity to be yourself. Don’t feel pressure to be somebody that you aren’t. Be confident in your experiences and the person you are. Colleges aren’t expecting you to be perfect!
Zak Harris, Associate Dean of Admissions & Director of Travel Planning, Bowdoin College