Applying to College The Application

Find Out What College Admissions Officers Want

Written by CB Experts

What are College admissions officers thinking? How can you impress an admission reader with your application? Parliament Tutors is talking with admissions officers from many colleges to find the answers to these questions. Take the time to find out what is and is not important to admissions to help you create your best college applications.



A special thanks to Dean Douglas Christiansen and Cindy Nash for participating in our Admissions Spotlight Series. Dean Christiansen is currently serving as the and Dean of Admissions amd Vice Provost for Enrollment at Vanderbilt University. Mrs. Nash is currently serving as special assistant to the Dean.

What do you consider the most significant parts of an admission application, the parts which applicants should prepare the most carefully?

While the most critical component of the application is the academic rigor, courses taken, and grades, all parts of the application are important in a holistic admissions process, as we have at Vanderbilt. The student’s essay is also very critical. It is through the essay that we get some insight into the student’s depth and breadth as an individual, not just as a student. Taking a chance in the essay, letting something personal shine through – that is what we need to see.

Is there anything you frequently see on an application that you hope to never see again?

When a student fabricates the details of his/her involvement and leadership in extracurricular activities. While it is important to let the admissions committee know about your accomplishments outside of the classroom, honesty is a must!


Are there any myths about the application process which you would like to dispel?

The most important myth to dispel is that admission is based only on test scores, or test scores and grades. While they are very important, many other factors determine whether a student is admitted or denied.

What advice would you give to an applicant with below-average test scores but significant work experience?

I would encourage any student with low test scores to retake the test, or if they scored low on the ACT, take the SAT to see if that works out better, or vice-versa. Work is an extra-curricular activity, and we realize that in the current economic climate, some students must work to help their families or to be able to afford personal items for themselves. We look at how that job was important in the student’s bigger picture, whether or not he/she is a leader at work, if the student sees the world differently as a result of that job, and how the student may have made the workplace better by being an employee at that business.

Do you frequently have to turn away applicants whom you wish you could admit? If so, what could those applicants do to be admitted?

Many of the students we deny we wish we could admit. At Vanderbilt, we look for reasons to admit, not reasons to deny. With our current standards for admission, and a 16.4% admit rate for Fall 2011, it is a difficult process. If a student is denied, that does not mean they are not qualified – it means they did not fare as well in the competitive pool we are examining. It is important to understand that while most students are qualified, it is the overall profile of each applicant, compared to all the other applicants, that is the basis for our admission decision.

How much faith do you have in the ability of the SAT or ACT to predict success in college?

We have faith in the predictability of the SAT or ACT scores along with other academic measures such as rigor of courses, grades, and high school success. It is a combination of these variables that sets a student up for college success.

What do you look for in a recommendation letter?

A recommendation letter is the teacher’s and counselor’s opportunity to speak about the intangible qualities of their student. We sincerely hope that the teacher will take time to speak candidly regarding the following: intellectual ability and aptitude, reaction to setbacks or criticism, creativity, relative maturity, inquiring attitude of mind, level of engagement, and how this student has made a difference in the classroom and school overall. Most important: what makes this student different from all the other 25,000 applicants we are reviewing, and how this student would make a difference at Vanderbilt.

What trends are you seeing in admissions regarding the preparedness of students for learning at a college level?

Every year we think, “These are the brightest and best applicants we have ever reviewed,” and the next fall, the students are even more exceptional than the year before. Our applicants are very well prepared for learning at the college level, and that proves out over the next four years beyond our highest expectations!



Joseph Fernandez from Parliament Tutors conducted this interview. He is an SAT Tutor with Parliament Tutors. He is alos currently a New Jersey Tutor.

About the author

CB Experts

Content created by retired College Admissions consultants.