Category Archives: Advice

The Essay

Perhaps the most elusive part of a college application is the essay. “The essay,” or the Personal Essay as it’s officially titled on the Common Application, is different than most. There is no required reading, no maximum or minimum number of quotes to be used, no textual or numerical analysis necessary. Make no mistake about it, writing this essay takes hard work. I have memories of writing and re-writing drafts of my own college essay. More than anything else, I remember my frustration when my counselor told me to start over (twice) after I handed in two different drafts that, quite frankly, I thought were excellent essays. The draft of mine that she ultimately supported was one that I cared very little for at first; then, as I put more and more of myself into it, that topic, too, became my favorite.

What should I write about? What are the do’s and don’t’s of college essays? These are questions that everyone in our office has heard more than once. It’s only natural to feel challenged by the essay, but the single most important do is to let who you are come through in your writing. The main don’t? Avoid writing an essay that you think an admission officer wants to read. Submitting an essay that says very little about you, while trying to impress us, is a hazardous move. Instead, consider what the intrinsic elements of YOU are. (Hint: your transcript and test scores won’t help us much with this!) Use these few pages of writing to give us an additional window into you as a person. This might come in the form of writing about a success, a failure, a mentor, a hobby, a location, an event…and there are many more topics out there! Be thoughtful with your writing–have a teacher or another individual you’re close to read it over. But let your voice come through in style and vocabulary; this is your writing, and no one else’s.

And know, that ultimately, this is just a piece of the puzzle. We have a holistic view of applications for a reason: you are more than just your writing, or your test scores, or your GPA. It’s the real, live people who make this community what it is.

The Early Decision I Application Deadline Draws Near!

Many of you prospective students out there are likely editing, re-reading and putting the finishing touches on your application to Whitman this week. Thursday, November 15 is our first admission deadline of the season, and it is one of two opportunities that students have to apply to Whitman prior to our Regular Decision deadline (Jan. 15). (Coincidentally, November 15 is also my birthday; I like to brag that I receive more “presents” on my birthday than anyone else I know!) Choosing one of these two Early Decision opportunities, the second of which is January 1, is a great option for the student that knows Whitman is their first choice; it’s important not to confuse these deadlines with Early Action (a non-binding decision).

Given that the Early Decision I deadline is a mere week away, I thought I would take a moment to discuss some important reminders.

1) Financial Aid: Remember that if you are applying to Whitman ED I and applying for need-based aid, you will also need to submit the CSS Profile by November 15. (The FAFSA, the second form that we require, will not be accessible until January 1.) All students who receive financial aid will be notified of their aid packages along with their acceptance letters in the mail, so students need not be concerned that applying early means that they won’t be able to receive merit or need-based aid from Whitman. In fact, the package that a student receives for an Early Decision deadline will be the same package that he or she would have received for Regular Decision. However, Regular Decision can often be the better fit for families that want to rely on the opportunity to compare financial aid packages from different schools.

2) You can expect to receive a response from us by December 21. Given that our Early Decision options are binding, one benefit to choosing this route is that you’ll know where you stand only about a month after submitting your application.

3) The application, of course! Make sure you proofread your application. Ask someone–a parent, a counselor, a teacher, or another individual you’re close to–to read over your essay and supplement; sometimes they may catch something you didn’t see yourself! If you have any questions about the Common App or Whitman Supplement, don’t hesitate to give us a call.

Best of luck, students! We look forward to reading your applications (and thanks in advance for making my birthday a special one).

How to Choose a College

There is barely a week to go until the May 1 deposit deadline and the office staff has really enjoyed working with the hundreds of you who have visited campus or met us at receptions across the country this month. We know many of you are still undecided, so I’ve compiled some words of advice from our staff:

Katie: “Ask yourself these questions.  At which school was I the most at ease?  At which school did I find conversations with students the easiest?  And lastly, if one college were to call you today and offer to fly you to campus for free next week, which would you be the most excited to return to?  You’ve done a very thorough job in this college search process.  Trust your gut.”

Robert: “Trust your heart! Reflect back on your campus visits and chose the place where you connected with the student body, faculty, and staff and where you felt most ‘at home’. Chose a place that is going to push you inside and outside the classroom and will provide you the opportunity to grow into the person you aspire to be. “

Esther: “Look at the course catalog of the institutions you are considering. Which ones make you the most excited?”

Bruce: “Ask yourself these questions: Where could I see spending the next four years? What was it about college x that makes me feel it’s the best fit?
What do I want from my college experience/education? Does x college provide that? Can I/my family handle the financial obligations? Was the student atmosphere engaging?”

Josh: “If a place fit and you loved the classes, people or vibe, let that weigh strongly. Don’t pander to media antics. And no school is worth $30,000+ in student loans for undergrad.”

John: “Enjoy the view from my office:”

Promoting Failure

The inevitable, glorious deluge of applications is upon us! Reading between 6 to 8 hours a day of applications three to four days a week is a brand new experience for me, and intense in a rewarding sort of way even for the most seasoned admission officers. You can correctly assume that it’s hard to find the motivation to read much else–I certainly don’t have any plans to finally start War and Peace anytime soon–but we officers are mustering up enough energy to read, of course, college admission related news articles.

One of my favorites that was sent around the office this week was this article entitled “Want to get in to College? Learn to Fail,” by Angel B. Pérez , the Dean of Admission and Financial Aid at Pitzer, on the importance of failure as it relates to teenagers’ growth in all areas of life and the college application process. Our entire staff loved it, probably because of its relevance to our own lives right now as we comb through hundreds of Common Application resumes and essays trying to decipher who belongs at Whitman next year. The gist is the importance of failure to development and that admission officers actually often rejoice when they find acknowledged and discussed imperfections in applications. It’s a great, quick read; go check it out, especially all of you who will be writing admission essays and interviewing with your dream colleges in the near future.

Opportunity for Application Advice & Admission Update

As high schools and colleges across the country release students for winter break, it truly becomes crunch time for finishing college applications (remember, the postmark deadline is January 1 for Early Decision II and January 15 for Regular).  Next week, in an effort to help seniors complete the strongest application possible while minimizing stress, The Choice, the New York Times blog on admission and financial aid in higher education, is hosting a live Facebook chat with three expert college counselors from across the country. A different counselor will take questions and offer advice Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings.  Find out the details here.

Early Decision letters will be mailed next Monday morning, and students may view their status online at midnight Monday night. Thanks again for being such fantastic applicants! We are excited to welcome the first members of what promises to be another absolutely spectacular class of Whitties!

A few words on the Supplement

Isn’t the Common Application great?  All those schools you can apply to in one shot, it makes the college application process so much less daunting.  While this is true (to an extent) many of you are thinking, or maybe yelling out loud, “What about all those supplements?!?”  Aghh, the bitter sweetness of only needing to type your counselor’s e-mail address, Freshman extracurricular activities and expected spring schedule once.

Supplements are personal, they ask probing questions and they require thought and time.  Maybe right now in the middle of December you don’t feel like you have much of either to spare.  I encourage you to dig deep.  These questions are asked for a reason and they are important.  Trust me, as much as you do not want to write a meaningless essay, my colleagues and I do not want to read them.  Yet, year after year we keep asking the questions, because they are important.  We want to know these things about you, in the case of Whitman: how you perceive diversity, why you are interested in our community of 1500 students in Walla Walla, and lastly how you think and express your thoughts.

For some clues on why these questions are important to us take a look at our website, Google these topics, page through that Whitman Admission handout one more time with “different eyes”, ask us some questions of your own.  See what we have to say, maybe you will learn something, you may get intrigued and excited, you may be struck by inspiration for your supplemental essays.  We want to see if and why these topics are important to you too.  Be deliberate, be concise, and give us a view into you and your motivations.  There is no “right” answer!  So stop taking the safe route and writing on what you think it is.

The Common Application has 456 member institutions; at the heart of each is a unique school and community.  This is what the supplements try to get at.  This is why we ask these pesky questions.  In your answers we hope to honestly find a little of Whitman and what we value.  Good luck Class of 2016, we look forward to reading your applications!

Mark Twain & the Essay

For admission officers fall is travel season and winter is reading season. At Whitman two officers read each application, scrolling through 30-pages on laptops and writing comments on the electronic “vote sheet”. We review apps “holistically”, meaning that we take into account a student’s transcript (curriculum and grades), writings, passions and activities, letters of recommendation and—lastly—test scores.

My favorite part of the application is the Common Application Personal Essay, which gives a student multiple subject options.  An excellent essay makes my day and distinguishes the student from other applicants. I have a file of “essay keepers”, writings that knocked my socks off and that I keep to re-read when times slow down.

Memorable essays are always well-written and can be on any topic. The best ones tell me who the student is, what makes them tick, what they’re passionate about, how they interact with peers, parents and pariahs. Some are humorous (but it takes a talented writer to nail humor), some take a surprising turn, some are heart-felt, some make me shed a tear (but don’t try to make me cry!). Don’t try to impress, just be honest. Don’t tell me what you do unless it explains who you are. Don’t use big words when little words better convey what you have to say. Conciseness trumps verbosity. When in doubt follow Mark Twain’s advice:

“I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English….don’t let fluff and flowers creep in. [Adjectives] weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective, a diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.” (Letter to D.W. Bowser, March 20, 1880)

Applying Early Decision & Financial Aid

Now that the calendar has turned to November, many seniors are working furiously on their college applications in preparation for applying “early” to one or more institutions. While Whitman does not have an Early Action (non-binding) program, we do offer two Early Decision (binding) application programs for students who consider Whitman to be their top choice. I frequently hear a student or parent tell me that Whitman is their top choice, but they’re nervous about applying Early Decision because of concern about financial aid. While this is certainly a real and valid concern for many families, let me help clarify a few points of confusion about ED and financial aid.

1) Each year, we admit and enroll a number of students who demonstrate financial need through our Early Decision program.
2) An admitted student to Whitman through Early Decision will receive the same need-based financial aid award as he/she would in Regular Decision months later.
3) While applying Early Decision is a binding agreement between the student, parents, counselor and Whitman College, if the student and his/her parents do not feel their financial aid award will afford them the opportunity to attend Whitman, we will release them from the binding agreement.

Essentially, here’s how I explain the pros/cons of Early Decision to a family concerned about financial aid: families who are considering Early Decision (or ED), but know that finances will be a critical factor in their decision of where to attend can still apply ED. Your family simply needs to assess very frankly what their situation and priorities are before deciding whether to apply Regular or Early Decision. If Whitman is your first-choice school and your family is willing and able to determine if it can afford Whitman without comparing ours to other financial aid packages, then Early Decision is a very viable option. If, however, your family knows that they will want to compare need-based and merit-based financial aid awards from multiple institutions, and decide thereafter how much they can afford based on your preferences as a student – then the path for your family might be Regular Decision.

The key is that your financial aid award ought to be the same, whether you apply Regular or Early Decision. The question for your family is how important it will be to compare costs from one institution to another. If you as a family are comfortable saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ solely on the basis of whether or not you can afford Whitman with the financial aid award in front of you, Early Decision allows certainty much earlier in the year at the school you are most excited about. If you have further questions or concerns about Early Decision, I encourage you to contact me or any of my colleagues in the admission office. I hope to see many of your applications in the coming weeks.

“Why Whitman?” Part III

Our third entry in the “Why Whitman?” series comes from Lauren McCullough, a Politics major from Wilsonville, Oregon. Happy writing to all you ED applicants working on your own Why Whitman essays!

When I applied to college, I knew there were a few qualities I had to have in my college experience. The first was a small school with a strong sense of community, so I exclusively considered tiny liberal arts colleges. I was interested in all things Humanities and Social Sciences, so it didn’t make sense for me to pick a school based on only one of those departments. Actually, I guess the requirement was a well-rounded college strong in all academic departments. Looking back, this was an excellent decision: I’ve changed my major four times before happily settling down in the Politics department!

After these basic size and academic considerations, the student body was the most important component to me. I wanted to be a part of an eclectic, intelligent student body where people were also quirky and friendly.

I already knew Whitman fit this profile well because both my brother and sister attended. However, not surprisingly, I thought I would never go to the same school as both my siblings. Yet, when I went and visited schools, Whitman stood out for me above the rest. Current students were all friendly and the professors were fascinating during Admitted Students Day and my time there really convinced me that Whitman was a school I would be happy and not at all seen as anyone’s little sister.

I was also comforted by the fact that my two siblings, who have very different personalities and interests both thrived at Whitman. My sister was involved with theater and art and majored in Psychology. My brother, on the other hand, majored in Philosophy, played varsity soccer, was active in Greek life, and tutored local elementary students.

Ultimately, I chose Whitman because it felt right, academically and socially, and because I was confident that I would be happy here. When I was forced to think about where I truly wanted to spend the next four years of my life, Whitman stood out as the right place; almost four years later I’m glad to say I was right!

Why Whitman?

One of the officer staffs’ favorite parts of the application to read is the “Why Whitman” piece of the Whitman supplement. To provide you with inspiration as you ponder your response, we’ve asked our senior interns to look back and rewrite their “Why Whitman” essays four years later. We’ll be posting them here throughout the fall.

First up is Ruby Glaser, a psychology major/education minor from Weston, CT:

Choosing a college was far from an easy decision for me. Restless nights, stressed days, and angst beyond the normal teenage level were the constants of my life the April of my senior year.  I was excited and passionate about my college search, ready to leave my small East Coast hometown and start a new adventure.  I knew I wanted a small, liberal arts college that mirrored the close-knit community of my high school. I visited nearly 25 schools, and while satisfied by my visits, I was never overly excited or enthused.  The campuses were all beautiful and home to more activities and classes than I would ever be able to experience. The thing that kept me from falling in love was the classroom experience. I had sat in on classes at every school I visited, and I found the environment to be intense and competitive, which was frustratingly the exact thing I was trying to get away from.

Then I came and visited Whitman – it was a breath of fresh air.  There was an aura of community and support; it was obvious the students were working together in a collaborative effort to learn together.  It was about the knowledge being gained, not about besting each other.  I felt like I could voice any idea that popped into my mind during discussion, approach the professor with the silliest questions, and brainstorm with my peers on any issue I was having.  This was the nurturing classroom environment that I was craving. This was the element that put Whitman over the edge for me. I was already sold on the gorgeous campus, amazing facilities, endless clubs and activities, and Northwest location, so all I needed was that incredible classroom experience to help me make the decision. Whitman was the place for me, it just took a while to see it.