Monthly Archives: November 2011

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)

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Congratulations to all ED I Applicants!

Congratulations to all those who completed Early Decision applications this week! Take a step back and be proud of all your hard work. And don’t worry if your web adviser says you’re missing a certain credential you’ve already sent in. Due to the usual flood of application pieces it will take us the rest of the week to enter  everything into the system and for web adviser to update.

Now, as Whitties hit the the library prior to their week-long Thanksgiving break, the officer staff will begin to read applications. This is an exciting time for all staff as the payoff of the admissions team’s collective effort during the long fall travel season begins to show.

Decisions will be mailed the week of December 19 at the latest. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving! We’ll be kicking back with some pumpkin pie and what are sure to be wonderful college essays.

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.