For many high-school seniors, April is a month of anxiety—waiting for the joy of receiving a thick envelope or the disappointment of a thin one. With hundreds of applications for each spot—last year saw 15,285 students apply for the 1,530 seats in Georgetown’s freshman class—students resort to uncommon approaches to stand out from the crowd.
“There was once a young man on the waiting list who sent us a package with a folding chair inside, saying he could bring his own classroom,” says Charles Deacon, Georgetown’s dean of undergraduate admissions. That student never made it off the waiting list.
A would-be Georgetown student sent a customized Monopoly board featuring the applicant and the school. Another one sent an essay written entirely backward.
Then there are those who hope that complicated writing will prove their intellectual agility. “We’ve gotten an essay written entirely in rhythmic prose as opposed to standard English,” says Zina Evans, associate director of admissions at the University of Maryland.
What students view as original, admission officers sometimes see as trite. Andrew Flagel, dean of admissions at George Mason University, says he gets at least a dozen pictures or essays each year that have been cut into puzzle pieces. Each is sent with a note that reads, “Your school is where I fit in.”
But it’s the admissions essay—meant to illustrate an applicant’s true self—that most often falls victim to gimmicks.
Michael O’Leary, an admissions officer at George Washington University, remembers one essay in the form of a comic strip featuring the school’s mascot. Another student wrote about losing his virginity as, the essay stated, the most significant event of his life thus far. Another applicant sent GWU an essay titled “How to Fart Gracefully.”
So have efforts like this ever worked in the student’s favor?
This year a student wrote to GWU officials about her ability to lick her own elbow. The committee thought the essay was well written and did make its writer stand out. She was accepted.
Of course, tricks and offbeat essays only get you so far.
“The misnomer is it’s the sticking out that gets them in or gets them noticed,” Flagel says. “In reality, any admissions officer would tell you academics is the most important factor.”