I'm Dan, assuming you can't read the title of this post, and I'm into my 8th year of reading applications. In the prior 7 years, I've read 7,976 applications (that was a fun number to figure out) and easily more than 25,000 application essays. I travel and talk to students all over the world about successful applications, and my essay advice has been published on NYTimes.com. I'm here to either goof off or legitimately help you with your applications and/or essays, depending on what you want. Go ahead: ask me anything.

And, unlike some admissions officers, I'm not afraid to tell you who I am. Proof! http://admissions.tufts.edu/files/resources/ama.jpg

Comments: 483 • Responses: 50  • Date: 

IntheSarlaccsbelly232 karma

Seriously, guys. Let's do this. http://i.imgur.com/84UDoDy.jpg

Hopalicious74 karma

Weird. I envisioned all Admissions officers to be more of the tweed jacket, pipe smoking, Steven Ambrose looking type.

IntheSarlaccsbelly93 karma

Today, I almost wore my Mario Bros "Ceci ne pas une pipe" shirt just to celebrate this. If you'd like, I could wear a tweed jacket over it.

Hopalicious29 karma

Nahh you are good. Do you every find your self mumbling, "Blah ba blah ba blah" while you read a terrible essay?

IntheSarlaccsbelly63 karma

I frequently sing along to Ke$ha while reading applications. I have to assume that counts.

Hopalicious37 karma

My daughter is 4. Is that too early to start working on an essay? She is pretty sharp.

IntheSarlaccsbelly58 karma

This comment demands an insanity wolf.

OnaniMasterKurosawa90 karma

Is there any truth to Tufts Syndrome (i.e. rejecting highly qualified applicants because you know they're only using Tufts as a safety school)?

IntheSarlaccsbelly117 karma

I strongly suspect that's a practice at many schools. Somewhat ironically, we don't do that at Tufts.

MyNameCouldntBeAsLon84 karma

Are there some words that you now truly despise because they are incessantly used by high school seniors trying to look smart?

IntheSarlaccsbelly285 karma

I have a particular loathing for "as a smile crept across my face." But mostly because it reminds me of a creepy Herman Cain ad. http://gifrific.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/herman-cain-smile.gif

Aken4273 karma

Are there any key things which would result in an automatic rejection of an application? Also, what are some of the worst/face palm things you have received on an application?

IntheSarlaccsbelly171 karma

Gratuitous use of ethnic slurs? Nudity?

I'm going to do my best to avoid cliches here, but the truth is that it's REALLY rare when someone actually facepalms in an application. I think I can count on one hand the number of truly derpy applications I've read. Most of the time, it's a battle of academically qualified students who are generally good people and some of whom figure out better than others how to present themselves in a way that shows off the ideas they enjoy thinking about in the world.

But, having said that, I have read an essay about the first time a gal had unprotected sex. And another about why a guy (this one was a transfer applicant) did NOT need to register as a sex offender in Massachusetts.

thewaybaseballgo24 karma

We're gonna need to hear the story about the nudity, sir.

Sterilize_a_klutz11 karma

Better yet, we're gonna have to see the nudity you speak of, sir.

chasebennett48 karma

Generic question, but really curious:

If you had to give one single piece of advice, what would it be?

IntheSarlaccsbelly113 karma

Easy. Write what actually matters to you. Seriously. If you wrote the essay, and YOU think the essay is boring, why would an admissions officer feel differently?

This sounds like obvious advice, but it's startling how many applicants forget to write about what actually matters to you. Tell an admissions officer what you think about, what you care about, what you stay up at night thinking about. Don't shy away from being messy, or writing about controversy, or feel like you need a conclusion with a hard answer about the meaning of life or service or whatever. It's enough to see that you're thinking, and how you're thinking, and what you're thinking about.

Molozonide15 karma

What if my career (and by extension, my admission to the program) is what matters to me? For example, if I were to apply for medical school, how could I possibly express my genuine interest in studying and practicing medicine without writing an essay that is effectively identical to at least a hundred others?

I say this with complete honesty: in this period of my life, my career goals are what matter most to me. Does that make me a boring and one-dimensional candidate, and thus unworthy of admission?

IntheSarlaccsbelly41 karma

So, talk to me about that (for real). Why is your career so much more important to you than most of your peers? And why medicine?

Molozonide30 karma

So, talk to me about that (for real).

Alright, for real then.

This comment turned out a lot longer than I expected, and I could easily go on, but thanks for giving me an outlet to share.

Why is your career so much more important to you than most of your peers?

I really do love to learn and have found very few peers who share that passion; given a choice between frolicking about town and reading from an enzyme kinetics textbooks, I would (and usually do) choose the latter. I can't say this in an essay without sounding arrogant.

It is also my belief that I would be happier overall if I could focus on learning without the distraction of relationships, and then later focus on relationships/family from a more secure financial position. Ultimately I would like to have both a fulfilling career and a happy marital life, but I don't care to mention this often because spending young adulthood abstaining from relationships and drunken escapades is seen as weird -- not just among peers, but to pretty much everyone I have met from all stages of life.

And why medicine?

Many reasons. Some less noble than others. I should clarify that I want to be a researcher first and foremost and a clinician second. This is why I've been applying for MD/PhD programs instead of MD programs.

My reasons for wanting to be a researcher are fairly straightforward. I crave a detailed understanding of how things work and the answer "no one knows yet" isn't good enough for me. I've been doing small-scale science projects since I was in middle school (serious business, actually) and I think scientific investigation is an effective way of figuring out how things work.

I am specifically interested in chemical biology for two major reasons: (1) I think a truly detailed understanding of how living systems function comes from studying its underlying chemical interactions (though I would never say that to a biologist's face), and (2) because understanding biology can lead to discoveries that directly improve the health and happiness of potentially many many people. This is actually where my desire to study medicine comes from. As cliche as it is, I want to study medicine because I want to help people... just like every other doctor since the beginning of time. (Normally I'd work this in with a sob story about patient interaction, which did have an impact on me at the time, but feels really cheap to write about again and again).

I have selfish reasons for wanting to be a doctor, too. I've found I don't handle tedious jobs very well. Showing up to work every day to do the same thing every day is boring. This is not the case in research (though the daily grind can get tedious) and certainly not the case in medicine. I want to be a doctor because it's exciting!

I also can't resist the allure of a stable career, which, as I've mentioned, is quite important to me in the future. Even if today's doctors get shit pay (compared to the old days), the demand for them will never go away. Similarly, even as funding for research dwindles, the need to improve healthcare remains. There are new drugs and treaments to be made, and there is profit in their discovery. Even if the NIH were to close down permanently tomorrow (which would be a disaster for biology research worldwide), there would still be places for clinical researchers to go. I can't talk about any of this in a medical school application because even hinting at wanting money makes me a sociopath.

Applying for an MD-PhD is a real catch-22. The MDs want to convince me to get a PhD only and the PhDs want me to get an MD only, and the definition of what an MD-PhD should want varies from person to person. I personally don't think I'd be satisfied with one or the other -- I have to have both. There's a broad understanding of living systems that comes with studying medicine, as well as a certain patient connection that just isn't there with doctoral research, even in clinical labs. At the same time, I think detailed study in some basic science topic is important for one's development as a scientist; even if it is possible to do research as an MD, that kind of depth comes from doctoral research.

I'm currently a chemical biology PhD student and I'm thinking of applying for the MD-PhD at my current university. If the past two years are any indication, this is an exercise in futility, but not applying just feels like giving up on my dreams. Wish me luck, I guess.

IntheSarlaccsbelly68 karma

I love this. You asked how you write an essay that isn't identical to 100 others; I think you just did that. Looks to me like you've already got your first draft.

LoveDemJumbros36 karma

Just a little testimonial about Dan:

I met Dan when I was a Junior in high school, and was utterly lost when it came to the application process. In one meeting he totally changed the way I looked at the whole thing. I don't know if I ever thanked him for it in person, but because of him I ended up at an incredible school which I love and which has already added so much to my life (which just so happens to be Tufts).

TO give Dan a hint as to who I am, I may or may not be associated with a certain quesion...involving a certain saying...coined by Drake...

Anyways, listen to this guy. He not only knows what he's talking about, but actively cares about helping you; that combination is rare and wonderful.

IntheSarlaccsbelly19 karma

I genuinely like you guys (by which I mean all the high schoolers I get to meet... Well, not ALL the high schoolers, but a lot of them), and it's so much easier to cut through all the BS of admissions and just talk to you like you're human beings.

PlatypusOfDeath35 karma

Favorite essay? Least favorite?

IntheSarlaccsbelly174 karma

Favorite essay of all time: an essay from Lexington, KY about the difference between mechanical pencils and regular pencils. She wrote that "using a mechanical pencil is like bringing a laser gun into a sword fight; you will win, but without grace and without elegance." I remember reading that line, in particular, and thinking, "who the hell thinks like that?"

What was great about the essay was how she took this really small thing she noticed and used it as a way to frame the tension in art, architecture, and GUIs between form and function. It was smart yet playful, and clearly something she cared a lot about.

The best essays tend to feature one (or more) of three things prominently:

  • How you see yourself
  • How you see ideas
  • How you see the world

Meowkit19 karma

Thanks for making me feel better about my essays. The big concepts are great to ponder and write about.

Question: In terms of language used what do you prefer on scale of 5th grade words to superfluous vernacular?

IntheSarlaccsbelly56 karma

I prefer for you to sound like a regular (albeit smart) human being. It's not hard to tell when you're digging through a thesaurus or busting out with words you'd only use to impress teachers. Don't do that. Really.

You can have a casual conversation with someone and still come away with an impression of intelligence. Most of the time, that's the vibe you're looking for.

ragingdobs31 karma

What up Dan! Couple questions:

  • Who's the hardest applicant you've ever had to reject?

  • Are there any candidates that you feel got admitted for the wrong reasons? (AKA, the "can't reject" pile because it's Jamie Dimon's nephew or whatever?)

  • What's the worst "knock" on a student that a successful admit has overcome? (e.g. you admitted someone who copped to dealing drugs or stealing a car, but had a 35 on the ACT and an interesting essay telling their side so they got in)

  • I want to meet my admissions rep just to chat about life and thank them for admitting me but I'm a junior now and abroad for the year. If I hit them up senior year, will they remember who I am? Will they care?

  • What does #YOLO mean to you?

IntheSarlaccsbelly54 karma

I'm privileged to read our international applicants, and while we admit a lot of students from places like Bangladesh and Nepal and Vietnam, we're also forced (for reasons of space and money) to deny many of them, too. And every year, there's at least one that we just can't take in such a way that it completely breaks my heart. But, in truth, there were probably 80 students that I read last year and LOOOOOOOVED and we couldn't admit them. While I cannot presume to experience what a denied applicant experiences, it sucks (emotionally) to have to say no. I wrote a blog post last year about it: http://admissions.tufts.edu/blogs/inside-admissions/post/you-matter/

Honestly, I think developing the financial resources of Tufts in such a way that we can admit more of those students from Vietnam or urban Baltimore (or even admit the same number but offer increasingly generous financial aid) is a totally legit reason to admit a student. There are times I disagree with a decision, but I almost never disagree with the reasons behind a decision. Does that make any sense?

Great question... can't think of an answer. Sorry.

Send me an email, and I'll connect you with whoever read you app, back then.

YOLO means to me the bastardization by pop culture of historical notions regarding the preciousness of life. Pop Culture (and I don't mean this in a negative way) is powerfully talented at subverting norms and old ideas, twisting their meanings and dancing on the line for Poe's Law (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poe's_law) - I see #YOLO as a potent example of that.

IHaveAShoddyMemory29 karma


IntheSarlaccsbelly79 karma

The service essay.

But, it's not the topic that makes the essay stand out, it's the execution. Any topic, really, can work and work well. One of the biggest mistakes I see students making is they pick the topic for their essay first, and then try to mangle some lesson about themselves into that topic, which is I think why we get so many service essays. I think you need to pick the piece of yourself you want to convey first, and then find the topic that allows you to convey that idea or characteristic.

The problem with the service essays is that it's really hard to write them without resorting to cliches. Cliches like "I went there to serve them, but really they were the ones serving me" or "that's how I learned that those people weren't so different from myself." If you've got an essay that has one of those two lines in your final paragraph, you need to seriously evaluate what you're doing. It's not that those sentiments aren't truly felt, or that we doubt their value, it's that no one writes an essay that yawns the other way and both of those lessons are surface level and emotionally centered instead of intellectually grounded.

We're a university, so we want, more than anything, insight into how you think and process problems and/or ideas. If you gained more than you gave, are you ok with that? Is that morally permissible if you pledged to serve others? If you learned that people are the same, why were you surprised? How does this new insight change your goals or perspective on other ideas or issues?

Most service essays never dig deep enough to explore in ways that truly matter beyond the limited experience of a service trip or service project.

DontBeMadB-Rad46 karma

Former admissions counselor here, and I just want to chime in with "common essay topics."

Our top 3 were usually "How I became an Eagle Scout," "When I tore my ACL" and "What I've learned from my Grandparents/Mother/Dad."

That said, Dan is spot on. I may see a dozen essays about these topics, but if you put your passion and enthusiasm into your writing, I'll still be impressed/intrigued/engaged.

IntheSarlaccsbelly25 karma

And truthfully, if you can take a well-worn essay topic and give it new depth, that can be really really powerful. But doing that means being specific, being personal, and doing beyond the obvious. Not easy tasks.

howsadley4 karma

I don't see the problem with "How I tore my ACL" as an essay topic. For most 17-18 year olds a serious physical injury is probably one of the biggest challenges they've had to deal with in their lives. Its an important part of their lives, even if it's somewhat boring to you.

IntheSarlaccsbelly32 karma

I can totally tell you the answer to this! Oh, man, I am excited to tell you.

Because these essays, nearly always, boil down to "I didn't give up" or "I worked hard." But I don't need an essay to learn those things. If a student truly is willing to do hard work in the way an academic institution like mine requires, I will see that on a transcript by looking at the challenging courses a student has taken and the success a student found when challenged. That essay adds nothing to my understanding of a student that I couldn't have learned by looking at a weighted GPA. The students that we admit MUST have something to say beyond their academic numbers, or I don't have the ammo to build a case for their admission.

Further, as someone who evaluates candidates for an academic institution, I'm most concerned with quality and depth of thought. And while recovering from a serious injury is important, it need not be linked to quality of depth of thought - you can be kind of an idiot and still fully recover from an ACL tear. That's not to say you can't write a deeply intellectual piece on an injury, but these essays rarely expand on that link.

TL;DR Any essay topic can be intellectual, but essays about injuries rarely are.

Toyou4yu26 karma

Does race actuallt matter for admissions?

IntheSarlaccsbelly76 karma

Of course it matters.

Obviously academics count, but if you're like me, you've probably rolled your eyes at more than one admissions officer who used the word "Holistic" to describe the admissions process. I hate this word because of how it's come to be used, but there are MANY factors influencing decisions beyond just the academic numbers, which is how it ought to be. The best reasons to advocate for an admit are tied how you think and how you perceive. And, of course, thought and perception are deeply intertwined, and much of that is tied into your life and your background. Too often, diversity is presented as a function of race, and I think that's idiotic. Whether we like it or not - race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, nationality, and geography are strongly linked to how we experience and perceive our world. So race matters, and so does the rest of it. So does politics, ideology, interests, the differences between linear thinking and creativity, emotional vs rational (kirk v Spock). My job is to help build a class that learns from each other as much as it does from a professor, and a wide set of experiences give us that opportunity.

So race matters because diversity matters. That's no different from a farm kid in a pool dominated by the suburbs, or the conservative kid who wants to come to a campus filled with liberals.

caomei101322 karma

I don't really understand why some people become so desperate to get into a "prestigious" university. Honestly, I know people who have gone to Yale, Harvard, etc. and they say the quality of the education is really not that much different from a "normal" university or even community college. I suppose in the 90s or earlier, going to a high end university might have been beneficial, but in today's world I can't see the point of wasting so much money for a degree that doesn't matter a whole lot. I'm studying Advertising Design and East Asian Studies at my local university, and already have a job lined up with a big company in Shanghai, which I got more through networking, my nationality and showcasing my skills more than the name of the school I went to or type of degree I'm getting.

IntheSarlaccsbelly35 karma

Have you read this? You'll find some powerful agreement. http://www.60secondrecap.com/forbes-30-under-30-colleges/

lexisasuperhero18 karma

Are all admissions officers as laid back as you? I feel like when I was writing essays to get into college I was just like "I can't use that word, it sounds borderline colloquial"

IntheSarlaccsbelly25 karma

As laid back as me? Probably not. But, nearly every admissions officer I know appreciates conversational writing styles. If you sound like you, but, like, the conversationally smart version of you, that's a good thing.

LyingPervert16 karma

Can you write my business essay for me? I'll pay

IntheSarlaccsbelly82 karma

Will you be applying with your reddit username?

jace5315 karma

Would a clever, witty, funny essay help gain admission if it got its' point across or should an applicant go serious? Not for me but my nephew who has a wit and intelligence.

UnnecessarySuperhero24 karma

speaking as a student at a "most selective" university, not an admissions counselor, but the problem with most "funny" essays is that they tend to just be offensive. Most people who try to be funny in their essays don't execute it well and it often falls in on itself. That said, wit is usually universal, and a well-crafted, clever and witty essay should always give points to the applicant.

The whole point is that the school is selecting for the student more than their for the writing style, the essay just helps better capture who the student is. A light-hearted, clever essay should usually embody that much more than a serious one, if the student is that type of person.

If your nephew can write a witty or clever essay, and it doesn't come across as offensive or trying too hard, then tell him to go for it, otherwise it will backfire.

IntheSarlaccsbelly37 karma

Agree in spirit. Your goal isn't to write a funny essay, but if you're funny/witty/clever/whatever and that comes out as you go, or you write on an idea that allows those qualities to emerge, that's a good thing.

OpticalDelusions52 karma

A smile crept across my face as I read this, long had my cunning wit and superior intellect gone unnoticed by the masses. My time, my Ozymandias moment, was nigh.

Have you ever had someone write about something they clearly didn't understand (a la the 'Ozymandias moment' above)?

IntheSarlaccsbelly48 karma

Great, now I'm picturing Herman Cain as Dr Manhatten.

peepjynx13 karma

How open minded do you have to be to do that job? I'm sure there are things that people are passionate about that wouldn't fit your lifestyle. Objectivity must be a huge requirement. Has there ever been anything you read that you disagreed with to your core yet you still "approved?"

Kirjath9 karma

I would imagine Politics or religion probably fit this question. Curious about the answer.

IntheSarlaccsbelly45 karma

Pretty open minded. Or, at the very least, willing to let other people be open minded on your behalf.

There's a lot of talk in highly selective admissions about Diversity (capitalized deliberately), and Diversity is almost always described through a racial or ethnic lens. Sometimes someone will through in nationality or religion or socioeconomic status or sexual orientation, but even then, Diversity discussions are sadly limited to labels you could affix to a person. Effective admissions work, I think, requires a sense of Diversity that extends into far less rigidly defined categories. You want a class of students who are different enough from each other that learning opportunities develop. Political classrooms with students possessing every (I almost wrote "both", but politics has far more than two potential viewpoints) political point of view. Engineers who are logical, of course, but also those who possess far less linear styles of thinking. Moral relativists and moral absolutists.

I don't need to be objective, actually. But my favorite students are often the ones who disagree with me. Because those are the ones I often learn from the most. Admissions is HIGHLY subjective, but the subjective opinions of others is part of what I'm looking to celebrate.

hugs201512 karma

I've met a few students volunteers (tour guides, bloggers, etc). They seem super cool, but I'm not sure about how to go about asking them more questions about life at Tufts. Are they friendly? Do they like when prospective students talk to them?

IntheSarlaccsbelly15 karma

God, I hope so. But, if they aren't friendly, wouldn't you want to know?

Katelyn8911 karma

What's the most common/obvious mistake most applicants make?

IntheSarlaccsbelly30 karma

Sending things just to send them. And there's a huge range of categories that stuff like this falls into: letters of recommendations, additional essays, arts supplements. Really, if your guidance counselor tells me you are amazing at the violin, and you tell me that you spend 15 hours a week playing it, I assume that it's something you take seriously and value the experience, or why would you pour in the time to do it? What's the benefit of sending in a recording of you playing the violin to someone who hasn't ever played one before?

elameire22 karma

Presumably to send the recording to the Department of Music to get feedback on it.

IntheSarlaccsbelly20 karma

We'll do that for students who want to major in music (and we're up front about that), but most of the applicants sending those videos in aren't planning to major in music. I'm not saying there can't be value to those videos, but I suspect that few stop to consider what the potential value truly is.

seekere10 karma

How do you deal with highly competetive and progressive high schools? My HS has an average SAT of over 2000 And nearly 15% of our class are national merit scholars. This makes maintaining a high gpa tough and is why we dont class rank? I feel like im going to be looked at worse though ive taken the hardest classes offered and have a high SAT.

IntheSarlaccsbelly22 karma

Not to sound flippant, but I don't understand the fear that you're at a disadvantage because you go to a really good school. Can you explain, why do you think you'd be looked at worse?

kralid17 karma


IntheSarlaccsbelly18 karma

Yeah - I get that. But that student with the 3.5 wouldn't be at a disadvantage just because it's harder to get an A. All schools have different grading scales, different systems, different levels of grade inflation (or, less commonly, deflation). Just in my own territory, I'm responsible for schools where it can be normal to get a grade of "S", which stands for "subpass" because that's nicer, I guess, than saying "fail." And we'll admit students with the S grade because they are still highly intelligent and dynamic thinkers.

ChipSkyLurk3 karma

Harder schools can mean lower grades.

IntheSarlaccsbelly3 karma

Yeah. And sometimes more "competitive" schools give way higher grades because they are encircled by parents prepared to pounce if any teacher dare distribute to darling son a B. Not all As are created equal.

kzaow10 karma

Is it a good idea to include humour in the essay?

IntheSarlaccsbelly26 karma

We'd have to be huge jackasses to punish you for humor. If it's something a jerk wouldn't like, we would probably like it.

TheCottonRapster10 karma

OK, so I am already at Tufts. My sister is considering applying ED1 here, and she is wondering whether siblings count as legacy. Do they?

Other than that, maybe you read my essay so thanks a lot!

IntheSarlaccsbelly20 karma

They do, but legacy counts less (for Tufts) than you'd think. Mostly, there's a qualitative bump because your sister has a level of insight into Tufts that few get to have - so she ought to know us better, and that understanding often translates into a better app.

glnglu7 karma

How much do admissions officers make?

RobertJ936 karma

Has anyone ever truly jumped off the page. Has anyone ever, dazzled you?

IntheSarlaccsbelly25 karma

ALL THE TIME. Really. All the time. Marie from Singapore with her thoughts on gender norms and Urdu, Dalia from Maryland and her insights into how physics and anthropology can change your point of view. Pang from Thailand on the potential links between Buddhism and corruption in her country. Robert from Maryland whose recs with filled with this complete and undeniable affection for his goodwill and his smile.

Big-Seb6 karma

Is it cliche to write about a role model essay? If so what can I do to make it stand out. In other words what do you look for in a essay about a role model?

IntheSarlaccsbelly18 karma

It is, but so what? Just because a topic is cliche doesn't mean you can't kill it and be wildly successful. The trick is to give it enough depth that you can distinguish your essay from all the essays on the same topic that will be deadly boring.

You'll want to make sure:

  • Your essay is about you
  • Your essay isn't not about you

The challenge most role model essays face is that they end up being 80% about your role model and 20% about you. My grandfather, for instance, is my biggest role model. He's a retired IRS statistician, part-time botonist, amateur meteorologist who now more-than-dabbles in poetry and music and at 95 years old is still giving public readings of his work and writing essays for literary magazines. I could, seriously, write pages and pages about him. And you would know nothing about me. I mean, I could have a final paragraph about how I, too, would like to be a renaissance man who continues to learn about new things even into my retirement, but the essay would still be 80% about him.

  • Everything influences everyone
  • Telling me about an influence isn't interesting

What you need to do with an essay about a role model is focus not on the influence from that role model but on what you've actually done to better understand yourself or your goals because of that influence. How have you ideas or your interests shifted? What do you envision for yourself now that you couldn't envision before? Make it about you, and use that role model to frame yourself, rather than the other way around.

gobluvr3 karma

I just want to hear one admissions officer admit that race, without any other context, might make them chose one applicant over the other. I'm not talking about a student who wrote their essay about how discrimination and people's perception of them has affected them. I'm talking about, hypothetically, two identical students, one of whom was a minority, might the minority win out to increase the school's "diversity"? I realize that it is highly unlikely that 2 students would be exactly the same, and that a minority student would not be in anyway effected because of their race, but I want to know if solely increasing the percent of minority students is ever a goal of the admissions office.

IntheSarlaccsbelly27 karma

But that's ridiculous.

Two students wouldn't be identical if they were of different races. It's not "highly unlikely" - it's impossible. Race (just as gender, sexual orientation, religion, and nationality) creates and defines some pieces of each of our perspectives. You might not like it, and it's a sign of human imperfection that such things matter at all, but that's the world we live in. The process of evaluating any applicant is the same, and for every applicant I'm thinking, "how does this student build a better learning environment?" My job is to build a class with diverse perspectives and intellects, because that diversity of thought and experience, whether based on your hometown or your mother tongue, creates learning opportunities for our whole community.

The cynic in me reads over that last paragraph and wants to roll his eyes, but the pragmatic in me understands the truth of it.

The goal of the admissions office is to maximize the quality of opportunity to learn for our class. Building diversity brings us closer to that goal.

HCM43 karma


IntheSarlaccsbelly7 karma

The challenge of your curriculum (within the context of what you could take at your school) is the first thing I look at in every application and arguably the most important.

radde3 karma


IntheSarlaccsbelly14 karma

The vast majority of the consultants I've met are grossly incompetent. Truly, they are so ignorant of what goes on that they are ignorant even of their own ignorance.

Edit: I know excellent consultants, too. Many of them, actually. The ones I'm talking about above are specifically the ones you'd pay to write an essay. The ones who would write an essay for you aren't the excellent ones, and they aren't to be trusted. If they'd lie for you for a buck, they'd lie to you for a buck.

Ottos_jacket5 karma

Answer the other question please

IntheSarlaccsbelly16 karma

Honestly, and this is going to sound like a complete dodge, I'd throw out every reservation I have about everything and write an essay filled with the snarky, sometimes caustic, yet somehow upbeat nature that I hope characterizes me. I'd write about racing home to listen to the rebroadcasting of the Nixon recording on CSpan radio, or how I think pacifism is beautiful and a waste of time, or how foolish the Free Tibet movement is because it ignore the realities of Inner Mongolia and Taiwan.

The more I learn about admissions, the more I'm convinced that admissions officers are foolish and misguided for being so opaque about how we make decisions.

There's a believe that we can't tell you what we do because you'll use it to cheat. I just don't see that. It's SO hard to predict a decision in a highly selective environment. I've been doing this for 7 years and I can't predict the decisions half the time. The more information you have, the better you application gets to be, and the better our decisions become. Maybe I'm naive (though I've never been accused of that before), but I don't see admissions in as adversarial process. I honestly don't know what I'd do to "game" admissions beyond just being all the way me.

YourAsianBuddy3 karma

If you're still here, I am a senior right now getting ready to apply. I'm no genius like other Asians to go to Tufts or anything like that, but I did my college essay on my family, and that they're the reason why I want to college etc. Would this topic be looked down upon by the readers?

IntheSarlaccsbelly3 karma

Hello MyAsianBuddy! The topic isn't what matters, it's the execution of the topic and if I can come to understand something valuable/important/distinctive about how you think or how you perceive from reading it. Any topic can be effective if your personality and perspective can emerge.

Purple_Ace2 karma

I actually have zero questions about how to get into a school. My question is: how did you become an admissions officer? I'm currently a junior in college and becoming an admissions officer is my first choice of career path right now. Any tips on how to land a job as an admissions officer?

IntheSarlaccsbelly3 karma

Honestly, I'm not totally sure. I didn't have any experience as a student with anything admissions related. If was something I decided to look into only months after graduating from college, and though I was an RA in the dorms, I didn't really have any 'relevant' experience. I think my office took a chance on me when they brought me in for an interview (or it was already August and they were desperate) and I guess they saw a spark in me, or something. Mostly, I think, to be a good admissions officer, you have to be able to read well and read quickly, to be at ease and articulate when talking with people, and to have a genuine affection for the students who apply. You can't last long if you don't actually like the students.

TheImpetuous2 karma

How often does the song "Teenage Wasteland" play in your head as you read these essays?

IntheSarlaccsbelly10 karma

I think you mean Baba O'Riley. Denied.

tyrannoface2 karma

What's the best part of your job?

Also which international students are your favourite?

IntheSarlaccsbelly11 karma

I love my job. Really. I suspect that just about everyone who meets me can tell. Sometimes, if I'm answering a question at a party about what it's like to work in admissions that I've answered like 100 times before, I'll have this out of body experience where I can listen to my own answer (you know what I'm talking about?) and as I'm listening I'll start to get jealous of myself. My job, almost literally, is to travel the world and meet the most interesting people I can and then convince them to come and occasionally hang out with me.

Which... Umm... that's hard. I've got a special place in my heart for the students from Vietnam, and though I haven't read this country in a while, I have a similar (but slightly different) reverence for Nepal. I've met so many smart, generous, and soulful students from both places.

Ectro1 karma

Current Sophomore at Tufts. We've communicated on Facebook a bit so ya probably know me. Glad to see a Reddit presence. Anyway...

Did you ever physically break down into tears either over a student's essay or over their lack of acceptance into the school?

IntheSarlaccsbelly15 karma

Exactly once. And I cried harder than even when I watched Toy Story 3 and Andy gave away Woody. Most of my admissions peers are far weepier than I, but even the most stone-hearted of us sometimes give up some tears. The guy responsible is at Tufts now.

a_woman_provides5 karma

I must ask - what was the essay about? I know the effect won't be the same with a summary but still, I'd like to know.

IntheSarlaccsbelly14 karma

It was about identifying surrogate father figures through literature. This kid had the emotional maturity to know he needed new role models in his life and he found them, and his moral compass, in books.

MrFuznut3 karma

Dude, spoilers.

IntheSarlaccsbelly7 karma

Darth Vader is Luke's dad.

thekingh-4 karma

Hi Dan! I love your work and how connected you guys are with the students! One of the biggest reasons I ended up at your school was because of the influence of one of your coworkers.

So my question to you:

Would you rather fight 100 duck-sized Jumbos, or 1 Jumbo-sized duck?

IntheSarlaccsbelly26 karma

I'd rather read the essay about the genetics research required to create either.