MAY 2022
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Admissions is Like Dating

By Robert LeVine

I say it all the time: “Admissions is much more like dating than you imagine.”

Whether for an expensive boarding school, a college, a transfer application or a graduate school, admissions is about convincing someone to select you, and human beings are the decision makers. Yes, indicators such as grades, test scores, championships and other objective mileposts can prove a candidate’s qualifications, but that’s only part of the equation. Subjective information – provided by essays, recommendation letters and interviews – is also part of the equation, and in the final analysis, it is the subjective response of the admissions reader that usually “wins.”


From a statistical perspective, when a set of objective data is evaluated, the grading usually results in a bell curve: a few leaders at the front, a few stragglers at the back, and a big bunch in the “middle 50” of the population. However, when the information is subjective, the result is reversed, a bimodal distribution that is basically all-or-nothing. People either love you, or they don’t care about you enough.

Admissions officers may tell you about their processes, their institutional priorities, their evaluative methodologies and other things that define what they do, but in the end, nobody can deny human nature. The concept is sometimes called “reader love.” When reading essays, an admissions officer feels a very positive emotional connection, or they don’t. If they do fall in love with you, then everything you submit will be upgraded with a subtle, positive bump. If not….

Obviously, this is a general rule. The greater quantity of subjective pieces in an application, the greater the emotional impact on your final grade. But please understand: this is NOT randomness, and it’s not blind luck. It may be subjective, but human nature is predictable and can be influenced by the quality of work an applicant submits.

As educational consultants, our job is to coach our clients to recognize what’s really going on and influence the decision makers towards your most positive results. With that in mind, allow me to explain the four most critical attributes of great writing (indeed, any great communication):

First, provide the right message. “Personal Statement” means something different for U.S. colleges, U.K. universities, and graduate schools. A “why” essay is different than a personal statement (which is why some schools ask you to submit both). To communicate an idea successfully, you must know what they’re looking for. Be sure to send the right message based upon what they’re asking (not what you feel like telling them).

Second, use the right structure. While directions for building a bookshelf should be clear and chronological, a novel should be organized differently. A research paper using the scientific method is not haiku or a limerick. An 800-word essay will have a different structure than a 100-word essay. How you organize a writing should be based upon its content, its length, and most importantly, the reader’s experience. It’s not about what you write; it’s about what they absorb.

Third, “detail wins.” Visualization – the ability of a reader (or listener) to see what you’re saying in their mind’s eye – helps them understand and embrace what you’re communicating. If you want them to see something, you have to give them something, and the only things that are “things” are called nouns. Adding the “who, what, where and when” helps a reader grab their own visions from within their memories. There’s a big difference between “I bought her candy” and “I bought her Skittles and Kit Kats.” Especially when they’re tired or skimming, if they can visualize your story, it’s easier to understand your communication.

Fourth, retain your genuine voice. Not grammar. Not style. Not perfect punctuation. Voice! They are selecting a human being, not an essay. The unwritten-but-unwavering rule of admissions is “be real.” Try not to be sloppy, but don’t worry about a lack of eloquence. In fact, as a matter of psychology, people tend to prefer imperfections over perfection. Do not over-refine or over-polish. That’s not only lifeless, but also the red flag of ghost writing or helicoptering. As one Dean of Admissions explained to me: “Don’t do it all right. Just do it all you. I’m going to be intrigued by an interesting person who probably is not perfect. In fact, I’d be very skeptical of the perfect applicant. I’ve never met that person.”

People love you despite your imperfections (and sometimes because of them). In highly selective admissions – as in life – it’s all about the love.

Robert LeVine is the founder and CEO of University Consultants of America, an independent educational consultancy assisting students around the world with applications to colleges, universities and graduate schools. For more information, call University Consultants of America, Inc. at 1-800-465-5890 or visit


Independence at Any Age

By Anu Varma Panchal

I’ve found my new binge watch.
It’s not an intense crime series, epic period piece or clever comedy. But it’s made me panic, gasp, marvel, cheer and laugh more than any of the above. Because what could be cuter or more uplifting than an unscripted reality show about adorable toddlers doing errands on their own?

If you haven’t been watching “Old Enough” on Netflix, you’re missing out.
The Japanese reality show has been a Nippon Television regular since 1991, but only came stateside this year when Netflix picked it up. Each short episode (10-20 minutes) features toddlers or preschoolers running errands by themselves.

In one episode, two 3-year-old friends must buy dumplings from a shop and then climb to an uphill temple to procure an amulet. A toddler’s assignment is to deliver her father’s apron to him at work and pick up her mother’s watch from a repair shop, while another little boy must run home and make juice to bring back to his parents in the fields.

The babies are not really alone, of course. Camera crew follow them, and an encouraging and heartwarming set of neighbors and storekeepers are in the know. But the errands are real.

Watching these little children bravely walk blocks away out of their parents’ sight, remember their instructions, cross busy streets, engage with strangers, hand over money, collect change and bring back their items … for a mother who never even let her kids walk the couple of blocks home alone throughout elementary school, it was nail-biting tension.

Sota, a 4-year-old boy, was sent to a fishmonger and a store to buy apples. When his apples kept falling out of his bag and rolling downhill, I worried he’d either burst into tears or get run over by traffic chasing them. Though clearly upset, not only did he persevere and labor up the steep path home, but when he arrived, also presented his mother with a crushed dandelion that he had plucked for her. My heart exploded.

My favorite was the toddler who absentmindedly walked past the clock shop from where she was supposed to pick up her mother’s watch. When she reached home and realized she had not completed her errand, she burst into tears. Her mother tried cheering her up with ice cream, but she refused. Instead, she went back to finish the task and return triumphantly with the watch – and then enjoyed her ice cream.

The show is delightful, but also eye-opening. Responsibility can be assumed at any age; even these little ones knew enough to be proud of their contribution to their families.

It may be just a reality show, but for me, this ode to independence came at the right time. Because this is the year my daughter began to drive on her own.

Remember that first nerve-wracking drive home from the hospital with a newborn carefully strapped into the car seat? For me, the world took on a sheen of menace that day. Every speed bump, orange light and dark intersection presented a threat to this new little person for whom our heart now beat. But that tension doesn’t compare to the nervousness I feel 17 years later now that that baby is in the driver’s seat, adjusting the rear-view mirror and loading her Spotify playlist.

The day she got her license, she insisted on driving to her piano lesson by herself. Of course, I wanted to follow her in my car, but she wouldn’t let me. Unlike those calm and trusting reality show parents, I am terrified at the notion of my child being out there. It seemed to me that the minute she got her license, the roads began to overflow with careless, sleepy, distractedly-texting drivers.
Letting go might be my least favorite parental act, but it’s a necessary one. After all, nearly 30 years ago, my parents let me get on a plane and come to the United States as an international student. We didn’t know a single person in the city I was heading to, and this was when communication consisted of hand-written letters and Sprint phone cards. Now that I am a parent, I understand what a scary thing that must have been for them to do, and I am grateful for their bravery that allowed me to grow.

So, if they could do that, and if Japanese 3-year-olds can go and shop for dinner on their own —who knows? One of these days I might even let my daughter drive on I-4 without surreptitiously following her. Until then I’m going to need some help easing off from my helicopter instincts, so I’ll turn to the most adorable teachers I’ve seen: the tiny toddlers of “Old Enough.”

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