Besides the November 1 deadline, that is…
Willard Dix, college counselor and college admissions writer for Forbes magazine says the scariest word this season is the word “Optional.”
He describes the angst one might feel upon receiving an invitation to a Halloween party that adds “Costumes Optional.” What to do? Wear a costume and risk being the only Cap’n Jack Sparrow or Cruella DeVille at the party? Or shun a costume and look like a dullard among the Wicked Witch of the West and the Hunchback of Notre Dame?
He goes on to say, “Imagine, then, the fear inspired in every high school senior by the word “optional” on a college application. You don’t need an interview—it’s “optional.” You may submit your Subject Test scores, but they’re “optional.” There’s one more short essay, but it’s …”optional.”
The student wonders what the college means by “optional?” Will I be at a disadvantage if I don’t do it? What will my “competitors” do? If I don’t, will the colleges think I am not serious or a good enough student? If I do, will I look like an over-achiever or “brown-noser?”
While he chastises the colleges for putting students in this position, he advises what I’ve told students and heard from admissions representatives from selective colleges: “Nothing in college admissions is ‘optional.’”
He goes on: “If an interview is ‘optional,’ then practice your handshake and eye contact. If an essay is ’optional,’ get cracking. There’s nothing wrong with doing the extra work and you don’t have too much to lose.”
If you are contacted for an interview by an admissions office or alum from one of your colleges, you have the opportunity to make a good impression, show your interest and get some information to help your decision. If the interview is “evaluative,” they will use it in their decision-making. Most of them are “informative,” and can only help you.
If your Subject Tests scores are good, by all means, send them, but you can keep the low scores to yourself.
If you don’t have the interest in writing the optional essay, are you really that interested in the college?
Now, this does not apply to the optional essay that asks to explain extenuating circumstances. While this, too, is “optional,” they really mean they want you to explain something in your record and not just send them another personal statement.
The key here is to follow the directions, take the admissions process seriously and give them all of the information you can to help them decide if you will thrive at their campus.
And that is not “optional.”
Patricia Bostwick, MA, LPC
Director of College Counseling