Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Harvard admissions unswayed by roses, fruitcakes

(U-WIRE)–Faced with the daunting task of standing out in a crowd of nearly 20,000 Harvard University applicants, some students each year resort to gimmicks–a dozen roses sent along with their application, for example–to win over admissions officials.

Over the years the admissions office has collected “a colorful set of items” from applicants, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons said–including various desserts, a size 17 athletic shoe and a photo of one applicant’s bedroom wall, painted crimson to show school spirit.

This year’s round of admissions, which concluded last week and saw a record 19,605 applicants, brought in equally memorable items, some verging on the ridiculous.

According to Fitzsimmons, there are now guidebooks that instruct students on how to get noticed in the application process, which is often viewed as impersonal.
But these instruction manuals often inspire students to go over the top to catch the attention of the Harvard admissions committee, Fitzsimmons said.

“Maybe people think we don’t read the folders,” Fitzsimmons said.

Some familiar with the admissions process attribute the gimmicks to media attention paid to applicants who employ such marketing strategies to catch the eye of the admissions office.

“Whenever someone does a crazy stunt, it gets press [coverage],” said Connie Cooper, founder of College Foundation Planners Inc., a California-based college counseling service. “But these games don’t work.”

Nevertheless, some applicants still feel compelled to mount campaigns to win the admission committee’s vote.

One Harvard applicant sent dozens of gift pencils, each with a picture of the applicant and an inscription that read, “Admit [applicant’s name].”

Several candidates have printed their own versions of Time, selecting themselves as Man or Woman of the Year and including articles detailing their achievements and contributions.

Some applicants try to sweeten the deal with desserts–fruitcake, carrot cake and chocolate chip cookies–some of which are consumed gratefully by the admissions staff while reviewing applications.

The admissions office has also received Harvard insignia clothing as well as various edible Harvard Veritas shields.

One year an applicant from Hawaii sent a coconut, perhaps to serve “less as a snack than as a reminder of where the applicant was from,” Fitzsimmons said.

But sometimes, over-eager applicants divulge too much in their quests to please.

One applicant sent in all of his corrected papers–since kindergarten. Another applicant sent in a personal diary. A third applicant sent a huge pile of recommendation letters.

“We stopped counting at 80,” Fitzsimmons said. “Although we were happy to hear from the applicant’s orthodontist that the teeth had straightened out, we didn’t think it [was relevant].”

This veritable onslaught of extraneous information can sometimes detract from the substance of the applicant’s folder, according to Fitzsimmons.

Even smaller, creative gimmicks sometimes can flop. One applicant wrote his entire essay with his foot, as demonstrated by photos taken by his girlfriend. His essay concluded with a line about his aspirations of leaving his footprints at Harvard.

But this attempt at being funny more often than not fails to impress.

“Humor is difficult to carry off,” Fitzsimmons said. “The danger is that it could actually obscure the substance.”

College counseling services say when they advise students they try to stress the fine line students must walk between getting noticed and going over the top.

“The No. 1 thing students should do is look unique,” said Stephen H. Kramer, president of College Coach, a college counseling service based in Boston. “But gimmicky things don’t work.”

Kramer said he urges his students to find a theme that “will run through their application.” The unique theme will attract attention and, in tying together different aspects of the applicant’s folder, will not seem frivolous.

Fitzsimmons declined to comment on whether specific ploys actually work–and on how admissions officers respond to items that may seem frivolous.

He said admissions officers keep in mind the fact that overzealous parents, rather than the applicants, may be behind the extra efforts to influence the outcome.

“It isn’t always the idea of the candidate but [may come] from a well-meaning parent or friend,” Fitzsimmons said.

For that reason, Fitzsimmons said, he instructs the admissions staff to “look at the entire folder, even though there may be something frivolous inside the folder.”

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