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The craziest ways applicants have won over admissions officers at elite American universities

AP Photo/Joerg Sarbach
Sometimes it comes down to how much you want it.
Published This article is more than 2 years old.

America’s college application process can be a maddening experience for parents and students alike. By April, acceptance letters for most universities are dispatched to families across the country, and thousands of letters are sent out to some applicants informing them that the journey is not over—because they’ve been put on the waiting list.

There are ways for students in limbo to channel their wait list anxieties. Parke Muth, a University of Virginia admissions officer for 28 years, and one time director of international admissions and associate dean of admissions, tells Quartz that, in his experience, students have been able to circumvent the regular admissions process, going to great lengths to woo admissions officers before the final decision is made. Here are some of the zaniest and most effective examples of applicants who bulldozed their way into UVA on his watch.

The more people on campus who can vouch for you, the better

One wait-listed student spent a full day on UVA’s campus creating a 100-page book of notes from students and staff who she encountered throughout the day, about why the university should accept her. Muth says he was impressed with the effort she put in and the creativity of the idea. It also took some serious powers of persuasion to  convince so many people to endorse her based on quick conversations, Muth says.

Express your desperation creatively

Genna Matthew, who was wait-listed at UVA in 2009, expressed her angst about her standing to her high school college counselor. The counselor suggested that Matthew, a singer and songwriter, write a song about it, Matthew tells Quartz. Muth says when he received the song from Matthew, he was struck not only by her talent, but also by her sense of humor about the process.

In a similar act of creative expression, a student who applied and was accepted to Olin College, a highly ranked engineering school in Massachusetts, turned his interview with an admissions officer into a juggling act of lighted tiki torches, which he did while simultaneously explaining his life story, according to a 2006 Chronicle of Higher Education story (paywall).

Make yourself ever-present, without being clingy

One year, Muth received an email at the same time every Monday morning from a wait-listed applicant, just talking about something interesting he had done over the weekend or during the week, from how he felt about his last exam, to the bond he had formed with primary school children during his community service. The last thing admissions officers want is a barrage of emails, pleading for admission or bragging about other offers, Muth says. But this worked because of the tone, he says: “He wasn’t whining, it wasn’t pleading. It was just ‘Here’s my update, I hope you have a good week.'”

Pestering with discretion is a lot more persuasive than the nagging desperation shown by some applicants and their parents, says Muth. Some parents have called him pretending to be their children, while one mother came to the UVA admissions department, followed Muth into his office, and got on her knees, begging for her son’s admission. Says Muth: “Schools want demonstrated interest but they don’t want unending pleas.”

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