AcceptU has assembled the largest team of former admissions officers to support applicants in the admissions process.

In this blog series, we invite you to learn more about our team and insights gleaned from their previous admissions experience.

We start with our counselor, Wardell, who was a Senior Admissions Officer at Harvard University and Assistant Dean at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public & International Affairs.

1. What can you share about the Harvard & Princeton applicationprocess that most people will not know?

Having worked in admissions at Harvard/Radcliffe, I feel the one thingthat most people do not know is the level of care and scrutiny eachapplication is given. In spite of the huge number of applications theadmissions office receives, no application is given short shrift. Theadmissions office gives every application a thorough reading and those that move on to final consideration are read several times and discussed by a number of admissions officers. The strength of the process, in addition to its thoroughness, is that there is no set formula for acceptance. Admissions officers always have healthy disagreements about applications and it is through the ensuing discussions that they are able to choose a superb class of students year after year who will not only bring the highest levels of intellectual curiosity to Harvard, but will also each bring his/her own important contribution to the University.

2. What is the first thing you read in an application?

I don’t have a set pattern for reading applications. If the candidateis from a high school that I know fairly well, I’ll probably juststart at the beginning of the application and read through it, endingwith the essays. If I don’t know the school well, I’ll look at thecounselor’s report and the transcript before reading other parts ofthe application.

3. What are the key qualities that you wish to see in an essay?

First, I like to see originality. After reading hundreds and hundredsof essays, originality is important because it will help anapplication to stand out from the others. Second, I like to seeinformation about the applicant that is not found anywhere else in theapplication. The perspective that the applicant chooses to use toshare that information is important and goes back to the originality Imentioned above. Fourth, I also need to see clarity of thought and awell-organized piece of writing. If that is not there, then the resttakes on a much less important role. Fifth, I like to seepersuasiveness and passion, and sixth, it goes without saying that theessay must be grammatically correct!

4. Can you give an example of an outstanding essay you had readas an admissions officer?

This is difficult to answer without violating confidentiality rules.In very general terms, when I think of the best essay I’ve read, it isone that was written by one of my AcceptU clients – she took aneveryday topic that no one really thinks twice about and used it as avehicle to give the reader insight into how she lives her life and theverve, energy and vitality that she would bring to her college career.It was a masterful piece of writing; it was tight, engaging andinformative.

5. Can you give an example of a mistake that caused theapplication to be rejected?

Dishonesty in any form will lead to certain rejection.

About the author
Marc Zawel

As author of Untangling the Ivy League, Marc literally wrote the book on gaining admission to highly selective colleges. He earned a BA from Cornell University – where he met AcceptU’s co-founder – and an MBA from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Marc chaired the admissions advisory board; he has also conducted alumni interviews for Cornell for more than fifteen years.

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