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22 MAY 2021
This blog is the final part in a three-part series of Frequently Asked Admissions Questions answered by former Dartmouth College admissions officer, Ben Schwartz. In part three, Ben answers the following questions:
Ben studied Government and Education Policy at Dartmouth, and after completing a post-graduate fellowship in West Africa, he returned to the university to serve as Assistant Director of Admissions. Ben has also served on the Dartmouth Alumni Council and chaired the Admissions and Enrollment Committee. Additionally, Ben holds an MPA from Harvard and an MBA from MIT. Today, he runs youth leadership development through a nonprofit organization called Sage Experience.
1. How do you think the elimination of SAT Subject Tests and the SAT Essay will affect the way admissions committees assess applications moving forward?
In my time at Dartmouth we never looked at the SAT Essay — so its elimination changes nothing. This is true for many other schools that said they did not consider the essay section. We did require Subject Tests, but often they were just one more opportunity for students to confirm their academic readiness. Without subject tests (or when applying SAT optional), I would lean more heavily on the transcript and teacher recommendations to feel confident that a student is ready for the rigors of our academic program. Because selective colleges have used holistic admissions for about a century now, recent changes to testing do not alter the overall decision-making process.
2. Are there any essay topics that are overdone or that you would caution students against?
How you write your personal essay matters more than what topic you write about. I want to learn about how you think, what you value, how you act, react, and interact, as well as how you reflect and grow. When reading the personal essay, I am looking for self-aware and socially-aware students who will bring intangible qualities that enrich our community, whether creativity and a sense of humor or perseverance and concern for others.
While there are no specific topics I caution against, there are four types of approaches I suggest students avoid because they rarely offer valuable perspective.
Help me understand who you are today as a consequence of your grandmother, your broken bone, your travels, your volunteering, or your grand metaphor. Be direct so every sentence helps me learn something special about you, and even when I read quickly, every word I land on makes me want to get to know you better.
3. When should I get started on my college applications?
No matter your age, you should work to become the best version of yourself. Develop strong learning habits; find ways to grow your intellectual curiosity; enhance your leadership skills so you can make a difference in your community. Practice listening, patience, and self-reflection. No matter your grade or age, you can continue to improve yourself, but make sure you’re doing things you enjoy. Do not fill your schedule to look good — fill your life with things that you value. When it comes time to apply, your application will easily showcase a passionate individual ready to make the most of our college.
NEXT WEEK: Read the first installation of our UK-focused ‘FAQs Answered by FAOs’ series, featuring former Oxford Admissions Officer Hannah Rowberry! Hannah will share what it was like to work in the admissions office of one of the UK’s best universities and describe how academic performance and test scores affect student outcomes, what admissions officers look for beyond academics, and common mistakes often made by qualified applicants.
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