Stanford’s Dean of Admissions on What Applicants Miss

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Empowerly Team
Empowerly Team

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Of course, we know that a strong individual profile can make your case as a college applicant. This has never been more true at top schools, where competition is fierce. To decide between highly qualified, high-achieving applicants, each seemingly tiny element can play a major role. In fact, at Stanford, Columbia, and Boston University – according to Stanford’s Dean of Admissions himself — there is one area in particular students tend to lose points.

So what is it? According to Stanford’s Dean of Admissions, the written portion is one of the “greatest missed opportunities of the application.” How does that figure? Don’t worry, we’ll walk you through it.

Essay vs. Visiting

Most admissions officers place the most amount of effort on the “Why Us” essay. Why? This essay helps to determine the match between the student and the institution. Not to mention, this is a question asked in almost every top school’s college application.

According to several admissions officers, they are able to put more effort into essays because they can get a faster and more accurate picture of a student this way.

Visiting a university is helpful if the admissions office has said they look at demonstrated interest. In our experience, the very top schools (1-10) have so many visitors that one visit makes a smaller incremental difference. This is especially true in comparison to applications with a solid “Why Us” essay and interview.

So What Should College Applicants Do?

So for seniors – focus on the essays and the interviews. If you have time, visit the colleges. Otherwise, focus on your extracurricular activities.

Many students get waitlisted or deferred both early and regular decision cycles. Providing admissions officers a concrete update on extracurricular activities and why you really want to attend a university has worked for our students in the past.

In order to provide this letter, it is very important that students keep their grades up, continue working on extracurricular activities they love, and are prompt in responding to such a waitlist/deferral letter.


Key inside perspectives like this are one of the many assets that set Empowerly apart. If you want to work with experts who have experience in admissions offices across the country, chat with us today.

Questions? Let us know!