At Stanford, Columbia, and Boston University – according to the Director of Admission at Stanford — the written portion is one of the “greatest missed opportunities of the application.”
Essay vs. Visiting
Most admissions officers place the most amount of effort on the “Why Us” essay to determine the match between the student and the institution. 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 to applications than 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.