This spring, I did a presentation for high school counselors about controversial college essay topics during the Michigan Association for College Admission Counseling annual meeting in Battle Creek.
While there, I chatted about the essay with admission reps from Kalamazoo College, Ohio Wesleyan, the University of Michigan and Michigan State University. In my work at Wow Writing Workshop in Huntington Woods, I also talk to college officers from large, small, public, private and Ivy schools all the time.
No matter what type of school, the reps all tell me the essay is an important piece of the application process, and that they want to read personal narratives that demonstrate reflection. At its core, a college essay is all about reflection.
“The college essay is the one thing that can separate you from everyone else in the application pool,” said John Ambrose, interim executive director of admissions and recruitment at MSU.
The end of the school year is a great time for juniors to begin the application process; we wrote three books to help get students started (scroll to the end of this piece to get your copy for free!).
Meanwhile, I asked MSU’s Ambrose to talk more about what he looks for in a college application. Here is his best advice.
What is the secret to getting into MSU?
“Be your most authentic self! Students put a lot of effort into trying to convince admissions officers who they think we want to see. Authenticity is always appreciated.”
What’s your elevator pitch to prospective Spartans?
“MSU is looking for people who care about making a difference in the world. The ‘Spartans Will’ speaks to the heart of who we are as Spartans and the attitude we have about developing world changers.”
What advice do you give to parents who say college is so competitive today they would not be admitted to the colleges they attended?
“Each year the application pool changes from the size to the strength of the academic profile. MSU is no different. We have watched our application counts grow along with the academic profile. A number of students in our entering class begin at MSU with college credits they earned while they were in high school, and that’s one of the biggest changes from then to now.”
What’s the typical GPA of an admitted MSU student?
“Our freshman profile at the 50th percentile ranges from a 3.5 to 3.9 GPA, and 1130-1300 SAT Composite and a 23-29 ACT.”
How important is Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate?
“We encourage students to challenge themselves and take the highest level of preparatory coursework available. AP and IB students gain a wealth of academic texture and contextual rigor that provides them with a wonderful sense of preparedness prior to enrolling in college or university.
“I think it is very important to the academic experience that a high school student can choose from (these options).”
What are the four top factors you consider for admission to MSU?
- Test score
- Grade trend
“We also consider the personal statement, senior year schedule and extracurricular activity as a part of our holistic review.”
How can an application essay help an applicant?
“In the essay, take the opportunity to show us your authentic self and try really hard not to repeat things that are already apart of your application. I wish students spent more time on their essay.”
What do you look for in a college essay?
“Genuineness of character, unique flair of personality, identifiable traits of a leader or follower, team player and someone who has the capacity to add to the rich diversity of our campus and our traditions as a Spartan Nation.”
What advice would you give to a student whose grades and test scores are not a sure thing for MSU, but who really wants to attend MSU?
“If they want to be at MSU, we want them to be here, too. Transferring into MSU is competitive but not at the same volume as entering with the freshman class. Students have a strong opportunity to transfer who have 28 earned college credits and completed college algebra and college writing while maintaining a 3.0 or better cumulative grade point average.”
How do you respond to a student who thinks the MSU campus is too big?
“You can always make big things smaller, and we have done that by offering living and learning programs that give the student a small college feel in a large university setting.
“Additionally, we have compartmentalized the campus into geographic pockets we call ‘neighborhoods’ by decentralizing some key support services, so you don’t have to travel across campus to go to tutoring or the health clinic. Those services are available in each neighborhood. Come see us, and we will be happy to show you around the campus!”
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The author of this post, Kim Lifton, is president of Wow Writing Workshop, based in Huntington Woods in Michigan. Her strategic communication and writing services company is a leading expert on the college application essay.
She works directly with students, and trains school counselors, English teachers and independent educational consultants.
To learn more about writing an attention-grabbing college essay, download a free electronic copy of Lifton’s book, How to Write an Effective College Application Essay, The Inside Scoop for Parents.