College Confidential Nyu Supplemental Essays

1:18 p.m. | Updated See below for several comments that take issue with the position argued here, including from Sally Rubenstone of College Confidential and Stacey Cunitz of the Crefeld School in Philadelphia.

In a post this month — under the headline “Does ‘President,  Lady Gaga Fan Club’ Belong on a College Application?” — my colleague Rebecca R. Ruiz asked the question, “Are there certain hobbies, passions or accomplishments you’ve excluded from your college application, feeling they’re not worthy or relevant?” Picking up on a thread from the Web site College Confidential, the post explored the notion of “hidden extracurriculars” — one person cycled 1,000 miles, another read every Agatha Christie novel — and how to alert a college admissions office to such activities, if at all.

On Friday night, The Choice received a provocative response from Jon Reider. He is a former admissions officer at Stanford, longtime counselor at a private high school in San Francisco and a co-author of “Admission Matters: What Students and Parents Need to Know About Getting Into College.” His counsel, boiled down to one word, is “restraint.”

“I can understand the desire to have a little fun with the application, and some colleges actually invite some playfulness on their application supplements, such as Tufts and the University of Chicago,” wrote Mr. Reider, an advisor for an online college counseling service, iAdmissions.com. “But they do it in a serious context, and they are mainly interested in how the student’s mind works when they let themselves use their imagination rather than in their being odd or quirky for its sake.”

At this point, I’m going to get out of my own way and let Mr. Reider have the floor. After you’ve read what he’s written, you can use the comment box below to keep this conversation going. Here is the remainder of Mr. Reider’s advice:

Yes, it is a challenge to try to stand out among the thousands of applicants with similar grades, scores and activities, and the random admission officer may crack a smile at the Lady Gaga fan club, or the Agatha Christie fascination. We all have our private odd interests, after all.

But then cool reason will intercede. The admission officer will look forward to the next morning in committee and how he will make a case for the Lady Gaga kid when each of his colleagues has a stack of solid files in front of them too. Self-protection will come into play, and Lady Gaga will go into the ‘might have been if we only had more room’ pile. Close, but no cigar.

This is how it works.

But there is a larger problem in this conversation that most of the contributors have not mentioned: the idea of gaming the system.

Again, this is common and comes in many forms, some borderline honest, and some clearly outrageous. This is the sad side of the college admissions scene today: the frenzy, the hunt for your own private hook, the gimmick, the need ultimately to win some prize called College X.

What is the price to a student’s self-respect (not the same as their self-esteem, which will be rewarded by admission) if they play the game this way?

Sure, they may never notice what they have done, but they have trivialized themselves. What kind of an introduction to the adventure of higher education is this? I respect students who keep the process in perspective and don’t lower themselves to this level.

I don’t honestly think it helps them to get cute, and I think it hurts them in another, more subtle way. It’s like fighting an election by defaming your opponent. It might work, but is it worth it? And is it good for the general welfare?

What do you think? Please let us know below.

To read an archive of advice in our occasional “Tip Sheet” posts, click here.

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