As a former college recruiter, I had an active role in reading the college admission essays submitted by students across the globe. The most common, and likely most heart-wrenching, error often was related to the performance or quality of the printed materials comprising the application. Many prospective students failed to double-check the pages to ensure each was printed clearly and legibly. With thousands of high-school students vying for a very limited number of freshman slots on our small liberal arts campus, this often led to the application getting cast aside and eliminated from further consideration.
A perfect example of this ill-fated scenario was the young student from Oregon who had provided an exemplary application, rich with glowing recommendations. He had all of the benchmarks of the student that we thought would most succeed in the environment that this campus provided. He had taken great effort with his application and attached a lengthy, five or six page essay to the back as requested in the directives provided.
When the admission team sat down to read his essay, the first page promised it would expand more on the motivations that had led him to the many achievements and successes attained during his non-traditional high school career. However, the second page began to display those tell-tale signs that the ink cartridge was faltering. By page three, there was not a person at the table who could make out what the essay said, and the final pages exhibited an odd configuration of lines and marks completely devoid of any actual text.
The situation precipitating this incident was fairly clear to those of us attempting to review his work: he had overlooked the importance of double-checking the printed copies to ensure there was no ink or printer issue that might mar his otherwise excellent packet. With hundreds more to wade through before the end of the day, the repercussion was that a student with great potential was removed from the running for a freshman slot. As harsh as this is, deadlines and legibility are key factors that recruiters must and do pay vigilant attention to when making student selections for the coming year.
While it may seem unfair and a bit rigid that such applications would deem a student exempt from follow-up or admission, there must be some ways to thin the herd when reviewing vast piles of materials from many worthy applicants. The lesson here is that nothing is fool-proof; read and re-read each and every page before submitting it to any college admission board. If those reviewing the essays and documentation can’t read it, it will likely be cut from further consideration.