During a stressful college application season, I went to Andrew Alsoraimi-Espiritu, an admissions officer at the University of San Diego, and asked him a few questions about the college application process. Here are some of the answers he gave me.
Q: What advice would you give to students who want to stand out on their applications?
Alsoraimi-Espiritu: I would tell students to definitely get involved. I think there’s a push for all students these days to do well academically and take the most APs and the most honors. I’ll guarantee you that there are a lot of schools that are not just looking for that; they’re really wanting students who are willing to make an impact in the world.
Yeah, you can make an impact by the number of AP courses and the number of honors courses you’ve taken, but if you’ve done something that you’re really passionate about, like volunteer work or just with organizations you’ve been involved with, that’s going to stand out to any school.
Q: What do you think is the most missed thing when writing a college essay?
Alsoraimi-Espiritu: A lot of schools that are a part of the Common App have member questions, and there’s also the essay as well. A lot of times, students choose to recycle their answers for the member questions, and the thing is, the member questions determine fit. They are very specific to the school. Definitely take your time in answering those.
Another thing that I see oftentimes is when students recycle their answers. They’re not necessarily taking the time to change the names of the schools, so there have been lots of times when I’ve read for example, “I’m applying to the University of Michigan,” because that’s also Common Application school. That’s the biggest turnoff for any admissions officer to read something like that. It’s the wrong name because they are recycling everything.
Q: Could you explain why you emphasize fit for college?
Alsoraimi-Espiritu: I think students are influenced by so many people on where they want to go. The idea is getting to college but also staying there and choosing a second home based on what is offered there and how you feel there. You could go to the elite school you can think of but have a horrible social life.
The idea is to kind of have that balance and go to a place where you’re going to be challenged academically because you’re not going to want to go to a place that’s easy. But also, go where you can make lifelong friends and do things that you’ve never really done before.
Q: What would you say to students who feel like they have “bad grades” that they won’t even think of applying?
Alsoraimi-Espiritu: I would say there’s no harm in applying but definitely reach out to the admissions office because, regardless of what school it is, there’s always someone you can talk to. So if people are concerned about their grades or “bad grades,” then have them talk to a counselor, and they’ll give them the best advice as to what to do.