In Their Own Words: Counselors on the Application Process

Demonstrated passion makes an application stand out.

Hello from Mason Hall! I hope those of you affected by Superstorm Sandy are recovering and finding relief. With the Early Decision deadline behind us (unless you were impacted by the storm, in which case you have until Tuesday, Nov. 6th to submit your application) and the Regular Decision deadline swiftly approaching, we Insiders thought it would be fun to gather some advice and reflections on the application process from our counseling staff. Read on to learn what Shannon Miller, Katie Rieder, and John Birney do when they need a break from work, what grabs their attention in an application, and what they wish they had known when they were in your shoes.

1) What really piques your interest when you’re reading a file? What gets you most excited about a student?

Shannon Miller: The part of the application that piques my interest the most is definitely the essay. This is the part of the application where I feel like I REALLY get to know the student who I have been reading about in all of the other pieces. It is where I get to hear his/her voice and imagine him/her on our campus. I know the student is a fit for us when after reading the essay I can see them in one of our classrooms, imagine them as a great roommate, or picture them giving back to our community.

Katie Rieder: Students that are passionate, and that passion is palpable in their application. It doesn’t matter what the student is passionate about – it could be jump roping, building robots, or being in beauty pageants. But if I find myself wanting to know more because the student is so excited about it, that’s a very good thing.

Demonstrated passion makes an application stand out.

John Birney: While academic achievements should be applauded, I’m really excited when I read students who are committed to being involved in various activities, and taking on leadership roles within them. Student-life is such a large part of what makes a school and its campus special, I do try to find students who will continue to make a positive impact on our campus by enhancing the various activities that excite them.

 2) If you could talk to your 17 year old self now, what is the one piece of advice you would give yourself about applying to college?

SM: Start earlier – I was a parent’s worst nightmare. I didn’t visit colleges until after I knew where I was admitted, and then we did a whirlwind tour of 7 colleges in 3 days. When it came to the application, I was THAT student submitting everything the night before the deadline. Now, don’t get me wrong, I LOVED my college experience (and definitely wouldn’t have changed it!), but the whole process would have been a lot easier and a lot less stressful if I had put a little more effort into it. I am NOT saying that you should be starting the college hunt in 7th grade, or that you need to have your final list by 9th. What I am saying is that during your junior year, you should start thinking about what you like, and how schools can match those interests, both inside and outside the classroom. Maybe, visit a few local schools – one large, one medium, and one small sized – to see where you feel comfortable. Then you can branch out further during the spring and summer, so when you go into your senior year, you have a solid list of where you want to apply. This will also allow you to focus on the application a bit earlier…maybe get some ideas rolling for that essay before the school year even starts. We all know that the fall of your senior year can be a bit crazy, so if some of the basic application stuff is already done, you can enjoy it a little more!

KR: Breathe.  It will work out.  And look forward to buying all new clothes. People dress very differently for college on the East Coast vs. the Midwest, where I grew up. That part of freshmen year was really fun.

JB: So much has changed since the days I applied to college! I would encourage myself to ask a lot of questions about what I really desire in a college experience, and then apply that to the vast amount of research that is available now, that wasn’t available then. Once I figured out my college choices, I would seriously consider applying Early Decision to my first choice school.

3) You’ve been reading applications for eight hours straight and you have one hour of “me time.” What do you do?

SM: It all depends on how I am feeling. Sometimes I will curl up on the couch and watch one of my favorite TV shows, sometimes I will go for a run, sometimes I’ll meet my friends for dinner, and sometimes I’ll go shopping. The one thing I do know about my “me time” is that I will definitely NOT be sitting by the computer…I need that time to give my eyes a break after all the reading I have been doing!

KR: Return all the clothes that I didn’t like/didn’t fit that I bought during an online shopping spree, which occurred while reading for 8 hours straight the week before. I obviously have a deep-seated shopping issue (see my answer to #2). I’d probably also make a nice dinner.

JB: Watch a Hopkins sporting event. It’s great to watch our competitive teams consistently win over our conference rivals – all while suppressing the memory that there are still more applications to read!

J.B. enjoys JHU athletic events, like lacrosse games, as his break from app reading.

 4) Choose one of the Common App essay topics. Write the first four sentences of your response to this topic.

SM: “Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.”

I overheard my mom talking to my dad – “the washing machine is clogged AGAIN…this time, with pizza crust. I just got all of the noodles out yesterday!” My sister, Catie, sat in the hallway crying, not knowing any English, and definitely not understanding why my mom was so frustrated. Of course, Catie put her leftovers from dinner in her pockets. Where else was she supposed to hide them?

JB: “Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.”

I’m not someone who cries. That’s not to say that I never have, or never will again, it’s just that shedding a tear isn’t on my daily list of things-to-do. At the birth of my first son Jack, I cried (more like a sob).  When my second son Carter was born, there I was weeping again. I cried when I presented my sister at her wedding; I even shed a tear at the when I hear the “Christmas Shoes” song. I’m learning that crying is really not all that bad, and recently, I cried at work.

See? Counselors are human too. They take shopping  and sports breaks, have things they would change about their college processes, and have interesting stories to share!

Best of luck as you complete your applications, and check back soon for more exciting news from Homewood!