Admissions officer to students: Be nice—it just might get you into college

What's missing from today's college applications?

At some schools, admissions officers read around 90 applications per day

That's a lot of letters of recommendation to read through. And with so much praise for so many high performers, it can be hard to distinguish which applicants stand out from the rest, explains Rebecca Sabky, former Director of Admissions for International Outreach and Strategic Initiatives and current part-time admissions officer at Dartmouth College

Help students mitigate college application stress

Writing in a New York Times opinion piece, Sabky shares one example of an applicant whose letter of recommendation stood out thanks to a unique byline– the school custodian wrote it. 

The custodian shared how the applicant was the only student in his large high school that knew the names of every member of the school's janitorial staff. He wrote about how the student, accepted to Dartmouth in a unanimous vote, always turned off the lights when leaving classrooms, tidied up after his classmates, and showed appreciation for the custodian's hard work. 

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The recommendation displayed the applicant's genuine kindness—something Sabky says is difficult to discern through test scores, personal essays, and "typically superfluous" letters of recommendation. Most applicants' letters of recommendations come from school presidents, celebrities, and other distinguished individuals the student hopes will impress an admissions officer.

Sabky argues these recommendations don't help paint a picture of the applicants' intangible qualities. Instead, she says, "a sincere character evaluation from someone unexpected will mean more to [admissions officers] than any boilerplate recommendation" (Sabky, New York Times, 4/4). 

Another characteristic difficult to pinpoint in an application? Grit.

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