By Andra Lim
How far will Southern California students go, and how creative will they get, to attract the attention of a university admissions office in a viciously competitive market made worse by the fear of unemployment that grips anyone aged 16 to 26?
The old joke is the student who sent a shoe to the office of admissions with a note chirping: “This is my way of getting my foot in the door.” These cheesy pickups do not work on admissions officers. But college applicants still morph from dedicated to desperate every year. The Six Top College Admission Tricks:
1. Cardboard Cutouts
A girl sent highly selective USC a life-size photographed cardboard cutout of herself wearing a Trojan outfit. One hand formed the USC fight-on sign (like a peace sign), and the other held application papers. USC's cross-town rival likes to joke that a Trojan is good only once. But her (probably failed) effort had staying power. Kirk Brennan, the school's director of admission, still has the cutout in his office.
2. Extreme Humiliation
A student willing to undergo extreme humiliation to get into picky Pitzer College tattooed the school's logo — an orange tree — onto their cheek and emailed a snapshot of it to the admissions office. Angel Perez, vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid, says of the tattoo: “We were really hoping it was temporary.”
3. Friends in High Places
One guy applying to high-expectations Pomona College submitted a recommendation written by a family friend, who happened to be the head of state of a small Asian country. Conor O'Rourke, assistant dean of admissions, won't say which one. Unfortunately, the chief poobah barely mentioned the poor student, going on about his friendship with the student's grandfather. “It would have been great if the grandfather was applying for admission,” O'Rourke said.
4. Complex Math Tricks
Math can prove fundamental truths: that the angles of a triangle add up to 180 degrees, for example, and, apparently, that you belong at Pitzer. One student took various Pitzer-related numbers, such the date of the college's founding and the number of majors it offers, and plugged the data into complex equations. He manipulated the equations so the answer was always his date of birth. This super geek was rejected, math genius plus lots of time to kill not equalling admission.
5. Extreme Annoyance
Irritate the application readers so they'll remember you: Before the Common Application went online, one student applying to Harvey Mudd College hand-wrote her personal essays so that the words formed a spiral, and she switched the ink color every three words, says Peter Osgood, the school's director of admission.
6. If All Else Fails, Send Ice Cream
Angel Perez worked at an East Coast school before coming to Pitzer. There, one applicant's father was a major manufacturer of ice-cream. The student sent in 30 gallons, including chocolate, cookie dough, rainbow sherbet. Her note said she hoped the gift would sweeten her way in. She was likely rejected for major trite violations.