We visited Skidmore recently and what we learned is so crazy that we need to pass it along to you.
First off, some background information. Over the past four years, Skidmore’s acceptance rate has dropped from an estimated 36.5% to an estimated 27%. In this time, Skidmore has also gone test-optional, meaning that you don’t need to submit standardized test scores, and they’ve nixed their supplement, making applying as easy as possible. Ever since, the number of applications they receive has skyrocketed. This spring (2018), Skidmore announced that they had experienced a 7% jump in applications in just one year and a 30% jump over the past five years.
What’s even crazier is that nothing has changed about the school. The jump in applications isn’t because they overhauled their offerings, it’s all about numbers. When applying is easier and cheaper, more people will do it. More people applying drives down acceptance rates, and it becomes a feedback loop. More applications = lower acceptance rate. Lower acceptance rate = more applications.
But that’s just the background. I recently visited Skidmore in-person and was able to speak with an admissions representative. While I asked about a number of things, my focus was the supplement. As college consultants, we believe that supplements are an important tool for students. They help a student show as many angles of themselves as possible, but they also help students narrow down their list. No kid should be applying to 25 schools. Having to do a supplement is one way of weeding out the schools that you’re really just applying to because “why not?”
When asked about the lack of supplement, he clarified that while there wasn’t a “technical” supplement, that didn’t mean that people don’t submit supplemental materials. To this, I said “Huh?” This was also paired with an exaggerated eyebrow raise. He clarified that while there is not a supplement, prospective students email the admissions office “all of the time” with unsolicited supplemental documents.
Sending unsolicited documents isn’t unheard of, but, traditionally, it is the bane of many an admissions office, and they warn applicants that it’s an excellent way to end up on some sort of blacklist. It turns out that this allegedly is not the case at Skidmore.
Yes, you read that right. According to them, when Skidmore receives supplemental materials they add them into the applicant’s file and take them into account, even when they aren’t about urgent or sudden extenuating circumstances (the only two situations in which we generally advise such emails). The most common supplement that they receive, according to the admissions representative, answers the question “Why do you want to go to Skidmore?”
This is mindblowing and, while we don’t condone spamming admissions officers, it does show that ‘best practice’ isn’t universal. You can email admissions officers, but whatever you send must be high-quality, add something useful that was missing in your application, and be thoughtfully written and professionally presented. In short, don’t waste their time.
As far as the test-optional factor, he didn’t have a satisfying answer for how they manage to ignore the lack of score. “We just do,” he said. The verdict is, if your scores don’t represent you, don’t send them. If they do, please send them as it helps towards an easy yes.
One more tidbit we gleaned from him was what he looks for in a college essay. Echoing our favorite word, he emphasized the importance of story. An essay, he said, needs to show depth, be enjoyable to read, and it needs to have a story arc. Avoid cheesy, grabby first sentences. Basically, do what we’ve been telling you this whole time.
We are continually visiting colleges so that we can provide our clients (and you!) with the best information possible. Here’s our piece on how to get into Pomona, straight from an Admissions Officer’s mouth!
If you’re looking for deeper insights and a curated college process, we’d love to help you out.