By Chris Teare
September 16, 2015
Excerpted from forbes.com
At a Mock Admissions Committee meeting last night at Seven Hills School, a fine independent institution in suburban Cincinnati, I saw an example of two qualities a successful college application must demonstrate: Coherence and Congruence. The applicant who won the most acceptances from students and parents led by college and university admissions officers demonstrated both qualities, and I will explain how she did it. First, however, definitions of these two C words: For something to cohere it has to “hang together.” For something to have congruence, as with geometric shapes, it has to “fit.” I have seen college applications fail the tests of either coherence, congruence, or both, and thereby fall short of earning an offer of admission. Last night, only one student of four earned offers from all 17 mock admissions committees. Here is how these qualities work when it comes to evaluating applications:
First, the transcript of courses and grades, the standardized testing (if required), the class rank (if reported), and the school profile (critical context) provide the quantitative elements available for analysis. The higher the numbers, the better. But they alone are not enough. Complementing these data are the qualitative elements available in the resume of activities, the personal statement or essay, and the counselor and teacher recommendations. The coherence test is whether or not these different elements—the ones you can add up numerically, as well as the others that you can quantify but are actually value judgments about human characteristics—all make sense together.
Last night one candidate lost support last when, with a Hispanic surname and claiming the ability to read, write, and speak Spanish, he had earned a D in the subject. Something is wrong with that picture, and it does not read to the student’s credit. Moreover, his counselor recommendation mentioned a career-ending injury for this avid soccer player, yet nowhere does the student acknowledge something the counselor found so significant. The student may have obscurely alluded to the injury in his essay with the hackneyed phrase—“Make lemons out of lemonade”—but providing little detail and demonstrating a lack of original thinking and expression by using a cliché cost him in my book. His application just didn’t hang together.
The way to demonstrate coherence is to be a qualified student who has human elements to offer the campus that add up. Such applicants have resumes of extracurricular commitment, write intelligently about items at or near the top of their list of activities, and ideally, have those endeavors and character traits corroborated in the letters written by counselors and teachers. Applicants need to make sure that their counselor knows what they do outside the classroom and can bear witness. The best applications I have read are ones where the activities, essay and recommendations all add up to that same “I know who this kid is” reaction. That is demonstrating coherence. One extremely bright applicant in last night’s exercise—the one with the toughest classes, highest grades, and strongest test scores usually fell short because he had nothing to offer outside the classroom, came across in a recommendation as a student who only worked when he was interested, and was hard to see as anyone’s roommate. Bright as he is, our committees generally did not offer him admission.
Where congruence is concerned, you need to research the institutions you are considering and assess, as best as you can, whether or not the college or university you have in mind will value what you have to offer.
Chris Teare is Senior Associate Director of Admissions at Drew University in Madison, NJ. He covers education and the college application process. Read Teare's full report as it was originally published on forbes.com right here.