Resume and Cover letters

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Discus: College Admissions: December 2003 Archive: July 2003 Archive: Resume and Cover letters
By Sandy (Sandy) on Monday, June 30, 2003 - 02:27 pm: Edit

I have heard a lot about them. I am quite interested in cover letters. I have read MorganTruce's advice everywhere about cover letters, but I am still not too sure about the content. Morgan, can you please give me some concrete examples? I am not too intrigued by the resume idea. What do you guys think? Is it necessary? I am willing to set up one, but I just don't like the idea itself. Isn't there always space on applications for awards, Ecs, jobs, etc? You can always attach an extra page if there is not enough space. What do you guys think?
Thanx in advance.

By Morgantruce (Morgantruce) on Monday, June 30, 2003 - 03:12 pm: Edit

The idea of a resume for someone who has limited education, little if any work experience, and attached to an application that already covers everything---seems odd and silly to me. But, if a college asks for one, you have to give them one if you want to go there. I never encountered such a request--fortunately.

A cover letter is in a different category. Colleges don't ask for them. But, the practice of sending a cover letter with any collection of documents is so widely practiced by every imaginable sort of organization, no college should be surprised to see one, yet few students make use a cover letter to introduce themselves and this assorment of documents found in this big manilla envelope. IMHO a big envelope full of stuff is a bit of a mystery.

The cover letter----at a minimum--introduces you, details what is included, what will be coming separately, and contact information. Here's the good part: you can sneak in a few vital paragraphs that establish yourself as a serious applicant---with a history, a purpose, and some ambition.

There are 1,160,000 references to the term "cover letter" on Google: there's no need to rely on my dicey experience. The 1,160,000 results indicate that there are a few people who think that cover letters are of some use, wouldn't you think?

The fact that so many of the Google listings are advertisments for companies that offer "cover letter writing" services says something about the huge demand for cover letters--but I saw plenty of free advice there as well!

By Sandy (Sandy) on Monday, June 30, 2003 - 03:21 pm: Edit

Thanx Morgantruce. I love the idea of a cover letter. I don't know why many people are against it. If it doesn't help you, it can't hurt either. I, from the bottom of my heart, don't like resumes. None of my colleges ask for one. Still, people do include it. I would rather not. So if it isn't a requirement, there is no harm in not including one?

By Morgantruce (Morgantruce) on Monday, June 30, 2003 - 03:50 pm: Edit

No harm that I can see! I think putting one in makes an applicant appear foolish. "Look at my nearly empty resume!"

If I had to guess, the whole crazy idea started from some well-intentioned high school teacher who was showing a class how to apply for a job.

What it boils down to: if you are so scattered that you have so many activities you can't list them in the blanks provided in the application, just attach a separate page and say "see attached page." Ta Da! No need to play like a big executive seeking a job.

Writing a resume when you have not much to put in is pure torture! There is no end to the things one can put in a cover letter! The trick is to edit without mercy!

I make no bones about it: what I call a cover letter, LOOKS like a cover letter... but is well-disguised as a heavy duty marketing letter. The product you are selling is... you! Only the first and last paragraph are the usual cover letter formula. Elsewhere on this board, I've actually spelled out a few paragraphs. Whenever I did, I would always get flamed by people who said that no one needed such a thing---as if they were speaking for all of humanity. They seemed convinced that each admissions office is staffed with a specialist that does nothing but look for applications that were accompanied by cover letters---taking each one and throwing it into the shredder.

As I've said before, we had several indications from colleges that comments in the cover letter were considered... and that's all that this is about!

By Thedad (Thedad) on Monday, June 30, 2003 - 05:51 pm: Edit

Either one of you quit--Sandy or Sunshine--and I'll be on your cases like white on rice. You've shown too much and have too much potential. I have room in my life to shepherd [nag?] other kids besides my D and I've done it from time to time. And if that doesn't scare you, I'll threaten to sing Bob Dylan imitations. Now come along quietly....

By Morgantruce (Morgantruce) on Monday, June 30, 2003 - 06:11 pm: Edit

Here's a few unsolicited tips:

In a desktop file, place a Word file and call it blurbs.doc--- on that page, put all your standard blurbs--paragraphs that you'll uses on many different applications. Copy and paste.

Make a separate file folder for each college.

Don't print out a stack of essays too far ahead of time--- you'll be surprised how may spellllling mistakes you'll find later on... or a sentence that you want to tune up just a bit. Be sure to number the versions of each essay---so you always grab the latest revision.

Make sure a copy of everything winds up in each college folder---trust nothing to memory.

In your email program, make a folder in your inbox for each college. File all received and all sent messages. You can reach for some standard blurbs when writing emails.

If you fill out any applications by hand or typewriter, you can still use your word processor to print out a very tightly printed "blurb" that you can cut out and glue stick neatly into your application. Looks good---and you KNOW it will fit beforehand. If it doesn't fit, reduce the font size and print again.

Use a one page paper spreadsheet to keep track of all the dates, submissions, etc---- so that you know at a glance what you still have to do for each college.

At the top of every document, letter, email, or recommendation form insert:
"RE: Jane Doe, SS#123-45-6789, Applicant for Fall,2004" The folks in admissions will like you for making their job easier.

Never mail the only copy you have of anything.

By Sandy (Sandy) on Monday, June 30, 2003 - 08:04 pm: Edit

Thanx Morgantruce. That is some good advice.

>>And if that doesn't scare you, I'll threaten to sing Bob Dylan imitations.
No, please no! I promise to not quit. :) (Like I already didn't have enough naggers in my life, lol)

>>Two days after you mail in your last application you will undergo something like "separation anxiety"---and feel a strong desire to have some more forms to fill out.

I think your prediction might come out to be true. A week after my SAT1, I actually did miss those prep books a little. I have no liking for the SATs, but it was kind of weird. People, please don't start....(you know what)

By the way, did I mention that TheDad and MorganTruce are one of the very few cool parents I have met?

By Morgantruce (Morgantruce) on Monday, June 30, 2003 - 08:39 pm: Edit

I guarantee you, after you send that last application, you WILL look at your copies and immediately start thinking..."I could have made myself look a little better here... I should have put this in here... that would have been a better word... etc.

Do yourself a BIG favor. Go over everything with a fine tooth comb. If you use the "blurbs" idea, make absolutely 100% certain that they are grammatical and error free---you don't want to make the same mistake on every application! Have several people look at your essays---people who are very proper with English. Use spell-checkers, but do not take all of their suggestions to change---spell checkers make lots of mistakes: especially in the area of suggesting words that are completely wrong for the context. You be the judge.

Make sure everything you do comes across as mature, thoughtful, intelligent and respectful. Avoid sounding boastful, joking, or rushed.

Make no attempt at being funny, with one exception. In some obscure corner of the application, in some area that is not really very important, (in the 17th extra activity?) choose purposely to state something in a way that shows that you do have some sense of wry humor. Look at it afterwards and make sure it is not offensive and "feels" OK. Get a second opinion. At the admissions office, a careful reader of your application will spot this and will compare it to the very serious feel of the rest of the application--and realize that you very purposely inserted that for "his benefit"--kind of like a gift... kind of like an easter egg among software programmers. If you think it's too weird... forget it!

By Sandy (Sandy) on Monday, June 30, 2003 - 09:06 pm: Edit

How do you come up with such weird, awesome ideas?

By Sandy (Sandy) on Monday, June 30, 2003 - 09:12 pm: Edit

How about some humor in the essays? I mean not stupid jokes, but some way of making them alive. I mean all essay books suggest that humor as it comes naturally is fine.

By Morgantruce (Morgantruce) on Monday, June 30, 2003 - 09:24 pm: Edit

Humor is a lot harder to pull off than you would think. Just ask any of the the 86,284 unemployed comedians.

I would only use it as a rare spice--not a main course.

By Thedad (Thedad) on Monday, June 30, 2003 - 09:44 pm: Edit

For starters, if you were born in Arizona, you'd have a sense of Yuma.

MT is right, humor is very difficult to pull off. Otoh, if I were giving a coaching class, I would *absolutely* say to show it not just once, but streaks of it throughout. Not silly, not dumb; wry is nice, self-deprecating is very nice if you don't overdo can show you don't take *yourself* too seriously while taking your *work* very seriously.

A bit of humor will help you stand out from all the apps that are deadly dull, smug, self-satisified, and Extremely Earnest. It can also be the wellspring that shows a bit of *you* as a person, not just a carefully tailored abstraction.

I have some small experience with humor in public and would conclude by saying it's very helpful if you can be absolutely fearless when you do it...if you're second-guessing yourself, it's likely not to come off nearly as well.

By Thedad (Thedad) on Monday, June 30, 2003 - 09:46 pm: Edit

Postscript: it occurs to me that related to humor is "quirky." If you are a bit of a quirky person, don't bland yourself out in your essays, let it show through. Well, unless you're a psychopath or something. I think it helps to come across as an interesting 3-D person as opposed to one of the crowd.

By Sunshine916 (Sunshine916) on Monday, June 30, 2003 - 11:29 pm: Edit

TheDad and MorganTruce are awesome. thanks for the great ideas. and no TD i suppose i wont quit...i've come wayyyyyy too far to give up on the home stretch.

i just get these days or hours when i think "im an idiot. how stupid am i that i got a 1440 on my SAT's? Why am i so stupid? i should just go to some state college and not bore Yale/Cornell/fill in the blank with my insane idiocy only to get laughed at that i even bothered applying and rejected because i'm not good enough anyways" then i start thinking of all the wonderful people i know who are better than me in every way, knowing they are applying to the same collegs, and i get even more depressed. lol...welcome to my life.

heck i havent even given a thought to my essays. i just dont even want to think about applications. im waiting for a few more before i begin...

if i have a mental breakdown one of these days, somebody needs to reason with me. this crazy ohio heat isnt good for my brain. especially mixed with my 640 (gasp!) verbal SAT score...

By Morgantruce (Morgantruce) on Wednesday, July 02, 2003 - 12:07 am: Edit

Colleges want to find out about you so they can decide if you've got the stuff they're looking for. There was probably a day--and not too far back I suspect---when students wrote letters to colleges applying for admission; they had various people write letters of recommendation as well. The colleges looked all this over and, after perhaps interviewing the student, would either admit them or reject them.

Whoever invented the application form should have known better. It seems to have had the effect of making students believe that there is just one way to get into college: fill out the form just exactly the way the college says to do it.

Yes, there are certainly some colleges that want the forms filled out so they can run all the numbers and do their job efficiently. But I believe there are a significant number of colleges that would look kindly toward an applicant that is not a slave to form--a student who has the initiative to present themselves in a manner of their own choosing. It is up to you to decide which college falls into which category---but I would tend to guess that huge state colleges would tend to want the form followed, and small liberal arts colleges might be a little more open to the idea I suggest---but you have to decide. In some cases, there is nothing wrong with giving them "a little of both"--- a complete form AND the materials that you want them to consider. Beware: there are some institutions (and they are instituitions) that specifically state that you are to send in nothing but their forms. Freewheeling at a place like that would be very risky.

If you do choose to go off the beaten path a bit, I would suggest that you make sure that the package you send in is at least easy to interpret and organize. It won't work if what you send in gives them the message that your're just trying to be cool and different. Being polite and repectful of the admission's office's task will go a long way. Many times we sent in a form that was largely blank--with a note to "see attached" which kind of let's them know your intention. Since you were polite about it, they might accept your version of the presentation and leave it at that. But there are a lot of colleges that just run check lists--and will let you know if they think a form is missing. Phone two weeks after mailing--if they say the application material is complete---that is a good indication that they "bought" your version.

Don't feel bad if you feel that these suggestions are just not for you. They are not for everyone. Think about it some: if all you have are a bunch of endless questions, it probably is not for you. If a bunch of great ideas come to your mind right away, perhaps you should consider going in that direction... carefully.

By Sunshine916 (Sunshine916) on Wednesday, July 02, 2003 - 12:19 am: Edit

i have a question

my guidance counselor (who unfortunately is not very helpful), after talking to my friend and I and asking what schools we are considering (Cornell, Johns Hopkins, Duke, Tufts, Brown, BU, etc for the both of us), told us that we should make a portfolio of stuff to copy and send to colleges.

said something along the lines of "a lot of colleges say they dont want this stuff, but it seems like the people who dont send it dont get accepted, and the people who do seem to have a better chance."

okay people from my school have gotten into Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Brown, fill in the blank, but somehow this whole "portfolio" idea just sounds bad.

what am i goign to put in there? my NHS Certificate? My AIME award? My National Latin Exam medal?

it just seems like extra stuff that will get the adcoms annoyed.

my friend and i were just talking about this. is this a completely bad idea or should we listen to our counselor? im just afraid collegs will get sick of all the useless info.

By Interesteddad (Interesteddad) on Wednesday, July 02, 2003 - 12:51 am: Edit


I don't disagree with what you are saying about alternative formats. However, I would be very wary of straying from the standard application or from encumbering it with a bunch of extraneous material.

The reality is that the adcoms have a stack of 500 applications to wade through and give each one, on average, about 10 minutes. You don't want them spending those precious minutes hunting.

The sense I got from "The Gatekeepers" is that they despise extraneous stuff with an app almost as much as a boring essay.

By Thedad (Thedad) on Wednesday, July 02, 2003 - 02:58 am: Edit

Sunshine, my D was disappointed with her SAT after the PSAT, too: 690 V vs. 77 V & 80 W. Here's to both of you having a better run this fall.

By Dadster (Dadster) on Wednesday, July 02, 2003 - 06:50 am: Edit

Interesteddad, I think one could make a counter-argument based on your assumption of many apps/little time. If you want your app to stand out in that pile of 500, perhaps you should do something a bit different...

I think one DOES want to be careful with attachments and not include, say, 20 pages of mediocre poems. But if a student has something to separate himself from the pack, it may well be worth including.

By Daveb (Daveb) on Wednesday, July 02, 2003 - 09:19 am: Edit

Don't you just hate authors who quote themselves? Well, I couldn't pass up this opportunity to cite something I mention in America's Elite Colleges:

The cover letter:

Lots of people wonder why you would ever need a cover letter. For me, a cover letter provides a kind of “overture” or preamble to the application itself. You’ve already seen how complex and exhaustive an application like this is. It’s a kind of epic event. Just as those great screen epics, Gone With the Wind and Dr. Zhivago, had their own musical overtures before the movie started, so too does an Ivy application deserve one.

As you’ll see, though, there’s a method to this madness. The letter does three things:

1. It shows that the applicant has his act together. Notice that John has accounted for all the elements of his application package. He tells Princeton what’s included and what to expect from others who are sending in supporting materials.

2. It justifies the applicant’s position. John tells it like it is: “Princeton is my clear, first-choice school.” That statement is music to the adcom’s ears. In this era of multiple EA applications, ED I and ED II, and all the other opportunities for fleeting loyalties, it’s nice to know where an applicant’s heart lies.

3. It adds a touch of humor. The effective use of humor is probably the most misunderstood and underutilized element in college applications. John’s comment about ditching the typewriter is a nice touch that may signal the adcom to be on the lookout for more light-hearted input further into the application. As you’ll see, there is more.

By Dromedary (Dromedary) on Wednesday, July 02, 2003 - 11:26 am: Edit

"Beware: there are some institutions (and they are instituitions) that specifically state that you are to send in nothing but their forms. Freewheeling at a place like that would be very risky."

Good words of warning from M-Truce. This is exactly what my first-choice school said about extra materials. They were only interested if you were submitting works as a serious artist who intended to use their talents as a hook. If you just dabbled in art, they didn't want to see it.

By Interesteddad (Interesteddad) on Wednesday, July 02, 2003 - 11:44 am: Edit


>> I think one DOES want to be careful with attachments and not include, say, 20 pages of mediocre poems. But if a student has something to separate himself from the pack, it may well be worth including.

My test on whether to include something or not would be the same as the test for whether to write something on the app: does it add something to reinforce one of the three "bullet points" being marketed by the app as a whole. My sense is that the most effective applications are tightly focused on no more than three feature/benefits. The ultimate goal would be to achieve that coveted "nickname" status in the admissions office.

Attaching something just to attach something and make the app look more impressive is almost certainly misguided. Honestly, I think the adds of attaching something that even gets read, let alone impresses an adcom, is probably pretty slim. So my questions would be, "what do I hope to accomplish with this attachment?" and "how does this attachment reinforce a key point I've already emphasized somewhere in the application?"

My concern would be substituting a different format for the application itself. Most of the application is straightforward information: addresses, test scores, parent's college, yadda, yadda, yadda. I see no benefit in make the adcom work to find basic nuts and bolts data like that.

By Morgantruce (Morgantruce) on Wednesday, July 02, 2003 - 12:22 pm: Edit

When one does not see, it is poor form to warn others not to look.

-- old West Virginia proverb

By Interesteddad (Interesteddad) on Wednesday, July 02, 2003 - 01:04 pm: Edit

>> When one does not see, it is poor form to warn others not to look.

True. On the other hand, we've all seen the lists of "stats" posted here and can conclude that there is definitely some misperception about marketing to a college.

If it contributes to a specific purpose in an application strategy, consideration of attachments and/or alternative formats makes perfect sense.

Conversely, give those ideas to some of the "here are my stats, what are my chances" posters here, the notion of attachments conjures up mental images of reams of computer printouts of EC activities and applications so ponderous that they have to be shipped in wood crates. The whole approach is misguided because (assuming a half-way decent match to a particular school), the stats and list of ECs don't really mean diddly. It's all about giving them one thing that makes you stand out. Maybe attachments or alternative formats can contribute to that; maybe they can't. It depends on what is being sold.

To me, the starting point for EVERY decision about an application is, "what am I trying to market and how does this answer, essay, or attachment support that?" As in any good marketing effort, less is usually more. For example, in politics, it's "stay on message". Why? Because the reality is that, at best, you can hope the audience remembers one or two things about your product. The trick is to have them remember the one or two most important things.

In my daughter's case, we are considering an extra recommendation letter beyond the two teachers and guidance counselor. But, it is for a specific purpose in support of a very specific and highlighted "feature/benefit" and would relate directly to her main essay topic.

We are considering it because it may be the only way to include some information about a particular activity that can't come in my daughter's voice because it would be self-serving puffery. It can't come from teacher recommendations because it has nothing to do with her school. It can't replace a teacher recommendation because the recommender hasn't known my daughter for a long period of time: it's an age appropriate activity (typically college age) that wouldn't have made any sense before this year, although it does tie to previous math tutoring activities in a different setting.

So I'm not suggesting that there is anything wrong with attachments or alternative formats. Simply that they should only be considered if there is a good answer to the question, "why?"

By Laxgirl04 (Laxgirl04) on Wednesday, July 02, 2003 - 01:12 pm: Edit

a few questions then for the resume people =).

I have finished my essay for the common app (I was inspired by looking at Rice's prompt--don't ask me why--but it's going to go under "topic of your choice") and it runs about 4 lines over one page (single spaced) and is about 670 words. Since it will be significantly revised (and there's at least 100 words that I'll be able to cut) is it okay to have it be over 500 words as long as it fits on one page? I've had about three "outsiders" read it and all think it is hilarious. It doesn't say THAT much about me directly, but it really uses my voice (boy am I glad I got one essay draft done). I assume this essay will work for most places and that I'll need to write around 1 more to fit all my applications, plus 2-4 more short answer types.

Secondly, HOW ON EARTH can you use the common app (or other apps) extracurricular boxes? the "what positions/honors" box is way too small and I need to explain some activities. I can attach a resume, but what if it doesnt get read?

Also, if you just LIST your activities, how do you tie in the common themes (ie writing, interest in politics, etc).

I have more questions but that will suffice =) for now.

By Sandy (Sandy) on Wednesday, July 02, 2003 - 01:41 pm: Edit

What schools are you applying to ? (just curious)

By Thedad (Thedad) on Wednesday, July 02, 2003 - 01:41 pm: Edit

First, you can play games with type leading, tweaking kerning to get rid of widows (the one or two word lines at the end of paragraphs), and even type size (11 point vs. 12 point).

If you can't tell, for *really* important documents, I use a program like Pagemaker, not a word processing program, to get the appearance *exactly* right.

What do the rest of you think about using double-space for readibility?

By Interesteddad (Interesteddad) on Wednesday, July 02, 2003 - 01:56 pm: Edit

>> Secondly, HOW ON EARTH can you use the common app (or other apps) extracurricular boxes? the "what positions/honors" box is way too small and I need to explain some activities. I can attach a resume, but what if it doesnt get read?

Rather than a resume, it would probably be better to type "see attached Activities page" in the EC box. Then, prepare a one-page presentation of your extracurricular activities, providing the information requested on the app, but allowing you to organize the information to better paint a picture.

I would be inclined to go this route if there were a continuum or progession of related activities (for example, tutoring math to local kids in 9th grade, moving forward to teaching math in an inner-city program as a senior). The goal is organization that makes it EASIER for the reader to comprehend the application and get a picture of your individual interests.

I would be less inclined to go this route if it were just a matter of listing dozens and dozens of ECs to wow them with quantity. If I had to accomodate this, I would probably put my three major ECs on the app itself and then add a note "See Attached for Additional Minor Activities" or something that acknowleges that you don't intend for the laundry list to impress anybody.

Those are just my thoughts. They may or may not be the "right" answers. In general, most of the EC lists posted on this board are WAY too long and obviously inflated in a misguided effort to look important.

As for developing themes, that's what the essays and short answer questions are for. The tough part is deciding which themes rise to the level of a 'bullet point' and how to allocate the 'bullet points' among the available essays and answers. Every app I've looked at invites you to amplify one particularly meaningful activity. If an EC is the strength of your application, then there is always the coveted "main essay" slot available to highlight it in some way.

By Sluggbugg (Sluggbugg) on Wednesday, July 02, 2003 - 03:22 pm: Edit

As a former exec secty/personnel admin who used to screen job apps for my company, I highly recommend keeping cover letters concise. Long cover letters come off as inconsiderate and boorish. Be cordial and pleasant, and use a conversational tone.

Adcoms are primarily interested in what's in the body of the application. This is the formal part of the package. The sections of the app should contain all of the information that will allow an adcom to determine whether or not the applicant has the education and skills required for admission to their university. Like an employment résumé, it should be factual and complete.

The cover letter, if you decide to add one, is a personal sales message. It's good etiquette, and it adds a professional touch, like knowing how to shake hands and make a positive first impression. I don't think it is absolutely necessary, though, as other posters have already pointed out. It depends on the app and which college adcom will be reading it. Keep it down to a few paragraphs, no longer than one page. I tend to write in too formal a style, but the general format could be something like this:

1. Get to the point immediately.
(First paragraph) "Please consider me for early admission to Stanford University in the Fall of 2004."

2. Tell why you should be considered.
(Second paragraph) "I would like to combine my interests in biology and social science toward a career in public policy. Stanford's Human Biology major provides the best interdisciplinary course of study for my goal of providing low-income families with quality health care."

3. Show willingness to work and learn.
(Third paragraph) "Growing up in a small town in New Mexico, there will be many experiences that will be new to me as a freshman at Stanford. However, as you can see from my volunteer activities with the Department of Children, Youth and Families, I bring a willingness to work, an eagerness to learn, and a desire to improve my skills."

4. Make it easy for them to contact you.
(Last paragraph) "Last month, I had the pleasure of interviewing with Mary Smith, our Stanford University representative in (town's name). If you wish to contact me further, I can be reached at my home phone, (xxx) yyy-zzzz, or at my email address,

As an applicant for early admission, I look forward to becoming a member of Stanford's freshman Class of 2008!"

Sincerely yours,

Your name


By Sandy (Sandy) on Wednesday, July 02, 2003 - 03:22 pm: Edit

I can't thank you enough for the last post. You are great!
>>I hope you don't think my cover letter idea is too radical... or that it's even a new idea (much less mine!)
No, not at all! In fact, I always wondered myself if there was something that would serve the purpose of organizing my application better and give a little more insight into my personality. Cover letters are perfect for this!

Now I should go and resume working on my Memoni essay!Ahh...:)

By Interesteddad (Interesteddad) on Wednesday, July 02, 2003 - 03:53 pm: Edit


I apologize if I didn't write clearly. In my first post in this thread, where I warned about some caution in devising alternate formats or extraneous material, I was not referring to cover letters. I think a cover letter is a great idea, almost without reservation. It was the potential for reams and reams of attachments at the END of the application that concern me.

It was my mistake for not being more explicit in identifying the first part of this thread topic ("Resumes"), not the second part of the topic ("and Cover Letters").

By Morgantruce (Morgantruce) on Wednesday, July 02, 2003 - 03:57 pm: Edit

Sluggbug is absolutely correct about being brief. My long rambling post should not be construed as a suggestion to make the cover letter long and rambling! That would be very counterproductive. As I remember, the main body of my daughters letters were one page, but the last stage (listing the enclosures and the "under separate covers" forced it into a 2nd page. Hey, when I get a letter like that, I only look at the lists at the end IF it turns out later that I am missing something or wondering when something will show up. But actually, in THIS instance, my main reason for including the lists was to make the letter look more like a cover letter---and mask the marketing flavor a bit.

I also played around with white space around the paragraphs and list items, and font size and style. Image is not everything, but it is a factor. If you send them a page with 1/4" borders and 98% solid copy, no one in their right mind is going to read it. While my daughters wrote their letters, there was a good bit of obsessing (on my part) over layout and how to print them out.

By Morgantruce (Morgantruce) on Wednesday, July 02, 2003 - 04:14 pm: Edit

There is a bit of "proof in the pudding..." factor here. When my younger daughter phoned up two weeks after the mailing to check on the status of the application, she encountered two colleges that said, "...interesting letter" soon after hearing her name. That certainly made her day.

I'd like to believe that adcoms give various candidates nicknames, like "the Utah soccer gal" and the "Habitat leader" ---- and would not mind at all if my hopeful applicant was known as "the interesting letter." I sure wouldn't want to be the guy that had the nickname, "that app that came in by Yellow Freight!"

"C'mon back... C'mon back...!"

By Sluggbugg (Sluggbugg) on Wednesday, July 02, 2003 - 06:51 pm: Edit

Sandy, another the app first, then write your cover letter.

If you're going to use standard business letter format, your complete mailing address should appear at the top, along with the date:

Sandy R. Smith
123 Zzyzx Avenue
Rayburn, TX 01010
Date (The cover letter should be dated recently, just before the app is mailed.)

In the last paragraph, include a fax number, if you have one, along with your telephone number and email addie.

Keep the cover letter short & sweet. It's a handshake, not a 3-hour meal in a 5-star restaurant.

By Sandy (Sandy) on Wednesday, July 02, 2003 - 07:05 pm: Edit

lol Sluggy. I will do my cover letters in the end. Write now my essays are too much for me to handle. Arhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!

By Sunshine916 (Sunshine916) on Thursday, July 03, 2003 - 01:05 pm: Edit

lol Morgantruce, speaking of which...

i think it was in 10th grade...i was writing a 25 page paper the NIGHt before it was due (smart huh?) and i got really annoyed at 2 AM so i started to type a few sentences about how much i hated the class and many of those *inappropriate words* in the middle of my paper. i somehow managed to FORGET to delete it, and i didnt edit my paper so that all got turned in with my final copy to the teacher.

needless to say, i got my essay back with a big circle around all that and a huge question mark. hey i still got an A!!

back to my writing...i think i'll try that though. thanks!

By O71394658 (O71394658) on Thursday, July 03, 2003 - 01:07 pm: Edit

Man, this thread is extremely informative. This cover letter thing is a fantastic idea...I'm definitely going to utilize it.

By Carolyn (Carolyn) on Monday, July 07, 2003 - 09:12 pm: Edit

MorganTruce - Just wanted to say that you're on to something with this whole cover letter business! Yesterday, I talked with a friend whose daughter was accepted to every school on her list AND received several excellent merit scholarships, both from the schools and private sources. I asked my friend what advice she would give to people starting to get their applications ready now: the number one thing she said was "Write a good cover letter with every application you send out!" She said her daughter received compliments on her cover letters from some of the schools and scholarship people. In one case, she actually received a personal invitation to an annual faculty-student dinner because she asked a question about a specific department in the cover letter --- and the admissions officer passed a copy along to the department chair.

By Morgantruce (Morgantruce) on Monday, July 07, 2003 - 10:51 pm: Edit

That's very nice to hear Carolyn. One of our daughters made the department chair connection through her cover letter... but she seemed to have missed out on the free dinner---will have to look into that next time. :)

Mostly what I found is that college admissions offices do NOT freak out when they are dealt with in a manner that is very similar to good business practice in corporate America. If cover letters, letters of recommendation, attachments to files, thank you notes, illustrated presentations, phoning for appointments, establishing contacts by email, etc are good for ordinary business--then they are good for admissions offices as well.

As a homeschooling parent, I did not have some high school guidance counselor telling me what to do or suggesting how it's always been done. I just used my familiarity with common business practices as my guide. I have worked with and around academic people at several points. In my experience they are not nearly the sticklers for form that most people would believe. I found them to be very open to new suggestions and most appreciative of good manners. I let those experiences play a role in how I suggested my daughters handle their college application process.

As a result, there was never a time when anything felt like it was running out of our control. Contrast that with the average student who feels like he is grasping for anything to hold on to in a stormy sea. Sure, my daughters had to wait for decisions, but they felt very comfortable with the contacts they had made beforehand, and the knowledge that their admissions files were somewhat unique, made up of many people's inputs, and above all else, lively.

By O71394658 (O71394658) on Monday, July 07, 2003 - 11:06 pm: Edit

Wow Carolyn. You have any idea of exactly what she put? Not that I want to copy or anything...but some ideas would be great...;-)

By Sunshine916 (Sunshine916) on Monday, July 07, 2003 - 11:26 pm: Edit

i really love this thread. i love CC. everyone here (for the most part) is so helpfuL! i will definitely try and take advantage of a cover letter...something that most people will not be doing

By Morgantruce (Morgantruce) on Monday, July 07, 2003 - 11:53 pm: Edit

A good cover letter--or for that matter--letter of recommendation, attachments to files, thank you note, or illustrated presentations---CANNOT be copied!!!!! It will do you no good to find out what she or anyone else wrote. There are no magic words that everyone can use! Think about that.

What you say in all of these things must come from your heart. It HAS to match up with everything else in your admissions file. It all has to have the same voice. It must match the person you are in your interview.


Colleges are dying to find out who you are...

... and all you're doing is trying to find out what SOMEONE ELSE said... and what OTHER people will or will not be doing.

By Canadian_Idol (Canadian_Idol) on Tuesday, July 08, 2003 - 01:13 am: Edit

Wow. Great advice here! Thanks guys.

I would just like to add another question: If you cut and paste printed sheets on the application, wouldn't it look too messy?

Also, hand printing sounds like a lot of work if I'm sending apps to multiple colleges. Is there any way of typing the app up using the computer, not the typewriter?

By O71394658 (O71394658) on Tuesday, July 08, 2003 - 01:31 am: Edit

Many colleges have applications that you download. They're placed in Abode make sure you have the latest version (6.0, I believe). Most college websites have a link to a website where you can d/l it.

You have the app. on your computer screen, and you just type it right in. It looks rather nice when you print it all out.

By Jadephoenix1378 (Jadephoenix1378) on Tuesday, July 08, 2003 - 05:01 am: Edit

My friend told me that using color in an application makes things easier for the adcoms to read. What do you guys think?


By Morgantruce (Morgantruce) on Tuesday, July 08, 2003 - 07:53 am: Edit

If you cut and paste printed sheets on the application, wouldn't it look too messy?

Try it. Use a glue stick. Ours had the look of "camera-ready art ready to go to the offset printer" which is, in itself, a subtle message to anyone in the admissions office familiar with that process: "Student is college-ready!"

Color used in illustrations is a nice touch. Colored text is much too distracting from the message you are trying to convey. The reader is constantly dealing with the thought that he is reading blue text, blue text, blue text. I would stick with black text. See??

By Momof2 (Momof2) on Tuesday, July 08, 2003 - 10:56 am: Edit

On several applications, we cut-and-pasted and submitted a high quality copy. It actually looked quite sharp. S was accepted to all his schools, so it must not have didn't hurt his chances.

By Morgantruce (Morgantruce) on Tuesday, July 08, 2003 - 11:23 am: Edit

Just a small point: I think people are a little flattered when they receive something that is so obviously "the original." Since we have two people in this house with extensive cut and paste experience, we didn't mind the extra work. I do acknowedge that there are times when a high quality copy makes it look optically better. And I certainly do admit to spending too much time thinking about minute psychological details of dubious value. :)

BTW, a real full fledged paper cutter (the kind that can send you to the emergency room in a big hurry--carrying various loose parts) is the berries for cutting blocks of text. Scissors will do.

By Sandy (Sandy) on Tuesday, July 08, 2003 - 01:52 pm: Edit

Where the heck did MT's long message about cover letters go? I forgot to print it, but it said exactly what a cover letter should say. As far as I remember, it was before sluggy's message.

By Sunshine916 (Sunshine916) on Tuesday, July 08, 2003 - 02:53 pm: Edit

Sandy! IT WAS THERE LAST NIGHT!!! i remember reading it and feeling very relieved that it was still there. ARGHHHH. what happened to it? i didnt print it or save it either...MT, did you edit it or delete it?

By Reeses (Reeses) on Tuesday, July 08, 2003 - 03:47 pm: Edit

> Make no attempt at being funny, with one exception. In some obscure corner of the application, in some area that is not really very important, (in the 17th extra activity?) choose purposely to state something in a way that shows that you do have some sense of wry humor. <

MT- what do you mean by this? Can you give an example?

By Carolyn (Carolyn) on Wednesday, July 09, 2003 - 01:35 pm: Edit

MorganTruce is right - the cover letter has to be personalized for you and the school or scholarship. That is what my friend's daughter did - she actually did research up front and used what she learned to customize her cover letter.

Her mom said that she spent quite a bit of time at each school's web site going over course descriptions and even reading the school's press releases. That's how she found out that the school that invited her to the faculty dinner had just announced that it had received a grant for updating its biology laboratory, so she thought of a question related to that to ask (not sure specifically what it was) in her cover letter, and talked about how much she'd love the chance to work in a new laboratory. This was not something she could have brought up in her application but it worked in the cover letter.

She used the same technique for her scholarship applications. I wrote about this in a different thread but she was applying for one scholarship that was being given by a family foundation. She did a search on the Internet for information about the family and the foundation, and used some of that information in her cover letter to show that she understood what they were looking for in candidates. When she went to her interview, she brought along a professional looking folder of the information she'd found and they asked her a question about what she knew about the foundation. She told them yes, then opened her folder. On top was a picture of the late family founder --- and his wife happened to be one of the interviewers. "There's my Ralph!" she said (my friend's daughter was petrified at this point because this elderly lady had tears in her eyes when she spotted her late husband). My daughter's friend said something to the effect about what a special person he must have been and even gave a specific example of what she had found interesting about him.

She received almost a full merit scholarship from this foundation and afterwards was told that the interviewers had been particularly impressed that she had made the effort to understand the family, the foundation, and what their purpose was in giving out this scholarship.

Anyhow, this may sound like a lot of work but for your top schools and important scholarships, it really can pay off. Even if it doesn't make a huge difference in your acceptance chances, at least it may help you think through why you really want to go to this school in the first place.

By Reeses (Reeses) on Wednesday, July 09, 2003 - 02:40 pm: Edit

wow, that's amazing. i'll definitely start doing research like that

By Jadephoenix1378 (Jadephoenix1378) on Wednesday, July 09, 2003 - 05:35 pm: Edit

If you win a competition, say...there were 2000 entries, how would you write that on your resume? 1/2000? For two winners, 2/2000?


Winner of ABC Competition 2/2000 (2003)


Thanks for your help.

By Morgantruce (Morgantruce) on Wednesday, July 09, 2003 - 06:33 pm: Edit

Winner of ABC Competition 2/2000 (2003)
looks fine.

By Jadephoenix1378 (Jadephoenix1378) on Wednesday, July 09, 2003 - 08:04 pm: Edit


By Hukddonfoniks (Hukddonfoniks) on Tuesday, December 23, 2003 - 05:50 am: Edit

bringing this back from the dead....what if after a list of things i'd like to do at yale and what i might bring, i say "i also enjoy long walks on the beach and talking about myself" ...... is that a little too over the top? A guy from amherst wrote me a letter saying that and i thought it was pretty funny

also, should i say something like "i look forward to being a member of Yale 2008" or something of that nature? It sounds a bit pretentious to me

Thanks so much

By Morgantruce (Morgantruce) on Tuesday, December 23, 2003 - 07:11 am: Edit

I don't think adcoms would be impressed or even interested in lists of "things I'd like to do" or that you "enjoy long walks on the beach and talking about myself". I cannot begin to tell you what to say, but would advise you not to say that.

Thanks for bring back this thread from the dead, but if that's the sort of thing you are planning to put into a resume, cover letter---or anywhere in your application---it is obvious you haven't read much of what a lot of people here have said.

Let me ask you something. When someone tells you, "I enjoy long walks on the beach and talking about myself" how long does it take for you to run out of the room? When writing a letter to anyone, always put yourself in their shoes. If you would be bored to read something, so would they. The last thing you want to include in an application is a bunch of bull.

Please re-read the entire thread. At the very least, consider the post of Sluggbugg (about 2/3 the way down) and learn from that example. No, you cannot copy it---what she wrote refers to a student that you are not. The cover letter has to refer to the SAME personality as the rest of the application. While I like Slugg's businesslike approach, I would add one or two elements of strong emotional appeal.... NOT "Pleeeeeease admit me!" but something about yourself that makes you hard to resist.... walking on the beach does not do that.

By Hukddonfoniks (Hukddonfoniks) on Tuesday, December 23, 2003 - 01:10 pm: Edit

Thanks Morgantruce I appreciate your willingness to help me

Hm, I was reading what one of the posters said about trying to be humorous, but in a subtle way. It was just a thought I had that some Amherst student gave me. After he outlined a bit about himself he said that cliche, and then that he liked to list things about himself (after he had just listed things about himself). I felt it was fairly funny lol. Oh well haha I guess I'm the only one. I did read the thread, and I did learn a lot from Sluggbugg's post. In fact I modeled my basic structure and formalities from that post.

My cover letter is basically complete.

I am the dance show emcee for my school's dance show production, and about 3/4 down my letter I included a little blurb about why I think Yale is a great college for me. Then I said. If Yale ever needs a Dance Show Host, I'm your man.

Thanks again

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