Tell It Slant

Drew Emily Dickinson wrote, “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant.”

Today, I offer you the truth with no slant.  There are questions that admissions counselors are asked so often and, in response, we frequently reply with a long-winded, slanted answer.

Today, I offer you the truth.  No slant.

1. “When you’re reading all those applications, doesn’t it get old?”

Yes, it does.
This is perhaps no great surprise.  Do anything repetitively and it is likely to get old after a while.

2. “How do you remember all those names?”

We don’t.
That’s why we take really good notes.  And while names frequently escape us, the stories stick with us.

3. “Do you really read all those applications?”

I only read some of them; but, I’ve got nearly a dozen great co-workers.  At Holy Cross, every application really does get read and, in fact, read by two different admissions counselors.

4. “What do you really look for in an application?”

Really good grades in strong classes.
Now, that doesn’t mean that we don’t also want athletes, musicians, artists, leaders, good Samaritans, etc.  But, inevitably, the conversation begins with the transcript.  It is the most important document in the application.  It is the cake and everything else is just frosting.  And yes, we’re greedy – we want frosting with our cake.

5. “Do you like reading applications?”

Most of the time.
Right about now, after about 5 weeks of non-stop reading (and writing), my hand hurts, my neck hurts, my eyes are dry and I’m just a little bug-eyed from all the small print on these transcripts.  And there doesn’t seem to be enough time to read all these applications in my office by our deadline on Sunday.

But, this morning, a co-worker of mine told me about an essay I’m likely to find in one of those stacks, one that she thinks I’ll like and I’m curious.  I’m curious what’s inside all those folders sitting in my office, whose story they tell and whether they might be good fits for Holy Cross.

So, after a 12 minute break to write this blog entry, I’m re-energized, ready to dive back into the stacks of applications, ready for more cake, ready for more frosting.

Andrew N. Carter
Associate Director of Admissions

Application Reading Period – Monday

DrewThis is the first of five blog entries I’ll offer to you – a glimpse inside one week during application reading period in the Admissions Office at Holy Cross.



It’s not personal.

I swear it’s not.

It has absolutely nothing to do with you or your application.

It’s just that when I finish reading an application, I slide the yellow reading sheet inside, close the cover and at that point, I slam it on the ground.

Well, perhaps “slam” is too strong of a word.  I’m not Hines Ward celebrating a touchdown.  Let’s say – “drop with force”.    You see, I like the sound the application makes when it drops on the ground totally flat — a slapping, of sorts.

You may enjoy crossing this off a to-do list for a sense of satisfaction; I like dropping applications on the ground and hearing the slap, signaling one step closer to the end of my pile.  Yet, when I wake in the morning, there’s yet another pile waiting for me, as if I’ve done nothing that previous day or as if I’m Penelope from the Odyssey, staying up all night undoing the weaving I’ve accomplished during the day.

So I dive into that new pile of applications early in the morning.  I go get a cup of coffee first (milk and two sugars, thank you) and then settle in at my desk at home overlooking my snowy back yard in Worcester.  And in the quiet of the morning I read your recommendations, your transcripts, your interviews and your essays.

The essays are my favorite part.  Some are funny, some are sad, some are silly and some are serious.  But, the common thread that runs through them all is that they are you – a snap shot of your life, taken at a turning point in your life.  Sometimes I wonder what you’ll think of your essay five or ten years from now.

You’ll probably think exactly what I thought this morning while I was sitting at my desk at home.

This is good.  This is real good.  Thanks for sharing.


Andrew N Carter
Associate Director of Admissions

Taking Time to Reflect on the Application Process

In his commencement address at Kenyon College in 2005, the writer David Foster Wallace began his speech with the following parable:

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

Foster’s point was that “the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see.”

In the college search and application process, it is so easy to get wrapped up into the details – deadlines, checklists, forms, supplements and requirements.  Taking care of these things is necessary but it can cause students and parents to lose perspective in this process.  This process is one that enables – nay demands, reflection and personal growth on the part of the student and that is perhaps the most valuable part of the college search process.

So as we reach the end of 2008 and you meet your final deadlines, submit your final forms and complete your final checklist, stop for a minute to think about how far you’ve come since this process began, how you’ve matured, begun to think and act independently and are now prepared to make one of the first truly adult decisions of your life – where to spend the next four years.

If you take that time to reflect back on this process, you’ll be prepared with your answer if you’re ever asked the question.

“The water is great – never better.  Thanks for asking.”

Andrew N Carter
Associate Director of Admissions

The Power of Words – Interviews and Essays

This weekend, I was watching one of my favorite movies, V for Vendetta, and I was struck by one particular quote from the protagonist V and its connection to the college process:

“. . . words will always retain their power. Words offer the means to meaning, and for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth.”

I’m sure you’re thinking – how is he going to make this quote relevant to an admissions blog?  Well, words do retain their power and for current high school seniors, there are two areas are most important right now:

Interviews: There’s still a chance to interview here on campus at Holy Cross.  Tell us what you think; tell us what you know; tell us what you hope to be and where you hope to be.  For your words to have power, we need to hear them.  We want to hear them.
Interviews are strongly recommended as part of the application process here at Holy Cross. Check out the Admissions site for more information about scheduling an interview.

Application Essay: It’s so very easy for students to see the application essay as a homework assignment for which they do not receive credit.  But another way to look at it is this – it is your power in the process.  You can write about anything you want and your reader (the admissions counselor) is so excited to read what you want to write.  So don’t spend another minute thinking about what you should write; write what you want to write and write it with confidence.  Have confidence in your words and in your writing.  For your words to have power, for your words to offer the means to meaning, they must come through unfettered by the constraints of expectation.

We’re here and we’re waiting.  Now let us hear your words.

Andrew N Carter
Associate Director of Admissions

The Best College Visit Ever

The last few weeks have certainly been a blur as all of us in the Admissions Office have crisscrossed the country visiting high schools, meeting with guidance counselors and chatting with perspective students.  Regardless of what city we’re in, one thing stays consistent for all of us – they’re just aren’t enough hours in the day to get all of the work done.  In that way, we have something in common with all those high school seniors that we are meeting with on the road – many of them seem overwhelmed by the combination of the commitments in the classroom and the pressure of the application process.  There simply isn’t enough time to get it all done and this carries over into their college visits.  The family pours out of the car, runs to catch the tour, the information session and then sprints back to the car to make it home to write essays and finish homework.

I’m here today to call upon everyone just to slow down.

Seriously – slow down.

Holy Cross alum and former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins said the following about education:

Although teaching and learning themselves have been motorized by the hyper-pace of information, it is good to remember that the true tempo of education has always involved a deceleration. . . .  a shift from the urgencies and demands of the world to the more leisurely pace of discussion, the cadence of study and reflection, the seeming stop-time of engrossed thought.

So, when visiting colleges this fall, instead of sprinting from car to tour to info session to car, you should encourage your family to simply slow down.  Schedule your visits so there’s enough time to linger, to truly experience a college.  The most valuable insight from a college visit often comes when you’re not looking for it – a door held for you when you least expect it; the friendly smile from a professor who passes you on the sidewalk; or an inquisitive student’s question in the classroom as you walk by.  You’ll only notice these if your pace is leisurely and you just might experience the best part of education – the deliciousness of deceleration.

Andrew N Carter
Associate Director of Admissions

Doughnuts and Duets

So you’re ten years old – you’re sitting at the kitchen table surrounded by stacks of unopened library books on a topic that you were supposed to have started researching weeks ago and now, here you are, the evening before your report is due and you are overwhelmed by the enormity of it all.  In her book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott describes her brother’s experience with a 4th grade report on birds this way:

“. . . he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy.  Just take it bird by bird.’”

If you spend too much time with your nose in the guide books, the college search process, much like the 4th grade report, can become absolutely overwhelming in its size and scope.  Our goal in the Admissions Office and particularly in this blog, is to help humanize the process and to encourage you to “just take it bird by bird”.

So to set an example for my co-workers to follow let me tell you a bit about myself.

I was raised throughout the Midwest and New England and now reside in the great city of Worcester (once known as “The Shredded Wheat Capital of the World”).  I’ve worked here in the Admissions Office at Holy Cross for four years now and in my free time I enjoy fighting crime, spreading world peace, singing duets and searching for the best American-made doughnuts (not necessarily in that order).  This fall, I will continue my search in parts of MA, CT and upstate NY; in between doughnut shops, I hope to find time to visit high schools, meet with students and make this process just a bit more human.

Andrew N Carter
Associate Director of Admissions

Worcester – The Greatest City on Earth

Drew In one of my earlier posts this year, I lauded the many benefits of Worcester, specifically tacos, tea and trails.  But, now that it’s April and high school seniors are making finally their choices for college, it’s time that I stepped up my game just a bit.  While in my earlier post, it may have seemed as though I had a crush on Worcester, that is simply not true.  I am here today to reveal myself, to proclaim my deepest feelings – this is no crush.  This is true love.

But enough about me.  The real question is – why should YOU love Worcester?  Answering that question is a challenge I gladly accept.

I’m sure everyone is very familiar with all the famous things that were invented here in Worcester – electricity, beauty, the automobile, nuclear weapons, monkeys and flowers.  But one of our inventions that sometimes gets overlooked will most certainly have a serious impact on your college experience – pizza.  But, Worcester does not rest on its laurels for simply inventing pizza – we continue to hone our craft.  The world’s best pizza makers are here in Worcester today.  Let me highlight just a few:

CORNER GRILLE: thin crust, cut in squares, enough variety to keep you entertained for more than four years.  WARNING: If you’re afraid of improving the deliciousness of your life, do not eat their pizza.

WONDER BAR: a Worcester landmark on its most famous street – Shrewsbury Street.  They’re too busy making their homemade sauce to make a website so you’ll have to believe me when I say their pizza will inspire you.  Don’t believe me?  Well, ask singer Martin Sexton who wrote the lyrics to one of the best albums of the decade while sitting at their counter eating one of their pepperoni pies.

PEPPERCORNS: all you need to know about this place is what they themselves say on their website: “We believe we have created the best Neapolitan (thin crust) pizza on Earth.”  That may sound arrogant but it’s not because they’re right.  They have created the best thin crust pizza on Earth.

CIAO BELLA: they don’t waste their time with silly things such as websites or credit cards.  They spend every hour of every day focused on creating a circus in your mouth.  So bring your cash and bring your flashlight so that when you take your first bite, you can open up and shine a spotlight on the greatest show on Earth.

So come to Worcester for the tacos, the tea, the trails and the pizza and as a bonus, while you’re here, we’ll get you a liberal education that is second to none.

Andrew N Carter
Associate Director of Admissions
College of the Holy Cross

The Joy of Application Reading

Drew “. . . he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy.  Just take it bird by bird.”
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

In my first blog posting of the year (I’m sure you all have it committed to memory), I claimed that if you spent too much time with your nose in the college guide books, the college search would seem like an overwhelming 4th grade project on birds.

Well, now the shoe is on the other foot — it is our turn.  As I sit here on Sunday afternoon watching the perfect Patriots on television, I am distracted (marginally) by the stack of applications on my coffee table.  When considered as a whole, reading these applications can be overwhelming.  But the only thing for us to do is to simply tackle these applications one at a time, bird by bird.


And when you take that approach, reading applications can be (gasp!) fun.  I’ve read some wonderful essays so far this year about the determination of female preemies, a lesson learned from a French girl at summer camp or even something as simple as a swim in the ocean.

So I guess what I want to say is thank you.

Thank you for telling us about your Eagle Scout project.
Thank you for having the guts to take Calculus.
Thank you for fessing up to that mistake.
Thank you for sending us a Christmas card.
Thank you for sending that CD of you playing the violin (Bach was my favorite).

Thank you for applying.

Andrew N Carter
Associate Director of Admissions
College of the Holy Cross

Common Application Supplement

Drew You’ve worked four long years in high school – history term papers, trig exams, chemistry labs, art projects, summer reading quizzes – and then finally, senior year, you tackle the Common Application.  You write your name, address, mom’s name, dad’s name, high school’s name, etc.  Then it’s time for the short answer – you rack your brain for an experience, an activity that you can talk about in 150 words or fewer that will be impressive to the admissions officer and reflective of your interests.  And then, the final push, you sit down to write the essay.  But someone gave you good advice, so you listen to your sparrow and write an essay of which you feel proud.

You click “SUBMIT”.


In school the next day, you feel invigorated, relieved that the application is done.  You’ve regained the pep in your step.  In the hallway on the way to first period, you tell a friend that you finally submitted your application to College X.

“Did you finish the supplement?” your friend replies.

“Supplement?  There’s a supplement?  AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!!!!”

When will it ever be enough?

The Admissions Office at Holy Cross is here to say that you’ve done enough.  We do not require a supplement to the Common Application.  We know you’ve worked hard in high school and we don’t need you to prove anything else nor write any more essays.  We congratulate you on getting this far in your senior year.

Click “SUBMIT”.

Feel the relief.

Andrew N Carter
Associate Director of Admissions

The Standardized Test Affair, Part Deux

Drew_2 So it’s one thing for us to proclaim to be standardized test optional but then comes the inevitable question – how do we know whether or not a student wants their standardized test scores used?

Well, that’s where the verification form comes in.

Once we’ve received your application, we will send you a confirmation letter letting you know that we’ve received it.  Within that envelope is a very important form, the final part of our application process.  The verification form (see picture) is our final chance to verify some key information.  First off, we want to make sure we’ve got your name and address spelled perfectly (because that’s how we want to address the decision letter); secondly, we want to verify that we have your numbers correct – phone number, social security number and birth date.

And then, once and for all, we want to know whether or not you wish to have your standardized test scores considered with your application.


(Have doubts about whether or not to submit then see my blog entry from October 6:

Finally, we ask about Holy Cross alums in your family and contact you’ve had with the Admissions Office at Holy Cross.

So please take this form seriously – we do – and please return it to us completed as soon as possible so that we can process your application effectively.  Your hard work is done but ours has just begun.

Andrew N Carter
Associate Director of Admissions