Under the username IvyAdvisor, David Smisson has contributed to more than 100 discussion posts on CollegeProwler.com–more than any other user. David’s responses have answered the questions of the indecisive transfer student, calmed the nerves of anxious incoming freshmen, and provided advice for the high school kids that want to improve their chances of acceptance. His responses are always helpful and never lacking insight. It left us wondering, “Just who is this IvyAdvisor character?” So, we decided to interview the man behind 100 responses. Naturally, he had some terrific advice for everyone.
How and why did you choose the college you are attending?
I will be attending Amherst College this fall and could not be more excited. I knew that a liberal arts college was the place for me with the accessible faculty and intimate setting. Despite considering several Ivies and peer colleges, I concluded that Amherst was the ideal institution. Amherst has demonstrated an unparalleled commitment to diversity, apparent in the eclectic backgrounds of the student body and openness to new ideas.
What do you like most about college? Least?
I really enjoy spending time with the faculty. Being able to spend one-on-one time with experts in various fields of study has never ceased to place me in a state of awe.
The only aspect of college that I take exception to are the occasional time-consuming assignments that fail to employ critical-thinking skills.
What is something we’d be surprised to know about you?
Instead of going directly to college after high school, I spent four years in the U.S. Air Force.
What are your plans after graduation?
I would leap at the chance to attend Yale Law School. After that, I am quite interested in studying and crafting law and economic policy, especially within the education system. But who knows what the future has in store; it is all part of the adventure.
You’ve responded to over 100 discussion posts. Do any stand out? Why?
A couple months ago, a high school student started a discussion detailing her desire to attend an Ivy League university. This highly accomplished student lamented that the steep tuition stood in the way of attending any of these top institutions. I think this misperception of top schools being prohibitively expensive pervades society. If more students knew that the sticker price of $60,000 per year for tuition/room/board was nowhere near the average net price, many more students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds would strive to attend. Did you know that for families that make under $75,000 annually, many top schools are virtually free?
How can a high school or transfer student increase their chances of getting into the school of their choice?
This is the million-dollar question. There are so many different books out there that offer varying, and even contradictory, advice regarding the answer. Gone are the days when having a solid SAT score and great GPA are guarantees of admittance. The harsh reality of today’s selectivity requires that students have excellent academics, extracurricular activities, leadership experience, and a modicum of luck.
What today’s student needs is the so-called “soft factor” or “hook.” These attributes now play an increasing important role in selection process. Things like legacy status, unique backgrounds, and compelling life experiences all help applicants differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack. The admissions committee is tasked with building a qualified and diverse class that will create a fascinating classroom experience where the students will learn from each other. Prospective applicants should keep this in mind when constructing their application. Let the college know what you have to offer.
What tips would you give to high school seniors applying to college?
Be proactive! Do not wait till the last week to submit your application, and the summer before senior year is a great time to write your personal statements. At the start of your final year, ask your teachers for a letter of recommendation early on. If you wait too late, the teacher may just write [a] general letter, or even use a previously written letter. With college admissions seeking unique students, a generic letter is the last thing you want.
What advice would you give to students when choosing a school?
There are so many great schools out there, so do not limit yourself. That said, look carefully at how much debt you will have at graduation. You do not want a tremendous debt burden while looking for work, it may result in settling for a job you do not really want.
What would you say to someone that didn’t get into their first-choice school?
Do not take it personally. With the increasing selectivity, there is a lottery-esque aspect to college admissions. Perhaps the admissions committee already accepted enough oboe players and figure skaters this year.
Anything else you want to add?
Be kind, persevere, and the rest will work itself out.