Ex-College Counselor Writes Book On Role of Character in Admissions

Former Andover college counselor Donald Dunbar has founded a private college counseling service and published an admissions book titled “What You Don’t Know Can Keep You Out of College.” After leaving his position as a college counselor at Andover in 1983, Dunbar formed Dunbar Educational Consultants, an independent company with 15 assistants. He is currently on tour promoting his book. Dunbar called the College Counseling Office the “Harvard Business School of Admissions” and said that his experience that fueled his desire to aid students in their college search. Since he founded his company 24 years ago, Dunbar believes colleges have not changed certain standards for applicants. “What they’re looking for in terms of character and maturity isn’t going to change,” he said. After reading many college admissions books, he realized that none addressed the critical issue of character. “I decided the public needs to know about this, so I convinced an agent and made it happen. The book teaches you how to become a better person – in the eyes of the admissions officers,” Dunbar said. When Dunbar was a college counselor at Andover, he had the opportunity to attend acceptance meetings, during which colleges decided whether to admit or deny a student. “Colleges would read to us what the interviewer wrote about the kid,” Dunbar said. This gave him insight into a process few counselors have experienced. At Phillips Academy, Dunbar learned that character was the most important factor in college admissions. He said that Andover challenged everyone to their personal best, a factor that benefited students during the college admissions process. “In my last year, 1983, Harvard had an admission quota for Andover and Exeter: a total of 70 were accepted from the two. Because Andover placed importance on one’s character, 55 of our students were accepted to Harvard. At the time, Exeter focused more on numbers and grades – they had higher test scores – but that wasn’t important,” said Dunbar. “Only 15 students from Exeter attended Harvard that year. It hit home how important character was,” he continued. He said that maturity is the most important factor in evaluating a student’s character. “I’ve never seen a kid get in by telling them how great they are at something. We’ve seen kids get knocked out because of the mistakes they’ve made that represent their immaturity. Arrogance, selfishness, and aggression are the major turnoffs,” Dunbar added. Dunbar said that in his opinion, the essay portion of the application can reveal parts of a student’s character that may cause more harm than gain. “It’s very common for students to write about themselves and in the process, say negative remarks about their peers. This reveals aggression – a trait admission officers hate. They don’t want overly competitive people; they’re concerned about creating a better community,” said Dunbar. However, Dunbar said that he does not believe there are any perfect topics. “The essay topic doesn’t matter as long as you can show your social conscience and interests. They want people who care about humanity, current events, and intellectual pursuits,” he said. Dunbar suggested that students focus on the conclusion and main points of the essay. He noted that many students only write an introduction, body, and summary. Dunbar said, “You don’t need a summary, not even an intro. Just get into the heart of the matter: don’t waste an admissions officers’ time!” Admission officers look for students who truly want to be at their college, Dunbar stressed. He provided an example of a student at Andover who was “pretty much a shoe-in at Harvard and Yale.” Dunbar accompanied the student to an interview with one of his back-up schools. During the beginning of the interview, the student told the admissions officer that he was a talented student who thought of the school as a back-up. He then asked the officer, “What can your college do for me?” In response, Dunbar said that the officer asked the student, “What can you do for us?” The student was unable to respond.