“On Reading the Application” is a recurring series that goes behind the scenes in the Admissions Office at Bard College Berlin.
When applying to colleges, it’s easy to forget there are human beings on the other side of the application portal. Not all college admissions offices are alike, and Bard College Berlin’s approach to college admissions is especially unique.This series hopes to demystify the application process by speaking openly to the people who read your applications.
This week, we’re speaking to Xenia Muth. Xenia is an Admissions and Recruitment Officer for Bard College Berlin. As Admissions and Recruitment Officer, she not only reads applications, but helps coordinate the PIESC scholarship program as well as guide students through the labyrinth that is German bureaucracy upon their arrival in Berlin. She loves Berlin, but gets away whenever she can (thus far, her favorite trips have been to Cuba and Portugal).
In addition to working in Admissions, Xenia works as Civic Engagement Coordinator at Bard College Berlin. In this position, Xenia helps students with projects that engage with public life outside the classroom. For more information about Civic Engagement at BCB, click here.
On reading applications:
I like to see genuine interest. I can typically find that in the motivation statement, which is my favorite part to read. Unlike the rest of the application, the motivation statement isn’t generic: it’s a personal insight into why the student wants to attend Bard College Berlin, and it’s where I look for indications that the student would do well here.
A successful application is tailored to BCB, but it’s also an honest application. Students should elaborate on successes, sure, but they shouldn’t shy away from reflecting on failures, too. At the end of the day, I want to learn about the person behind the application. I want to know the whole story. After reading each application, I ask myself: would this student do well in our educational model? What can BCB offer this student?
The motivation statement can offer insight into the student’s unique story. If they’ve done their research, and if they genuinely are interested in the liberal arts at BCB, that shines through.
Extracurricular activities are important. But there’s a myth about the way extracurriculars are important. It’s not about having as many activities as possible. Sure, it’s good to be engaged, to do a lot… But we look for students who do things out of passion, not because they want to embellish their college applications.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try out different things. But there’s a fine (and very noticeable) difference between merely collecting activities and trying out different things because you are interested in finding your passions.
Also, it’s important to note that your activities don’t have to explicitly align with what Bard College Berlin does. I am happy to read about an activity that does not connect with us at all but that connects with the student and their personality — like rock-climbing, or ballet. Please, by all means, write about how you have enjoyed ballet since you were five (even though Bard College Berlin does not offer ballet as a course). Perhaps you’ll introduce a new campus activity when you’re part of our community!
We receive applications from all over the world. Many students are confused when they work on their applications. The BCB application is tailored to record information specific to US high schools. But we have applicants from places where this style of application isn’t so ubiquitous.
Students might not be able to fill out information everywhere in the forms, they might not know how to approach the motivation statement, or they might lack some of the required information (because this format is not used in their country and school). And their teachers might not be used to writing letters of recommendation. Our responsibility as Admissions Officers is to read the application carefully to see the student’s potential although the application format is unfamiliar to the student. But it is also on you, the applicant, to use the free-writing spaces to introduce what is important to you or send us additional materials that showcase who you are. This is also the first step towards showing us that you are able to deal with tasks that are new and unknown to you.
If you don’t feel comfortable with the application style, that’s all right! We understand that everyone comes from a different background. If we have a question about their application, we reach out to the student for clarification. We’re a small school and can be flexible in how we read each application. And please reach out to us if you have a question.
On bonus points:
We don’t require an interview, but if students want to talk to us, we like it. Students might think an interview is an additional step to prove themselves, which is of course true — but it’s also a very positive step. It shows initiative.
On her path to BCB:
I did a BA and MA in American Studies in German universities, concentrating on literature and politics. As a student, I studied abroad for a semester in Bard College in Annandale, and I loved how courses from different fields interacted with each other — how course materials drew on the real world, and how my classes extended beyond the classroom.
During my studies I worked in higher education, for language programs, and in international offices. And that’s how I ended up here, working in international higher education. It’s always helpful for me to remember my own experience during those years. What was it like to apply to college, to move to an unfamiliar place? How can I help students beyond the application? How can I be there for students?
A BCB student is curious and involved: A student who’s open to all the academic disciplines that we offer and also critical of parts of it, with many different interests but usually a passion for a few highly specific things. I love watching students discover and form their interests and passions. It’s an exciting place to work.