Real People Stories

Bold College Try

UPDATED 04/19/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 04/19/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT

Name: James Sellers, 18
Hometown: Dallas
Get-In Gimmick: "My grades weren't as good as other people's, and I really wanted to stand out," says Sellers, who was wait-listed at his top choice, Southern Methodist University in Dallas. With the help of a few buddies, the Lake Highlands High School senior extolled his virtues by impersonating Latin hunk Enrique Iglesias in a spoof of the singer's "Hero" video. That goofy send-up—featuring a chest-baring Sellers getting soaked with a garden hose—tickled SMU's admissions office. "A counselor said, 'You have to see what I just got in,'" says admissions dean Ron Moss, who adds that stunts don't usually work in the college game. "It's a long shot," says Moss. "Some schools won't even look at gimmicks." But SMU, which accepted Sellers for the class of' 08, judged him to be more than a class clown. "There was an absolute passion for the visual arts," says Moss. No argument there. Says Sellers, who counts Adam Sandler among his idols: "I want to make funny videos with my friends for the rest of my life."

Name: Priya Devakumar, 17
Hometown: Queens
Get-In Gimmick: An aspiring cardiologist, Devakumar sent admissions officers an artery-clogging batch of fried South Asian dumplings called Samosas with her application to Massachusetts's Tufts University. "I even included a note saying it wasn't a bribe," says the daughter of Indian immigrants, who sent the eats to accompany her essay about a traditional family recipe. "It's just to show that if you follow my wonderful recipe, this is how it will turn out," she explains. Was it a recipe for success? Alas, no. But the would-be valedictorian from the Mary Louis Academy is choosing among NYU, Boston University and Cornell, three of the 10 schools that have already accepted her—none of which got a cooking sample. "They actually came out pretty good," she says of the Samosas. But then, a little expert coaching never hurt. "I helped," says mom Rufina, 47, a dentist. "She's not kitchen-friendly."

Name: Kaitlin Hurley, 18
Hometown: Portland, Ore.
Get-In Gimmick: After visiting Virginia's College of William & Mary last summer, Hurley fell for the school's track program—mind, body and sole. When she applied, the cross-country runner included her lucky gym socks along with a note saying, "I'll pick them up on the first day of class." What did her folks think? "They were a little iffy about it," says Hurley, who has worn the socks since her Jesuit High School cross-country team scored a state championship her junior year. "She has an odd sense of humor," says her father, Jim, 51, a Nike manager. Luckily, admissions officers shared it. "It made us laugh," says head of admissions Karen Cottrell. "We had a lot of conversations about whether she washed them first." The (mercifully, laundered) socks helped Hurley land a place in this fall's freshman class—and have even made believers of Mom and Dad. "Now," says Jim, "they're twice as lucky."

Name: Kaley McMahon, 17
Hometown: Agoura Hills, Calif.
Get-In Gimmick: Winning admission to the college of your choice can feel like a high-stakes board game. At least that's how it seemed to McMahon. Instead of writing a traditional essay for Vermont's arty Bennington College, she created her own quirky version of Monopoly, featuring game pieces decorated with her photograph. "They said they would accept anything at all that you put with your application," says McMahon, who came up with the idea on a New England college tour. "It captures her completely," says mom Sherry Coben, 50, a TV comedy writer. "You start in my hometown, which is drawn like hell," McMahon says of the game. "There's a rule sheet which says things like, 'This is a game so you can get to know me and I can drop hints about how great I am.'" Bennington was convinced. "They said it was very cute," says the new member of the class of'08. "And I thought, 'Yay!'"

Susan Horsburgh. Eric Francis in Bennington, Kevin Brass in Dallas, Molly Lopez in Queens and Makeba Scott Hunter in Williamsburg, Va.

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