One of the most difficult things in the entire admissions process is waiting patiently for admission decisions once a student has submitted his or her applications. Much of the students’ and parents’ anxiety stems from the sense that admission decisions are unfathomable and arbitrary.
While most college admission officers are sensitive and humane, their professional loyalty lies with their own college and its various constituencies. They seek not only the best and brightest scholars, but also the most talented artists, athletes, and leaders. They want to balance their populations geographically and ethnically. They want to remain attractive to their alumni – and their children. For these reasons, colleges may give preferential treatment in their admissions decisions to candidates who possess certain talents or who come from certain families or backgrounds. What this means is that the process is not always clear – you might feel that someone else whose academic credentials appear weaker than yours has unfairly gained admission to a school to which you have been denied entrance.
Generally, a college selection committee will evaluate a number of factors about a student, listed below in order of importance.
A student’s entire high school academic record is the most important factor in the college admissions process. If the work does not reflect genuine effort, intellectual ability, and a real interest in learning, the record will be a liability. Selective colleges are interested not just in strong grades, but in a challenging course load. They want to know that a student has taken the most difficult courses that he or she is qualified to take and has met that challenge.
A student’s SAT or ACT scores tend to be the second most important factor in college admissions (for colleges that require scores). Chances for admission are best if the score is above the midpoint of a college’s mid-50% score range for students admitted last year. A list of colleges that do not require test scores can be found at www.fairtest.org.
Rather than looking for well-rounded students, colleges are seeking angled students – students with a passionate involvement in a few activities, demonstrating leadership, initiative, creativity, service, impact… and an angle. Extracurricular and summer activities as well as work experience will allow a college to see how productively a student uses free time. A student can gain a competitive edge with a detailed résumé that showcases accomplishments, leadership, initiative, creativity, outreach, and impact.
Service should demonstrate genuine concern for others. Commitment to one substantial project is far more meaningful than participation in several mini activities. A student’s résumé should reflect the impact of the service.
A well-written essay that provides insight into a student’s personality, values, and goals is key to a successful application. An essay should be thoughtful and highly personal. It should exemplify careful and well-constructed writing.
Many colleges require recommendations, typically from your guidance counselor (or other school official) and two academic teachers. A student should request these recommendations – preferably of an anecdotal nature – by the end of the junior year so they will be ready in time for application season in the fall. ONE additional letter from someone else who knows the student well, but in a different capacity, may also help.
If appropriate, an application may include writing samples, evidence of unusual talent or experience, or anything special that makes a student unique. Does the student have demonstrable success in art, music, drama, speech, or creative writing? Put together a portfolio or website to showcase the work. Overall, colleges are seeking a talented and well-rounded freshman class whose members will make contributions to the college community.
Colleges want to know that each admitted student is a "good" person. They want to know that each student is essentially honest, responsible, and thoughtful, with concern for his or her peers. Thus, the application and recommendations should reveal these qualities, as should an interview, which some colleges recommend.
Most college admission counselors feel that direct contact from a student (phone, e-mail, or snail mail) – rather than a parent or a counselor – is a reflection of the student’s sense of responsibility, organization, courtesy, and good judgment. Admission officers are bothered by overzealous parents who call frequently, trying to give their children a perceived advantage. A pre-arranged official visit to a college campus, especially if it is a private university, can be an important factor in the admission decision.
Demonstrated intellectual curiosity beyond the classroom is essential for admission to a highly selective college. A successful student’s application might reflect summer study or research on a college campus; completion of additional courses for credit through Florida Virtual School, another distance-education provider, or Score At The Top; and an appetite for reading or doing research.
You should be ready to start seriously talking to your parents about college considerations by the beginning of your junior year.
As you start to investigate colleges and think about what type of college might be a good "fit" for you, keep in mind that there may not be one perfect choice. In reality, there may be a number of colleges where you will be able to find happiness and fulfill your intellectual and social needs.
There are nearly 2,500 colleges from which to choose the one where you will spend four years of your life. Most students have not been faced with this sort of decision and are perhaps in awe of its magnitude. Much of the concern can be lessened by considering the following factors when choosing a college to add to your list:
Because the cost of attending a private college for four years can exceed $200,000, financial considerations may be paramount. Public universities tend to be financially attractive at $15,000-$30,000/year. However, financial aid and merit-based scholarships can put the cost of an expensive private college within reach.
Although most college admission officers do not publicize it, the college visit plays a role in the admission decision – especially for private universities! Colleges want to admit students who are most likely to accept the admission offer, and thus increase the college’s “yield” (the percentage of admitted students who say “yes!”). A high yield typically means a happy and more successful student body – and a better ranking. The best way to show your interest in a college is to make an official campus visit.
Most college admission officials agree that nothing substitutes for a campus visit when it comes to selecting a college. But what constitutes a successful campus visit? A successful visit begins with careful advance planning on your part and good communication between you and the admission office. For you to get the most out of a visit, you need to spend some time thinking about just what you want to accomplish. Colleges are eager to assist in the planning of a campus visit to make certain that you have every opportunity to evaluate the areas that are most important to you.
Campus visits fall into two categories.
Informational visits tend to take place before your junior year. Call the admission office in advance to reserve a spot for the information session and campus tour. During this visit you’ll get a feel for the college and determine whether or not to keep it on your list.
The investigative visit should take place in your junior year or at the beginning of your senior year – when school is in session. Plan it at least a month or two in advance. In addition to an information session and campus tour, an investigative visit should include other considerations:
Throughout your visit, keep asking yourself, “Can I be comfortable here for four years?”
excerpted directly from the Common Application.
Instructions. The essay demonstrates your ability to write clearly and concisely on a selected topic and helps you distinguish yourself in your own voice. What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response. Remember: 650 words is your limit, not your goal. Use the full range if you need it, but don't feel obligated to do so. (The application won't accept a response shorter than 250 words.)
Some Common App colleges also require one or more additional essays. They can be found on the college’s QUESTIONS page and/or WRITING SUPPLEMENT. Every college has a QUESTIONS page and some colleges have a WRITING SUPPLEMENT; both are easily accessible from the MY COLLEGES screen.
You may find essay questions that ask you to explain what has led you to apply to a particular college, why you are a good match for that college, what you will contribute to that college, or why you have selected your major. Several colleges include a question asking you to elaborate on one of your activities. And more than 180 colleges give you the opportunity to upload your resume through the SUPPLEMENT or QUESTIONS page.
By early October of your senior year, you should determine if you are interested in applying to college through an Early Decision or Early Action plan.
Many colleges offer an Early Decision or Early Action option whereby you apply early in your senior year, typically by November 1, and you’re notified by the middle of December with one of these decisions:
In recent years an increasing number of colleges have been taking more and more of their classes early… In most cases, the early admits reflect anywhere from a third to half of the entering freshman class. Because of numbers like these, more students than ever are applying early.
Figures above are for the Fall 2009 entering class
Harvard & Princeton ended their early admissions programs following the 2006-2007 application season, but
reinstated them (single-choice early action) in the 2011-2012 application season.
Keep in mind that an acceptance at a school where you have applied Early Decision is BINDING — you must enroll if you are accepted!
Some colleges – like George Washington University and Emory University – offer a second early decision deadline (ED II) which allows a student to apply in January with notification by March 1. This may be a viable option for students who were not accepted during ED I and who would still like some certainty before the spring, and for students who make a later decision to commit to one particular college. Any student considering this option should heed all of the same warnings listed above.
However, you may apply to one college ED I, and then to another college ED II only if you are deferred or denied by the first college. Once deferred, your application is no longer “binding.” If you are denied during ED, you cannot reapply the same year. In most circumstances, you can also apply to other colleges Early Action. However, you must check each individual college’s EA/ED rules.
Several colleges – such as the University of Miami – offer an EA option. Unlike ED, an accepted applicant is not bound to the college and may apply to other colleges. EA still offers you a tactical advantage – your chances of being accepted EA tend to be better at many colleges than your chances of being accepted in the regular pool. Besides, an early acceptance can help relieve the tension of the application process. Therefore, you should always take advantage of EA for any college that offers it and where the percentage admitted through EA is higher than the percentage admitted in the regular pool!
The original intention of the EA plan was to enable students to apply to multiple colleges under an EA plan, and even apply to another college under an ED plan. In most cases, that is still true. However, there are some colleges that have “Restrictive” early plans – including Boston College, Georgetown, Stanford, and Yale – which restrict your ability to apply to other colleges either EA or ED. Thus, it is up to you to check each college’s EA/ED rules.
|University||Restrictive EA Plan||Comments|
|Boston College||Can apply to other colleges EA
Cannot apply ED
|Competitive candidates who are not admitted will be reconsidered for Regular Decision; 20% of those candidates will then be admitted.|
|Georgetown||Can apply to other colleges EA
Cannot apply ED
|Admit or defer (no deny); 10-15% of those deferred will eventually be admitted
EA acceptance rate very similar to regular-decision acceptance rate
|Stanford||Cannot apply EA or ED anywhere, except if it is a requirement for a special program or scholarship|
|Yale||Cannot apply EA or ED anywhere, except if it is a requirement for a special program or scholarship and the notification for that program or scholarship occurs after Jan 1|
Because there are so many dates to remember – early action/decision, regular admission, scholarship, financial aid – put them on your Outlook or Google calendar to remind you when things are due. Make a spreadsheet of your deadline dates, sort them chronologically, and tape it to your refrigerator so your parents can help (nag) you!
Using spell check is a must, but don’t stop there. Proof your application and essay for grammar and syntax mistakes as well. Little errors in grammar and syntax can make a big, undesirable impression.
Read all directions carefully. For example: if the application asks for county make sure you don’t list your country (a common mistake). Don’t exceed the word limit for any essay by more than 10%.
Don’t list the activities you think colleges want to see, but include the activities you are most involved with and most passionate about, starting with the most important. The length of your activity list doesn’t matter; it’s the level of commitment, initiative, leadership, creativity, and impact that colleges really care about. Depth over breadth! And if you list too many activities, it can create an impression of a dilettante.
Most colleges communicate with students via email. Create a professional-sounding email address, preferably one that includes your name. An email address you created when you were ten won’t be appealing to an admission counselor.
After reading so many applications, admission counselors can tell the difference between adult writing and teenager writing. It is important that you fill out your own application and write your own essays (with appropriate guidance, of course) to give the college a true idea of who you are. A DDI (Daddy Did It) essay can be spotted a mile away!
Telling Duke “… and that’s why I want to go to Wake Forest” is the kiss of death! Proofread carefully.
You are your own person and you have your own dreams and goals. Don’t choose a college primarily because it’s where your friends are going or because your parents went there.
Don’t discount a college because of the price. Many colleges, especially the highly selective ones, have generous scholarship programs. Search online databases for scholarships and grants that apply to you, and have your parents submit the FAFSA and CSS PROFILE in a timely manner to help ensure your eligibility for financial aid. Also, research your local community; many businesses have programs set up to help students pay for college
Never lie on an application! Many colleges do quality control checks on students’ claims.
Tell your guidance counselor which colleges you are applying to so he or she can prepare and send required documents, such as your transcript and letters of recommendation.