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College Admissions Officers Shed Light on the Process

wisco_copyIf you’ve got questions about college admissions, and who doesn’t, you’’ll find answers from a panel of college admissions officers who visited Scarsdale High School on Thursday night May 17th. Sponsored by the SHS PTA and Guidance Department, representatives from Boston University, Columbia University, Duke University, Kenyon College, Scripps College, Siena College, SUNY Stony Brook and UMass Amherst visited Scarsdale to give high school juniors and their parents the low down on getting in.

If you missed the night, you can watch the presentation in its entirety on the Scarsdale School website here, or read below for some of the more interesting facts that emerged

In response to a question about whether it’s an advantage or a disadvantage to come from a competitive school like Scarsdale, most agreed that the admissions teams consider students’ transcripts within the context of their high school. Peter Johnson from Columbia University offered his own take on that question, saying, ““For those for whom much is provided, more is expected. We look to see how you have taken advantages of the opportunites you have been offered.”

How do schools consider grades earned in AP or AT courses versus less challenging courses? Ned Jones of Siena College recommended that students take the highest level course in which they can succeed and do their best, while Matthew Clark from U Mass Amherst revealed that the admissions department actually recalculates applicant’s cum’s and adds points for AP courses, raising those students’ GPA’s.

Discussing the essay on the application, panelists agreed that this was the student’s opportunity to speak out and tell the admissions people who they are. One cautioned against using a college consultant or parent to write the essay – as admission’s officers are looking for authentic essays in the student’s voice.

Johnson again had some wisdom to share on the essay, saying, “Some think they have to have suffered a major calamity to get the admissions officers’ interest. We call these trauma, drama essays. We appreciate healthy well-adjusted students. It’s great to read about students who like their parents and walk the family dog.”

As for letters of recommendation, Victoria Romero of Scripps College said that a red flag goes up when a students sends in too many letters, or solicit letters from people who don’t really know them. In addition, Peter Johnson advised students to get letters that support the college application. For instance, if you say you want to major in physics, ask for a recommendation from your physics teacher.

shsgraduation090026Though the admissions teams consider the applicant’s standardized test scores, all agreed that the transcript was the more important piece of information. Romero of Scripps told students not to repeat the tests in the hope of raising scores by 20 points, saying it wouldn’t make a difference. When there is a big inconsistency between test scores and schoolwork, one officer said, “we do some digging.” Do they use the score on the relatively new writing section of the SAT? Half said “yes,” and half said “no.”!

For schools that utilize the common application, the supplemental, or institution-specific questions are important. The officers advised students to look into what the school offers and to be specific in making a case for why they wanted to attend that particular school.

Applying early decision to schools that offer this option really does improve an applicant’s chance for admission. According to Sue Coon at Duke, 25% of students who applied early decision were admitted, and the committee filled 38% of the class with early decision candidates. In contrast, only 11% of candidates who applied regular decision got in.

And how about Facebook? Are admissions officers looking at student’s Facebook pages? All agreed that they do not “stalk” applicants on Facebook. However, one admission’s officer said he did check a Facebook page to look at a photo and confirm whether or not he had met the student on a recent high school visit.

The panel summed up with a comment about stress from Timothy Kelley of Boston University. He told, the group, “By the time you submit your application, most of the work is done. What you did in the classroom is finished. You are packaging yourself, so show us who you are.”

 

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