Earlier this month I attended the three-day conference of the Independent Educational Consultants Association. Here are some insights from sessions with college admissions officers and other experts.
Five takeaways here, five more were shared previously in Part 1.
Your choice of college major can impact the admissions process. Some colleges use the same admissions criteria for all students, while others have specific (higher) criteria for certain majors. Students wanting to major in Engineering, Pre-Med or Nursing, for example, often have to jump over a higher bar. Admissions may require a higher GPA, stronger test scores, satisfactory SAT subject tests, and demonstrated proficiency at an advanced level in math and science.
Colleges may be general admit but have space limitations in a specific major. Or students may apply directly into a specific program, for example the School of Business, with a capped number of seats. So in addition to academic strength, colleges may look for extra-curriculars or other activities that support a student's interest in a given path, to see that the student has some basic idea of what they're getting into and why.
Specific colleges/departments like Engineering or Pre-Med want qualified students who will contribute to their programs and go on to successful careers. On the flip side, they worry about admitting students who wash out of their program and transfer within the university to Arts and Sciences (or out of the university altogether). Since budgets are allocated based on enrollment, when a student transfers out of a department the dollars go with them.
So why would a student applying to college declare a major that will make it harder to gain admission? Because at some colleges it's next to impossible to transfer into certain majors if you didn't apply into the program as an incoming freshman. So if you want to major in Business but that's a competitive path at the college you're targeting, don't count on coming in as an Art History major and transferring once you get in.
Different colleges have different priorities A question was asked about dropping a foreign language in senior year of high school so that a strong math student can double in AP Calculus and AP Statistics. The admissions rep from Tufts said fine, while the Boston College rep said that could hurt as they want to see four years in each of the five core academic areas.
Reminding us once again that colleges do not all think the same way in the admissions process. Find the schools that fit for you and make sure you understand their evaluation criteria.
Syracuse University shared the five elements they look for when reading an application for their Honors College Leadership, entrepreneurship, community engagement, grit/perseverance and achievement. This is the basic checklist they use when evaluating a student. Every college has their own checklist – some publish it, others communicate it through the application questions they ask, for others you have to infer it.
No matter what a college's checklist includes, you have to be genuine. You can't force something just because you think it's what the admissions office wants to hear.
Admissions officers from Smith College and Syracuse University stressed that the Personal Statement (essay) should be the voice of a 17 year old. Having read thousands of essays, it’s easy for them to tell which are written by the student and which by well-meaning but overly-involved adults. In fact these panelists indicated they’d prefer that an essay be a little ragged vs. overly polished, as at least they’d know the work was genuine.
Related to this, the speakers felt that Supplemental Essays are often more informative to admissions readers, as they tend to be less scrubbed and more a genuine representation of the student’s voice and thoughts. Personalize the supplemental essays to show how you connect with that school, why it’s a good fit in both directions, what you’ll contribute as well as how you’ll benefit.
A panel representing the Honors Colleges at public universities Clemson, Cincinnati, Kentucky, Kansas and Rutgers discussed the advantages of a small interdisciplinary academic experience surrounded by the resources and spirit of a large public university.
Honors Colleges typically admit the top 5-7% of accepted students, providing a personalized learning environment with highly-motivated peers and special opportunities for research, internships, advising, housing and more. Students in honors colleges pay public university tuition and also receive merit scholarship awards, making the financial package attractive. Panelists pointed to Frank Bruni’s article published last year in the NY Times “A Prudent College Path”.