Admissions Advice From The Experts
Even though you may not be applying to colleges for another year or two it’s important to start preparing now so that you have the best chance of getting into your top schools!
We asked five admissions officials to share their experience advice and tips to help you better understand how to improve on your application packet.
Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid University of Rochester
Assistant Provost for Enrollment Management Director of Undergraduate Admissions University of Illinois
Director of Recruitment Marshall University
Director of Admissions Florida State University
Director of Admission Associate Dean Academic and Enrollment Services University of San Francisco
What are the most important factors you consider when reviewing applications and how much approximate weight do you put on each factor?
JB: We have no upfront “grid” of grades and test scores. Instead we read each application organically one at a time at least twice each and the readers don’t see each other’s recommendations. In most circumstances [we look at ]15 . . . measuring factors that we typically end up noting for each applicant with this careful process but I’ll summarize them as “three + X.”
1. Learning history during high school;
2. Achievements and developing interests outside of class;
3. Personal qualities; and
4. [The “X” factor is the interview.]
The interview matters for us not as a standalone factor with a particular weight but as a way to enhance our understanding of the other elements.
SK: We look at a variety of factors in the review process but the most important part of the application is the student’s academic record. This includes rigor of the courses taken grades as well as trends in both rigor and grades. We also want to make sure the student is taking rigorous courses in their senior year. Other factors such as activities and essays allow us to get to know the student and what they will contribute to our campus community.
MH: Grades and test scores are obviously important because students will be in the classroom with others who are learning and engaging each other at a relatively similar level. Those conversations and contributions are rounded out by the non-cognitive factors that are often indicated by extracurricular activities essays and recommendations.
BW: Our applications are evaluated simply on GPA and ACT/SAT scores.
JF: The most important factor in our decision-making process is the applicant’s academic profile (academic grade point average and quality of curriculum) in combination with test performance on the ACT and/or SAT.
If a high school student’s freshman year wasn’t as strong as they would have liked can they make up for it by improving their grades and activities participation beginning in their sophomore year? What is your general advice concerning AP and honors classes?
BW: I [believe] a student always benefits from taking on a greater challenge. To me the potential drawback of getting a B in an AP course—even when a student could easily earn an A in a “regular” course—is far outweighed by the development the student will experience through taking the more challenging class. Too many students come to college without being fully challenged during high school and then struggle when their college courses don’t come easily to them.
MH: Academic improvement over time is a good sign — all students don’t mature at the same level.
JF: While we would like to see a strong schedule and good grades throughout the high school years it is certainly better for a student to show grade improvement while taking a more challenging course load each year.
What mistakes do you see the most among applicants?
JB: Applicants seem to think they can cut and paste essay answers between multiple applications without suffering consequences. They don’t seem to realize that we can almost always tell that’s what they’ve done.
SK: The most common and obvious is using the same essay for more than one college. Don’t write a college essay to use for all your applications; answer the question that is being asked.
BW: Not following directions leaving parts of the application blank not submitting all of the necessary credentials misspellings. At best these mistakes will slow down the process making students wait longer for a decision. At worst it can mean the difference between being accepted and not.
MH: Carelessly completing the application too little information on some of the application questions not sending supporting documents on time hastily written essays [and] letters of recommendation from teachers or counselors with whom they’ve obviously not communicated.
JF: While parents should be a part of the process the student should own the process. More and more parents are completing applications writing essays and doing all the work for the student.
About how much weight do you put on the student interview and/or demonstrated interest in your school?
JB: The interview almost always helps and seldom hurts so I’d call it an “accelerator.” If other factors overall are good the interview can make them appear even better.
BW: In admissions none. However our recruitment strategies do take into account demonstrated interest. So when having an open house for instance our first round of invitations may go to students who have expressed interest.
MH: We do not require an interview but welcome the opportunity if a student would like to advocate for themselves or to learn more about the university relative to their educational needs.
Are you experiencing a larger waitlist than in prior years? Approximately what percentage of your wait-listed applicants are ultimately offered admission?
JB: Our waitlist grows a little each year. We’ve averaged fewer than 5 percent admission from the waitlist.
SK: Our waitlist has not grown substantially. Students are offered the opportunity to be on the waitlist and can accept or decline that offer. We publish our statistics on our website so students can see the number of students offered the waitlist those accepting the offer and the number admitted from the waitlist each year.
BW: We don’t wait-list.
MH: Yes. We have not historically taken very many students from the waitlist at all if any.
JF: We do not have a waitlist. We offer spring admission to a select number of students. Should there be openings in our freshman class we will draw from our spring admits.
What role does an applicant’s state of residence legacy or first generation status and intended major play in the admission decision?
JB: All things [being] equal we look to assemble a class with a diverse set of interests and experience.
BW: [These factors] make a difference in the recruitment process. There are certain majors we would like to grow and may recruit more heavily for students interested in those majors. Also of course nonresident students who pay a premium on tuition are ones that we recruit heavily as well.
MH: The only factor for us that might have a big impact on an admission decision would be the intended major.
JF: These are all factors that colleges may use in the selection process. For example first generation is very important to us and we give added weight in our admissions process. In addition we have a special program CARE in place to help these students transition to college.
How has the process changed since you started in the education industry?
JB: The role of rankings has become too crude and ultimately I think harmful to students and the frenzy to gain admission to highly selective highly ranked places has distorted a lot of high school learning and efforts.
SK: The admissions process used to be simplistic—based on one or two factors such as a GPA rank or test score. Many colleges have moved to a holistic review which allows selection committees to look at the applicant beyond a transcript or test score.
BW: My institutional process has not changed but across the profession I’m seeing a lot of changes. Test-optional [admission] early decision [and] early action [and] the role of need in aid [are] all things that institutions are evaluating and changing to try to shape their classes and optimize their yield.
JF: Students are applying earlier and to more colleges. The Internet is also playing a significant role. Students are able to explore colleges earlier take virtual tours of campus and learn a great deal about the admissions process simply by going online.
Hopefully some of this information will give you a better understanding of the admissions process. Soak in the advice digest it then apply the information to make your college applications stand out among the rest!
Amai Stevenson is a freelance writer in Colorado.