Q&A with a Former Admissions Officer

Are you a high school student or a parent of a student preparing for the exciting journey of college applications? Join us for an insightful and informative webinar, “Q&A with a Former Admissions Officer.”

In this webinar, we bring you a unique opportunity to gain valuable insights and expert advice directly from our former admissions officer Chelsea Holley. Chelsea has years of experience in the college admissions process and will share her knowledge, tips, and strategies to help you navigate the competitive world of college applications with confidence.

This webinar will be an interactive Q&A session, allowing you to directly engage with the former admissions officer and get answers to your burning questions about the college admissions process.

Don’t miss this opportunity to gain a competitive edge in your college application journey. Register now for our “Q&A with a Former Admissions Officer” webinar and equip yourself with the knowledge and tools necessary for a successful college application experience.

Date 07/13/2023
Duration 58:37

Webinar Transcription

2023-07-13 – Q&A with a Former Admissions Officer

Juliana: Hi, everyone. My name is Juliana Furigay, and I’m your webinar moderator today. Welcome to this, “Q&A With a Former Admissions Officer.” So to orient everyone with the webinar timing, Chelsea is going to give you all an introduction, then we’re going to do a poll, then answer your questions, um, and you all can start submitting questions in the Q&A tab.

I also have the questions that you guys submitted during registration. So I’m going to start off with some of those. Then I’ll read through the questions in the Q&a tab, and I’m going to paste them in the public chat so you all can see and then read them out loud before our panelists here gives you an answer.

Uh, so now let’s meet Chelsea.

Chelsea: Hi everyone. Uh, my name is Chelsea Holley and I serve as an admissions officer here at CollegeAdvisor. Um, I’ve been working in college admissions for a little over 10 years. at a variety of institutions, um, liberal arts institutions, state flagships, large, small, selective institutions.

Um, and so I’m looking forward to giving you hopefully, um, an overview of the admissions process and answering any questions that are, um, on your mind as you prepare to apply to college.

Juliana: Perfect. Um, so now moving over to the poll. Um, so what grade are you guys all in? Um, and while we wait for those results to come in, we’d love to start with a question for you.

Um, so, Chelsea, could you give us some of your best general advice for college essays?

Chelsea: Yeah, so, um, the, the very first thing is start with, um, Um, very rarely is there a good college essay that is done the day before, even the week before. Um, you can start making an essay outline as early as your junior year.

You can start, um, a notes document in your phone that just has some essay ideas. That you can revisit when you are ready to sit down and brainstorm. Um, so I think the most important thing is getting organized starting early. Um, and then thinking of the story that you want to tell. Um, think less about what we want to hear and more of who you are and what type of story about your life, your experiences, um, might best display who you are.

Juliana: Great. Thank you so much, Chelsea. Um, and I’m going to close this poll soon. So looks like, uh, 9 percent of you guys are in 10th grade, 15 percent in 11th grade, 72 percent are actually seniors. So looks like it’s a very small percentage. Senior heavy room, um, closing that poll and going back to the Q&A and just as a heads up here, if your Q&A tab isn’t letting you submit questions, uh, just double check that you join this webinar through the custom link in your email and not just from the webinar landing page.

Um, but next question for you, Chelsea, is, could you tell us about a time that you were genuinely. Impressed by an application. Um, what was it that really had that spark for you?

Chelsea: Yeah, so, um, I would say as an admissions officer that’s been reading applications for about 10 years at this point I’ve probably read over 10,000 applications if not more Um, and so there there are moments where i’m impressed every reading season Um, and typically when that happens is, um, when you walk away from the student’s application, feeling like you know them, or you’ve, um, done an interview with them, um, you want to feel like there is a personal touch.

Um, you don’t want to feel like the application is too strategized. Um, sometimes there is, um, a real beauty in, um, informality in the essay. So really talking to the admissions officer like, um, they are a person, um, and, and oftentimes, um, a person that may not be that far in age from, um, high school students.

Um, so I think just relatability for me, um, is the biggest thing that usually impresses And when we see a great Essay or a great application you want to tell your other committee members. Oh my god. Look at the student. The student’s great Um, and so that should be the goal is to wow the admissions team Um, and the way to do that is really self assessment And finding out what your story is. What’s your unique? um qualities unique aspirations that Are likely not to be replicated by other students

Juliana: Great. Um, and the next question I have for you here is in regard to if there’s any specific qualities that you as an admissions officer look for when admitting students and any advice you have to students for really letting these qualities show in their application.

Chelsea: Yeah. So, um, I think The first thing to know is the qualities in which admissions officers are looking for shifts depending on the institution. Um, there is no blanket list of, um, personality traits, leadership experience, service experience that all admissions officers are seeking. But the best way to find out, um, about the institutions that you’re interested in and what they’re looking for is to look at their mission statement.

Um, sometimes mission statements feel like really lofty, um, but more often than not, um, pieces of the mission statement are literally the rubric in which admissions officers are judging you by. Um, so if a mission statement says that, um, they value service. Then that admissions officer is going to be looking for, um, displays of service in your application.

Um, I worked, uh, for, for Georgia Tech for some time and we had a huge campaign at the time that was create the next. So it was all about innovative, um, thinking, um, and really Solving some of the world’s greatest problems. So that’s what we were looking for when we were reviewing applications. Um, so dig into that mission statement.

Um, and if you’re still trying to put your finger on what a specific college is looking for, um, go to an information session, go to a tour, follow them on Instagram and listen to the ways the admissions officers talk about, um, themselves, talk about the students that they’re looking for, and you’ll have some really great clues at what a good match is for that school.

Juliana: Great. Thank you. Um, the next question that I have for you here is in regard to students that don’t come from, um, a traditional background. So for example, homeschooled or online school students, um, or even students who, um, like here are like military affiliated and just have been moving a lot and haven’t really set their stone in one certain high school.

So any advice you have for these students?

Chelsea: Yeah, absolutely. Um, so it’s important to know that it is our job as admissions officers to judge you in the context that you’re in. of your high school experience. Um, so if you received your diploma and you’ve been in high school online, um, it will be unfair for us to compare you to a student who has been in a physical building for four years.

Um, same thing with a homeschool student. Um, so we are judging you within the lens of your high school experience. And I assure you, you are not the first homeschool student, the first online student, or the first military student to go through this process. And so we’re keeping that in mind, um, and keeping that context in mind so that we can evaluate you fairly.

Um, the second piece of that is students that have moved a lot. Um, it may be a student that is, um, part of a military family or your parents just. moved a couple of times when you were in high school. Um, that is not a crime. Okay, that is not going to penalize you in this process. Um, we are going to be able to see that you have multiple transcripts.

Um, but oftentimes I see students that have moved and, and have some concerns about that really call it out in their application. Um, so if you are applying through the common app, There is a specific question that talks about educational progression. Um, so that means, um, during the pandemic, um, we were remote for a year and it had this kind of effect on my education, or I moved my sophomore year and it had this kind of effect.

Um, or, um, sometimes we see Students talk about the classes that were, um, available to them or not available to them. So, um, I wasn’t tracked into AP courses in the eighth grade and I wasn’t able to take, um, AP calculus. Um, so any of these little nuances about your high school or educational experience, you can just flat out tell us about them.

It doesn’t have to be wrapped up in a bow and an essay. There are, um, a number of places, particularly on the Common App, But other applications as well, where you can just give us information. Um, it is not excuses. Um, it is information. When you don’t tell us, we make up our own story about what happened. So the best thing to do is to really just kind of tell us anything that isn’t apparent in the application.

Juliana: Great. Thank you. And on that note of being judged within the context of your environment in high school, we have a couple of students here who are wondering about whether they’re directly competing with students in their high school in their county.

How are, um, applications judged generally? Um, and is there a certain quota of students that can be accepted from each high school or county?

Chelsea: Yeah, so that’s a big question. Um, so let me, um, tackle some different pieces of it. Um, the first thing to note is most selective institutions, Um, are looking at you in the context of your high school, not only to understand, um, the classes that are available, um, and how much you challenge yourself, but looking at other students who have applied that year or previous years shows us what’s competitive for you.

At your high school. So a lot of high schools don’t rank, right? Um, so let’s say you don’t have a ranking on your transcript, but we can go in and see that we had 20 applicants apply from your high school the year before and five applicants this year and you have the. Highest GPA out of the applicants that have applied this year, um, that would show us that you are rising to the top of your high school, which is a good indicator that you will perform well in a selective admissions process.

Now, I use the example of. You know, the highest GPA, but there are, um, a lot of exceptions to that. So, um, typically what we see is if you are a student that has a lower GPA, so you might hear so and so got in with a 3.6 and this person with a 4.1 was denied. How did that happen? Admissions counselors must be able to rationalize their holistic review.

So if someone that has a lower GPA or maybe a lower test score was admitted, I can assure you that there were other elements of their application that probably stood out. So, um, a super strong essay, um, or great leadership experience, um, those other components, would have outweighed. any negative areas in the GPA.

Um, so I won’t say that you are competing with students at your high school, but seeing how other students performs, uh, are performing lets us know how you measure up, if you will, in your context. It lets us know what’s challenging, what’s, um, above average, what’s average. So it gives us that context. Um, at some schools, uh, a 4.7 only puts you in the top 20 percent of the class. Um, at other institutions, other high schools, you are the number one student with a 4.7, right? So it looks very, very different depending on the high school. Um, and again, it’s, it’s our job to understand your high school. Um, the second piece is quotas for county, um, and quotas.

I don’t think you said by state, but I’ll talk about that as well. You see this come into play, um, a little bit more with public institutions. Um, so oftentimes public institutions, so examples of those, um, would be a university of Florida. University of Alabama, Georgia Tech. You can tell I’m in the South.

These are all of my examples. Um, so these kind of large state flagships, um, oftentimes those schools have a, um, mission to be of service to the students. In their state, and so it could be, um, out of all of the apple, uh, out of the incoming class, 40 percent of our students, um, must be in state or 60 percent of our students must come from our state.

So that is absolutely a thing. Um, and that is just part of the public institution, um, mission, um, outside of that quotas by county quotas by state or city, or even school. Um, Not so much. There, there is not a hard number, um, that admissions officers are allowed to admit from any high school, any county or any state outside of, um, if you have some sort of commitment from a public institution. Did I cover everything on that one?

Juliana: Yes, you did cover everything. Um, and since you did speak about geographical regions, uh, we do have a student here who is wondering about, you know, they are from the Midwest and they want to do computer science, but they don’t really have access to that. to opportunities such as interning at a tech firm.

Um, it’s really just online free coursework that they have access to. So what recommendations do you have for students who live in regions where they don’t really have access to internships or different opportunities that someone from a larger city might have?

Chelsea: Yeah, great question. Um, the first thing is, tell us about it.

Um, the exact same way that you, um, worded your question, um, you can put that in the additional information, um, space on your college application, um, or you can take the opportunity to craft an essay that talks about, um, the ways that you’ve been able to You know, went above and beyond to try and get your feet wet in computer science, even though you didn’t have those opportunities at your high school or in your city.

We have most of the United States lives in rural America. Right? And so these students are applying to colleges just like students from big cities. And so. Not all students are going to have the same opportunities. Um, you may have students that are in a huge city, but they work a part time job, um, or have other responsibilities at home, um, that really have, uh, interfered with, with doing some of these, um, internships or, or activities.

Um, so tell us is the biggest thing. And then the second thing, just get creative. Um, I think the pandemic has opened a lot of doors. Um, as far as virtual, um, internships and virtual experiences go, um, ask your family and friend network. So your parents, your neighbors, um, other students that might go to your high school, um, and see if anyone has any connections, um, that you can get into virtually.

Juliana: And we have a lot of questions here in regards to, um, SAT and ACT scores, especially with the rise of schools going test optional. So would you recommend students to, you know, apply without submitting their scores? And like, if they meet the average score as well, like when you say just submit it, and they are also wondering what is the first thing that colleges look at if you do apply test optional?

And I know you talked a bit about the holistic approach before, so feel free to delve into that.

Chelsea: Yeah, um, so. The, the first question, if your SAT or ACT score hovers around the college’s average, should you submit, um, in a true test optional policy, which, um, our colleagues in admissions, if they have a test optional policy, um, they must truly be judging students fairly with or without test scores.

So one. No, that and find some peace in that, that it is completely your decision to submit an SAT score or an ACT. score or not. Um, if your score is around the average, or many schools will share the middle 50%. If it is in that range, it is very likely that that score will not hurt your review. It may not help, right?

Like it may not push you over the edge, um, but it may not hurt your review. Um, so that, that’s something to think about. Um, I think also your major and the type of school you’re applying to will come into the picture. Um, so let’s say you’re interested in a super competitive engineering or computer science.

Program. Um, those students might be more likely to have taken the SAT, taken the ACT and done well on those exams. And so, um, it might be a plus for you to also, um, have added a good test score. Um, If you are concerned about your high school transcript or academic record, test scores can also be a way to share an additional academic credential.

So let’s say the GPA is a little below the average for that school, but you test well, then it may be a really great idea for you to submit a test score. So I know it’s very scenario based, depends on the school, depends on the person, depends on the major. Um, but that is. That is, that is very much true. Um, you can have this conversation with an admissions counselor at the school you’re interested in.

And they can also give you some additional context and guidance, um, on how many students, um, submit scores. So, that’s a question I love to ask. It’s usually not on a website. Um, but. Ask the college of your choice, um, out of the students that were admitted last year, how many of them had test scores? Um, that might be telling to get an idea of who it is that you are competing with, um, for these really selective institutions.

Juliana: The second question was, I forgot. Um, the second question was, um, so if you do apply test optional, what is the first thing that colleges will look at? So if you could speak more on that holistic approach. Yeah, great question.

Chelsea: Um, so as a general rule of thumb, um, test scores and your transcript, um, give us clues to how successful you would be at our institutions.

Um, Think about comparing a four year academic record to a Saturday morning test that you took once, maybe twice. Um, so the four year academic record has always been, even pre test optional, has always been the more dependable, um, metric to decide whether you would be successful on those campuses. Um, and so whether you are submitting a test score or not, the transcript is where most admissions counselors are diving into.

1st, um, there, everyone has their personal preference of how they go about reading an application file. Um, my favorite thing to do is to immediately look for the school report. A school report is basically a form that your high school counselor prepares, and it’s not prepared specifically for you, but every high school has a school report that is sent to colleges when you apply.

And it tells us how big the school is, it tells us how many students are going to four year institutions, how many AP courses are offered, what the grading skill is. So that sets the stage for how we’re going to look at the rest of your application. So I would start with the school report and then I’m going directly to the transcript.

Um, and when you go to the transcript, we’re not just looking at the overall average GPA. We are going line by line, semester by semester, year by year. Um, and so I, I have students that are like, well, maybe they won’t notice this. They will absolutely notice whatever that is good or bad. Um, because We are trained to not only look at the overall GPA, but really dig into how you did in specific classes.

So if you are going into, um, the STEM field, we would want to see strong grades in math and science. Um, if you are a student applying for a more creative discipline, we might expect that there’s not that many STEM classes, but instead, um, you’ve taken these really beautiful sequences in art. or design. Um, and so that is, I think, like I said, test optional or not.

High school transcript um, is one of the most important pieces of information that we have.

Juliana: Yes, and we do have a lot of questions here in regard to essays and how those are weighted compared to, you know, the numbers, GPA, transcript, et cetera. Also, a lot of students are wondering, you know, how do they start with approaching their Common App essay and writing an essay that is personal enough to them, but also, you know, helps them stand out.

Chelsea: Yeah, great question. Um, so I think the concept of, um, how much things are weighted is is a little interesting. I get why students ask that. Um, but there’s not really a great answer to talk about weighted, um, when we say holistic. That means that we are looking at all parts of you as an applicant, um, and then making a decision on whether we.

Would like to offer you admission. Um, and so I think, you know, can an essay ruin an applicant, right? Um, yeah, you know, you could be on the fence about, um, a student and, um, a really bad essay or, you or an unorganized essay could be kind of that last straw that says, okay, you know, I really don’t think the student is a match.

Um, also keep in mind, the more selective the institution, the more everyone is impressive in the applicant pool. So your 1480 SAT score and your 4.7 GPA, you’re in a pool with the Thousands of other students that look like that numerically. And so admissions officers begin really having to dig deep to differentiate applicants.

And the difference is in the essays. It is in the recommendation letters. It is in these more qualitative rich pieces of information, um, that are really unique to you. Um, so I would say essays are very, very important. Um, you know, In the example I just shared, the more selective the institution, I think the more important the essay.

But even in a less selective institution, essays could really sway an admissions officer one way or the other.

Juliana: We also have a couple of students here who are wondering about whether it’s okay to It’s preferable to be well rounded or to have a niche focus on one area and have all their extracurriculars revolve around that.

Um, one student is saying, you know, they see a lot of students at their school who have these long lists of extracurriculars and they’re worried because they, um, spend all of their time on this one main extracurricular activity.

Chelsea: Um, so here goes my, my favorite answer again. It depends. Um, so there is a strong applicant who has.

A really diverse list of activities and leadership. Um, so they’re, you know, um, a varsity athlete, they’re president of, um, a club, they have a part time job, they’re doing all of these different things, right? And so that can be very impressive to an admissions officer. Um, but you could also have an applicant that has devoted their time for four years to one specific thing, um, and they participated, um, in school and outside of school and in the summers.

Um, and that’s really, um, compelling to see a high school student who has identified a passion, identified an interest, and really given their all. Um, so. There is no, which one is better. Um, you really, really have to think about, um, yourself. Um, first of all, you, you don’t have a laundry list of activities that you’re able to list on your admissions application.

So nine times outta 10, um, you may have to pick and choose what best represents you. Um, and when you’re in a space where you get to pick and choose, um, I think it’s great to have some progressive involvement. So something that you’ve done more than one year. Um, and then also some things that maybe are a semester long or a summer program, um, that shows that you are flexible and interested in trying something new.

Um, so there, there’s a happy medium between doing everything, um, and then kind of staying really narrow and in the box.

Juliana: So we have some questions here in regard to the recent like SCOTUS ruling and SCOTUS ruling and how that affects applications. Specifically, how should students from minority groups go about including the impact of their race within their applicants? Applications and personal statements. For example, we have a student here who is Mexican and that has influenced their desire to become a journalist.

So any advice you’d have for including that in their application.

Chelsea: Yeah, absolutely. Um, so, you know, The SCOTUS decision was, um, huge news, um, for, for the past few weeks, but I think what’s been left from the conversation is how students are supposed to navigate this. I haven’t heard much talk or guidance.

Um, for students and you all are going to be applying if you’re seniors really, really soon. Um, and then even in the future, um, the guidance that has been shared at this moment, um, is that you can share, um, the way you’re raised, um, So how your race or culture background has impacted you? Um, as far as your experiences.

So your lived experience as part of that as part of your race is something that can be included. Um, places that that would be are certainly the essay, the personal statement, but also your activities list. So if you were a part of, let’s say the black student union, That is an identifier of a club or organization.

That does share your race. Um, what is going away is when admissions counselors look at your full application, seeing your race at the top of the page next to your gender. That is what is going away, but there will be clues, um, to your background throughout the application. Um, what I find is that students from underrepresented communities, um, often a large part of their lived experience is their culture and their race.

I think, um, naturally, that has found its way into applications prior to this. Um, and I think it will continue. Um, I, I do know that, um, Students from minority backgrounds definitely lean in, um, do not feel like you should shy away in that space. Um, and the essay is the perfect place to do that. Um, again, it is not saying, Hey, this is my race.

It is talking about how your background has influenced your experiences and influenced, um, Your goals, your interest, all of those things. I would absolutely encourage any students from underrepresented groups to talk about that in their, their application.

Juliana: And what are some mistakes that you’ve seen applicants make in their college applications? Some red flags or things that you’ve disliked? Um, and what should we not write about in our Common App and college essays if there’s any, uh, taboo topics?

Chelsea: Yeah, so I’ll start with the last one first. I think, um, politics, any controversial beliefs. Um, so you don’t know who’s reading your application. Um, so think of it as if you were in the grocery store and if you’re writing about a belief, could you hand this essay to anybody in the grocery store and they would not be offended or off put by the topic.

Um, so that’s a pretty good litmus test. Um, if you think that someone might be like, Oh, this isn’t really my style, then it probably isn’t the right topic for a college essay, because what you don’t want to do, you don’t want to offend an admissions officer that is supposed to be judging you objectively, um, in this process.

So I usually say politics. Um, stay away from, um, religion. I think is, you know, a lived experience for many of our students. So absolutely. Okay. To talk about religion. Um, but anything that that’s controversial, um, cursing, I’ve seen it done. Uh, gracefully on maybe two or three occasions. Um, more often than not, it comes off as inappropriate.

Um, again, you don’t know the sensitivities of the person that um, is reading it. So, you know, some people may have a potty mouth and others may think that that is inappropriate. It’s a really bad thing for you to be cursing in an application. So, um, I definitely would stay away from that. Um, other red flags in an application, um, would be, it just doesn’t sound like you wrote it.

Um, and. Thank you. Maybe you wrote it. Maybe you didn’t, but it should sound like you wrote it. Um, and so if your essay, um, is talking in another voice, so heavily edited by a parent, um, heavily edited, um, by another student, um, you really, really should take some time and check to see if that is your voice.

Um, You know, 1 thing I, I’m always interested in when I read a really good essay, I’m like, oh, my gosh, what how they do in English. Right? And, you know, you’ll see, oh, the student was involved in the writing club, or they got A’s and English. When I read a really good essay, and I look back and students got, like, C’s in their English courses, or didn’t do well.

I’m like, that’s. That’s a little ironic. Um, and so you just want to make sure that things match, um, and that admissions officers are not questioning the authenticity of your essay. Um, and really, again, it’s just making sure it sounds like you, a 17 or 18 year old. Um, there is no need to go to a thesaurus and use every.

Big word that you can think of that really isn’t a productive exercise. Um, if you do want to jazz up your essay, um, from a technical standpoint, I would focus on, um, the tenants of constructing a proper essay, um, how to pull the reader in, how to tell a story, how to close, um, the, the, the big word, uh, Count, that’s not helpful. Um, so really just, uh, making sure it sounds like it’s in your voice.

Juliana: And would you be able to share with us an example of an essay that really stood out to you? Or if you have a couple to share, that would definitely be appreciated too.

Chelsea: Yeah. Um, so I am in the summer and not in application season, so I have to kind of think back to, um, last year of students that I was working with around this time.

Um, a specific essay. Give me a second. I’m going to share one at the end. I have to think.

Juliana: Let’s do that then. Um, we also have some students that are wondering about financial aid and how they go about starting the financial aid process, as well as if applying for financial aid, um, you know, hurts their admissions.

Chelsea: Yeah, so, um, the first step to apply for financial aid is filling out the FAFSA, um, and that is the federal application for student aid. Um, even if you do not expect to qualify or receive federal aid, um, this document goes to schools and it tells them what your financial picture is. Um, and so they may use that information to award income based scholarships.

Um, or specific grants. Um, so that’s the first thing that you should do. Um, this year is I think a doozy all around because there are also some major changes to FAFSA. Um, typically the FAFSA would open in October. Um, it is opening a bit later this year in December. And so, um, as soon as it opens in December, um, the FAFSA I encourage you to fill it out and you’re able to choose what schools you would like to send your information to.

Um, it is something that you should likely do with your parent or guardian, um, as they are asking for tax information for the household. Um, so definitely put it on your calendar to fill out the FAFSA. So that’s number one. Um, the second piece is finding out what scholarships. What the scholarship process is at the institutions you’re applying to, some schools there’s nothing else that you need to do to apply for a scholarship.

Um, other schools there is an entire separate application to apply for merit aid. Um, so you want to find out if that exists. And you want to find out what the deadline is, um, because sometimes there are earlier application deadlines for students that are applying for scholarships and merit aid. Um, so you definitely want to look that up.

Was there a two part to that?

Juliana: That was it. You answered it. Um, and yes, now that we are actually at the halfway point of the webinar, um, I did want to include a little plug for CollegeAdvisor here. Um, Um, I see that some of you guys have some really specific questions and I’m able to provide this opportunity to you all tonight. So for those of you who in the room who are not already working with us, we know how overwhelming the admissions process can be.

So here at CollegeAdvisor, we have a team of over 400 former admissions officers, like Chelsea here, and admissions experts who are ready to help you and your family navigate everything in one on one advising sessions. So you can take the next step in your college admissions journey by signing up for a free 45 to 60 minute strategy session with an admission specialist on our team using this QR code on the screen.

So during this meeting, we can answer more of your specific questions, uh, review your extracurricular lists and application strategy, uh, discuss how these line up with your college and generally outline the tools that you need to succeed. Um, and now I would love to shift back to the Q and a. Uh, so the next question that I would love to ask you, Chelsea is, um, give you one second looking through right now, but, uh, we have some international applicants in the room.

And they’re wondering how this process would look different for them in comparison to domestic students and whether them being international would adversely impact their application.

Chelsea: So, um, in some ways it looks different, but in some ways it looks very, very similar. Um, the essays that you would be asked to write, um, looking at your academic transcript, all of those things are the same.

Um, some colleges, um, have a different process for merit. funding for international students. I think that’s probably where you might experience the biggest difference. Um, international students are not able to fill out a FAFSA. Um, so oftentimes there is a parallel process, um, for requesting aid, um, and showing that you are able to pay, um, if you’re not eligible for any aid.

Um, so that’s different. The application review process is very, very similar. Um, one thing I did want to note is that most admissions offices, um, have admissions counselors that are assigned by territory. And so, um, there will be a specific admissions counselor for international students that only reads international applicants.

Um, and it allows you to kind of put your international student hat on and again, judge the student within their context. Um, so what we’re looking for on a transcript that comes from Ghana might be different than a transcript that comes from California. Um, so same thing for different states. Um, The admissions officers, oftentimes that travel to your high school will likely be some of the people that are reading your applications on the other side of the process.

Juliana: And could you speak to letters of recommendation of that? We have a student wondering here, you know, if I apply to 10 colleges, do I, for example, need 30 letters of recommendation or? Also, generally, how these letters of recommendation are weighted within the process.

Chelsea: Yeah, so, um, I don’t want to say that letters of recommendation are the least important.

Um, however, I think letters of recommendation serve a few purposes. Um, one is to underscore information that we already know about a student. Um, so, Let’s say you listed that you participated in robotics club on your activities list, and you were able to have a teacher and the advisor for robotics club.

Write a letter of recommendation that could be a very powerful pairing to really reinforce an activity on your extracurriculars list. Um, another way that. Uh, letters of recommendation come into the picture, um, is if it impacts you negatively, um, ways that letters of rec can impact you negatively are the teacher literally has nothing to say about.

Um, it is a standard letter of recommendation. Usually it is three sentences. Um, they use very, um, vague adjectives to describe you and you can tell from reading it that there’s no true connection. Um, and you might be thinking, well, why would that impact me negatively when they wrote a bad recommendation?

Um, there’s two reasons. Um, so, yes, maybe the teacher just wrote a bad recommendation. Um, but the likelihood of a teacher that you have formed a relationship with, um, that you have had interactions with outside of class, um, And really built some sort of relationship giving you a bland recommendation is really low.

Um, and so typically, when we see that the message to us is. This student has failed to create meaningful relationships with teachers and others at their high school. And this is why we see a recommender that looks like this. Um, so if you are racking your brain right now and about who can write you a recommendation and you’re thinking, you know, Oh, man, I don’t really have any like major connections with teachers make some right now.

Um, think about a teacher that maybe you’ve had for more than one class, um, or a course that you struggled in, um, and brought your grade up in, um, talk to that teacher at the beginning of the year. Let them know that you want them. them to write a recommendation letter for you and hand them what we call a brag sheet.

A brag sheet is all the stuff about you and they can look it over and they can say, Oh my gosh, I didn’t know that you played violin and that you did this. Um, and sometimes just being showing them that you care, um, and that, uh, you’re putting effort into this process can yield a much better recommendation letter.

Juliana: Uh, we have some students that are wondering about, uh, AP scores and AP, uh, classes in general. So how important is it for a student to have taken a lot of honors and AP classes as well as how they scored on the AP test?

Chelsea: Yes. So again, judging you in the context of your school, um, and what that means, uh, as it relates to AP courses is that not all students have access to the same level of rigor.

Um, and so at one high school, you may have access to 25 AP courses. Um, at another, they may not have AP courses, they might only have honors. Um, at another, they might not have AP or honors at all. Um, at the fifth school, it’s IB only. Um, and at the sixth school, they have two AP classes and they’re both art.

And you’re not very fond of art, so you didn’t take them. Right, so these are all drastically different situations. Um, and so, Focusing in on just a number of AP courses is the wrong way to look at it. First, you should ask yourself, what is available to me at my high school? Um, and how much did I challenge myself given what’s available?

Um, if you don’t know how many AP courses are available at your high school, ask your counselor. Um, if you, Took a healthy number of the courses that are available to you. Um, then, uh, an off an admissions officer may say that, okay, this student challenged themselves based on their educational context. Um, I think the, uh, other end of the spectrum is a student who has access to no rigor at all.

And so you didn’t even have an opportunity to take a rigorous course, um, you will not be penalized in this process because of that. Um, we are going to be looking at other ways to understand your potential, whether it is, um, your transcript in the courses that you did take, um, or a test score. A lot of times I’ll see students who do not have access to AP or honors courses take dual enrollment if that’s an option, um, either during the school year or in the summer.

Um, enrolling in a four credit summer program is another way to try and get some rigor on your application. Um, so there’s some things that you can do to stand out even if you don’t have rigorous courses at your school.

Juliana: And what about demonstrated interests? How is that recorded by schools? How does that factor into whether an applicant is more likely to be accepted by that school?

Um, and the second part to that is how can a student get an idea of campus culture and get to show their interest in a school without visiting it in person? Great question.

Chelsea: Um, so for those of you who do not know what demonstrated interest is, Um, it is essentially a student that’s interested in a university, um, taking a tour, um, attending an information session, opening an email, clicking on a link, um, and that the institution says, because you did all of these things, it has some weight in our decision because you’re showing us that you’re interested.

Um, I don’t even know if it’s 50 50 schools that look at demonstrated interest versus not at this point. Um, some schools definitely consider demonstrated interest. Most do not. Um, even if a school does not use demonstrated interest as part of their decision making process, um, schools have very, very sophisticated, um, CRM’s Um, of how they track you through the process. So even though I may not be giving an extra weight to a student that attended an event, I can see that a student attended an event. Um, and that may subconsciously influence my decision by seeing that they’re interested. Again, admissions officers are people.

We try to make this as objective as possible. However, there are these little things that creep into the process that are really hard to control at times. Um, and so even if a school does not have demonstrated interest, I think it’s a great job to If you’re interested, demonstrate it. Um, ways to do that are to, um, reach out to your counselor.

Um, so you are not bothering them. Do not write an email that says, sorry to bother you. Um, it is their job to talk to you and answer your questions. Um, so Send an email introducing yourself to your regional counselor. That’s always a great thing to do. If you cannot make it to campus to tour, check out the virtual tour online.

Most schools have those post pandemic. Um, attending a virtual information session. Again, most schools have those now. Um, following on social media, uh, following the tour guide, uh, organization for the school. Um, so these are all ways that you can connect with the institution, um, at a distance. You can flat out ask a institution, do you consider demonstrated interest?

They will either say yes or no. Um, if they say yes, Things that you can do to demonstrate interest. Again, open emails, click on links, um, explore their website, um, attend events if you can, um, get on campus in the summer if there’s some summer programs, um, that you can get involved in. Um, these are all things, um, that could be helpful.

Again, if a school looks at demonstrated interest, I’m going to throw out Harvard as an example, whole bunch of students are interested in Harvard. So if you do all those things that I just mentioned for Harvard It probably is not going to impact the way your application is reviewed because it is a reach school for so, so many in the admissions rate is so low.

And so ask that question, but I wouldn’t put too much stock into demonstrated interest. It really is just. Um, another small measure that can be considered.

Juliana: And a lot of questions here are regarding around essays again, and what are some common ideas or cliches to avoid when writing an essay? Specifically, we have a student here who’s an Asian student and they’re wondering if, you know, an essay on the immigrant experience has been overdone and how generally they can avoid a generic sounding essay.

Chelsea: Yeah. So if you have an immigrant experience and it’s important to you, there’s no way that it can be overdone. It’s your experience. Right? Um, and so that’s, that goes back to me saying kind of get out of what you think we want to hear or what you think is going to make you stand out and really think about what is unique to you.

Um, so let’s use the example of an immigrant experience, right? Um, let’s say you want to use this as the context for an essay instead of saying, um, my parents were born in Korea and then they moved here and then I did this, and this is why my culture is important to me. Um, maybe talk about your immigrant experience through the lens of food or music.

So maybe talk about this really special dish that your grandmother used to make and how that’s very representative of your culture. Um, I think oftentimes students bite off these kind of like long stories or narratives that span their whole high school career. Or I started playing violin when I was two and they talk about how they played violin for, you know, the next, 15 years.

Um, that can work out well, but oftentimes the most powerful, um, the most powerful essays can be about a single moment in time, a single conversation, a song, an action, an item. Um, those kind of bring us into this very personal space. Um, and again, That’s not overdone. If you’re talking about your grandmother’s kitchen and what it smelled like and some of the things that she said, that is unique to you.

Um, and that is always something that, um, you can share in an essay.

Juliana: And in terms of majors, so would you say that Students should revolve their extracurricular activities around their intended major that they’re applying with. Um, and we also have a student here wondering about applying undecided, and whether that would hurt them, and if it’s better to just choose a specific major.

Chelsea: Yeah, um, so, I think lucky students are able to strategize and build their activity list around a major starting freshman year, but that’s not really the majority or the reality of how this works. High school students are ever evolving and what you wanted to major in freshman year may look completely different than senior year.

Um, and so sometimes there’s this great alignment. Between major and activity. Sometimes there’s no alignment at all. Um, and even if there is no alignment, you can still be successful in this process. Um, while you may not know your specific major, let’s say you’re undecided, or let’s say you thought you were interested in engineering and did all these engineering clubs and activities.

And now you’re wanting to major in something completely different. Um. Take yourself, step away from what the specific major is, and talk about the things that interested you in that major in the first place. Um, is it solving problems? Is it building things? Is it talking to people? Is it, um, a host of, of different qualities that different majors can have?

And you focus on those things, not necessarily what the major is, because those things can be, you know, Transferable across disciplines across majors. Um, and certainly, if you’re undecided, definitely tap into that just because you’re undecided on your major does not mean that you don’t have the skills.

and passions. So talk about those. Um, and you know, I’ve read an application before for an undecided student and the entire time I was reading it, I was thinking, Oh my God, they would be a great fit for our industrial design program. And they may not even know that yet. Um, but they’re describing, um, you know, tenants of a major that we have and that resonated with us.

Um, so, um, Undecided students are not penalized typically, but I would talk to your specific colleges that you’re interested in. Um, the first question is to ask is, do you admit to the college or do you admit to the major? Um, so that’s one thing to know. Um, and then if I’m undecided, how does that review process go?

Um, so I won’t give a blanket statement and say that it doesn’t impact at all. Um, but it would be unfair and unrealistic if you could not be undecided.

Juliana: That’s great advice for sure. And I see that we have around five minutes left here. So the last question that I wanted to ask you, Chelsea, is, um, if there’s any last piece of advice that you want to leave our audience with tonight.

And there’s a lot of seniors on this call as well. So maybe tailored to them, but, uh, what advice would you provide?

Chelsea: Yeah. So I think the first thing is now is the time. If you are a senior, um, and if you have not already started on, um, essay brainstorming, building a college list, now is the time to do that.

You do not need to see the essay prompts on August 1st to start thinking about your essay. Spoiler alert. They’re very generic. Um, schools have different supplemental questions, but the main questions are very, very generic. Um, you can begin crafting an essay without a question. Um, and so I would start early, get organized, ask for help, um, whether it is your CollegeAdvisor, um, or a counselor, um, a trusted parent, um, Ask for help and don’t wait to the last minute to ask for help.

Um, so kind of get everyone involved in the beginning, give your recommenders ample time to write you a good recommendation letter, give yourself ample time to submit a strong application. Um, and I know it’s really, really hard, but the college that you go to or that you get accepted to is not a value judgment.

Um, so during this process, As much as you can divorce, getting accepted into college as someone solidifying that you are smart or worthy because you’re going to do well wherever you go. I promise there are thousands of amazing colleges in the nation. We often fixate on. 20 or maybe 10. Um, but you will find somewhere that’s a good fit for you.

So just trust in that um, and try and stay as stress free as possible.

Juliana: Yes, that was all really insightful. And thank you so much everyone to coming out tonight. And thank you so much, uh, especially to our panelists here, Chelsea. Um, so that is officially the end of the webinar here. Uh, we had a really great time answering all of your questions, and Really sorry if we couldn’t get to your question tonight, but we do have a couple more webinars coming up this month.

So on the 17th, we have, “Comparing Ivy League Colleges.” It’s a panel and I’m actually going to be serving on it. So definitely check that out. On the 18th, we have, “Writing About Extracurriculars in Your College Essays.” On the 19th, “Building Your College Resume.” On the 24th, “Fine Tuning Your College Lists,” and to round out the month on the 27th, we have, “Admissions Officers Advice, uh, What Makes a Strong College Application.”

Uh, so that is all we have for you all tonight. Thank you so much and have a great night.