Q&A with Former Admissions Officers (AOs)
Have questions about the college application and admissions process? Get the inside scoop from CollegeAdvisor.com.
Join Former Admissions Officers Aya Waller-Bey and Joanne Gueverra-Pluff will share their tips and advice on applying and understanding the admissions process during a 60-minute Q&A session.
This will be an open discussion, so come ready to learn and bring your questions!
12-12-2022 – Q&A with Former Admissions Officers (AOs)
Hi everyone. Welcome to CollegeAdvisor’s Q&A with former admissions officers. Tonight’s webinar has a bit of a different format than our usual webinars in that the entire webinar will be a Q&A session. So you can start some of your questions in the Q&A tab and we’ll get to them as best we can.
But now let’s meet our panelists. Hey everyone. My name is Joanne Pluff. I’m a former admissions officer at Hamilton University. I currently work at Howard University as associate Vice President and I’m super excited to chat with you all. Hi everyone. I’m Aya Waller-Bey. I’m a former admissions officer from Georgetown University where I also went to undergrad.
Um, and am a proud first generation college student, and I’m looking forward to also conversing with you all today and answering your questions. Yes. And real quick, we’re just gonna, um, find out what grade y’all are in. So, um, what grade are you currently in? Eighth, ninth, 10th, 11th, 12th, or other. And, um, while we wait for that, uh, can y’all touch on, um, what’s a good question,
Um, uh, what is, um, what was your favorite essay that you read in the admissions process?
That’s a good question. Yeah, it is. And I get it so often too. You would think I would just have it. Um, I think my favorite essay, um, a young person wrote about life as a, uh, parking lot. Um, and it was very meta and unexpected and, um, I was shocked that a student could have this capacity to be so in depth and thoughtful, and I really appreciated reading it.
Um, it was probably 500 words, very poetic, um, but it was definitely one of my favorite essays. Yeah. And one of my favorite essays is a student who, um, a Pakistani student who, um, draws Henna, the Henna tattoos. And she kind of talked about, she used Henna in tattoos as a metaphor as far as how she was finding her own kind of identity as a, as a brown woman, and learned to become independent and how the Henna kind of represented this growth.
And it was very poetic, but not in a, um, kind of flowery way. It was very substantive. And she was very intentional about talking about how she’s advocating for women and other brown women and how that impacted her kind of desire to, to study government and political science. So I just thought it was a really well written but also colorful essay.
Um, yeah. So that’s, that’s one of my favorite. great. And it’s looking like we have 75% left graders and 25% gap year and transfer students. And on the note of writing essays, um, for current seniors or students that are applying, um, this year and also next year when it comes up, application deadlines are right around the corner.
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Take the next step to improve your college essays by signing up for an essay, editing packages using the QR code on the screen. Uh, so you can scan that and we will, um, start getting on into the Q&A. Uh, so yeah. Okay. So, um, moving on to the Q&A. As I said, this whole session is going to be, um, a Q&A session, so just make sure to submit your questions in the Q&A tab and we’ll get to them as best we can.
Okay. So for our first question, um, what do you as admissions officers look for in an application to a college or university, and how do you choose who gets. Yeah. So I’ll, I’ll start. So we are looking for students who, um, firstly have submitted complete applications that respond to our various kind of institutional priorities, right?
So as you all may know that the application has several components, right? So we are looking for students who, of course, have, you know, submitted their high school transcript, have completed, you know, their extracurricular activities list, have written the personal statement in our relevant supplemental essays, and have, you know, strong teacher and letters of recommendation.
We’re also looking for students who respond to, again, our own institutional priorities, right? So every university has their own culture, they have their own kind of identity and values. So we’re looking for a student who not has only demonstrated that they’ve contributed to their community. So whatever that community looks like.
But a student who also will engage and contribute to our campus community in both the classroom and outside the classroom. So we’re looking for, you know, students who have, again, demonstrated strong in academic excellence in the classroom, that they’ve challenged themselves in the classroom, taking rigorous courses that their school has available to them, but also a student who’s committed to their community.
Again, that could be their school community, that could be their cultural community, that could be their home family community, that could be their job community. So we’re looking for students who really are, who are gonna contribute to our, our, our kind of respective campuses. Um, and again, the getting in is really just, you know, what, how is this student kind of showing up in our applicant pool?
You know, um, students are often read and, and in conversation with other students, so it’s hard to create a hard, fast rule. But universities often have institutional priorities and they’re looking for students who are gonna make their campus, um, stronger, better places and contribute to the fabric of, of the institution.
So, so those are some of the things that universities will look for when reviewing applications.
Yeah. And I don’t have too much to add. I mean, that was a pretty, uh, well-rounded question, but we just are looking for completed applications that tell the story of the student’s academic and personal history. So we ask those questions because we want to read them. Um, I think it’s a common misconception that many schools don’t read the essays or look at your extracurriculars.
We actually take the time to do that. So if there is a question there, most likely you should answer it because it’s something we would like to know, um, and to get to know the student a little bit more. Yes. And, uh, kind of going off of that, um, uh, what, uh, counts, what kinds of diversity are schools looking for in the application process?
Most students know about like racial diversity, but are there other. Yeah. Um, obviously racial diversity I think depends on the context of your school. So obviously I’m at Howard, so it’s a little slightly different for the HBCU market. Um, racial diversity is at the forefront, I think, of any movement, uh, whether it’s higher education or just the world itself right now.
So looking to make sure that students have a well-rounded academic experience. That means, you know, having the opportunity to learn with others from different cultures is quite important to every institution of higher education, whether it’s a community college, a private college, public institution.
That’s, I would say a pretty big baseline standard for, um, higher education going forward. But that being said, um, diversity, you can think about, um, diversity of extracurriculars, diversity in your courses. Um, and again, it does need to relate back to the school. So if you are applying to, you know, a school, a Polytechnic school, perhaps you’re looking for diversity in math classes or science courses.
So, um, imagine that, you know, whatever school it is, you’re looking to build the perfect character profile. And it’s really important to have those conversations now so that you’re prepared for this diversity statement. As diversity does pertain to so many different parts of the application. Yeah.
And, and to, to add to that, um, you know, sometimes I think, um, students are looking for these very quantifiable, um, forms of diversity for a box to check or for a quota to fill. And universities particularly, um, you know, our nations, you know, top 200, most universities are not necessarily looking to fulfill these boxes that sometimes we envision.
They take very holistic approaches, approaches, looking at some of the qualitative aspects of students’ identities and experiences. So that does include regional diversity. That does include socioeconomic diversity. That does include in some ways, you know, diversity of thought and lived experience. That also includes you.
You know, racial, ethnic identity and et cetera. So there are various, again, as I mentioned earlier, institutional priorities that universities maintain. But I think sometimes a misconception or, or things that I hear on the interwebs, people often thinking that, you know, just because they’re that one student who applies from South Dakota, that they will be accepted.
Or if they’re the student who, who plays the cello while riding the bikes that go while juggling fire, that they’re gonna be accepted. And it’s a, it’s a, you know, universities are trying to build a class, so it’s not necessarily, um, as quantifiable as sometimes we, we, we think it is. Definitely, uh, kind of going off of that.
We always care about, like some students asking about how to game the system by picking majors, um, that are a bit more niche. Can you touch on that, but then also just explain how does the major students elect affect their, um, admissions chances or decisions?
That’s actually a really great question. Um, that gave me the system. It’s so funny when people use those types of that language, so majors do matter. . Um, and I, and I tell students this all the time, um, for those students who are particularly looking for stem, um, related fields, so that can be anything from chemistry and biochemistry to computer science or engineering, um, those majors tend to be very, very competitive.
They’re very quantitative, um, disciplines. So, um, Test scores matter, uh, often to some of the more kind of, uh, rigorous and competitive programs rather, um, where students are able to demonstrate a strong, uh, competency in those areas because they’re going to be transitioning to very, you know, competitive programs where they’re gonna need to have strong foundations to be successful.
Right. The, the universities don’t want to set you up to fail. So majors matter. So, you know, I, I, I tell students, you know, if you are trying to apply to computer science, which increasingly students are because of the tech boom and, and et cetera, et cetera, and you have, you know, C’s and D’s and all of your STEM courses, so in your AP calc, your AP bio, AP chem, that’s gonna be a challenge that’s gonna be very difficult for you to, um, get in directly into a engineering school at Carnegie Mellon, right?
It’s a very competitive, rigorous program. So I, I tell students to, just to think about that with that in mind, um, students who are a little bit more undecided and trying to kind of figure out what they wanna do. And again, you don’t have, you know, your major is in your whole life. It’s, it’s is an academic area.
Um, you know, the, they can apply to whatever the College of Arts and Science is, um, for, you know, a lot of schools. I mean, this was the case at Georgetown. A lot of, um, liberal arts. as well, where you, you’re not required to declare a major anyway until the end of your sophomore year. So you get that flexibility to choose something that you think you might be interested in and or come in undeclared.
Um, that doesn’t disadvantage you, at least that did in our applicant pool because students changed their mind. I will say. And I’ll, and I’ll, uh, stop talking cuz I know Joanne, uh, has a lot to contribute here as well. Um, something to keep in mind is that for some schools you are applying directly into an undergraduate college, if you will.
So, um, you might have to apply directly into a nursing school, right? Within a university you might have to apply directly into a, um, school of Foreign Service, which is the case at Georgetown. So those programs too may not give you the flexibility. Some schools don’t allow you to kind of make those switches.
So you do wanna be mindful as well, like can you, if you apply to the College of Arts and Science, will you be able to transfer to the School of Business or do they have a direct emit program when you are applying as an undergraduate? You were applying directly to that business school, you were applying directly into that nursing school.
So it’s really, really important to look at the structure of the school. Are you applying directly to a, an individual college? Are you applying directly to the school at large? Is there an opportunity to switch? Because that’s not always the case either, but I will say, um, majors do matter and, and, and how admissions officers review majors.
Uh, it, it does vary, um, based on disciplines because some require such a strong set of competencies for a student to do well, that they’re gonna look a little more at those numbers to make sure that you’re able to thrive on their campus community. So the thing I was gonna touch on the most, um, is just that internal mobility.
So if you’re a student that is somewhat between majors and you haven’t found your home or you’re looking for your final destination, it really is important through this process to see how that internal transfer, um, is. So like your typical more liberal arts small colleges that’ll allow you to do, um, you know, those exploratory courses.
But for some bigger universities, the ability to transfer into a different major, um, can be a little bit of a taxing, um, a taxing transformation. So my advice is, you know, if you’ve decided and you have a major great. Um, just always know what the escape plan is. I think like 50% of students changed their major.
I was one of those few students who went to college, knew I wanted to study, study that, ended up with that, still doing that. Um, and I’m happy to be doing it, but not everybody is as fortunate. I working with a coworker now, she had 10 majors, uh, during her four and a half years at university. So just make sure that if you are a person that changes your mind, you have the ability to.
Yes. And I was a part of that other 50%. I ended up switching majors my first semester of college and at Cornell University I had to apply directly into a college. So I applied to the College of Human Ecology. It’s easy to switch majors within the college itself, and I really enjoyed all the majors that they had.
So I was comfortable going with that decision. Whereas switching into like the College of Arts and Sciences or the agriculture and life science, all the other colleges would be rather difficult to transfer into those schools. And I’m pretty sure somebody told me you had to like reapply almost. Um, so yeah, looking into what the school’s options are, but on the subject of majors, do your activities and your activities list have to be related to your major or programs of interest?
Like if you’re pre-med, do you have to take a bunch of like medical related clubs like. So I don’t think so, but it really does depend on the college. Um, so if you’re applying to a big school that has usually a medical school attached, um, like Howard does, we typically are looking, we have a direct entry program to med school.
So it’s important for us to know that students have had some experience within a hospital or a medical setting, but it really is going to depend from school to school with your list of extracurriculars. The thing that I typically am looking for is to make sure that the student was actively involved, um, showed that participation and is possible that they had some leadership opportunities within that.
And I’ll let, um, Aya kind of go off of what I was saying. Yeah. Um, yeah, I, I agree. Um, I don’t necessarily think they all have to be in line, um, with your academic interests. Um, in fact, I mean, I, I love to see students who have, um, participated in, in. Interesting, diverse activities. Um, I think students who, um, who are interested in perhaps like medicine often think, right, that they have to have STEM related research.
And I think the students who, you know, also ice skates and also like, you know, helps their niece and nephews with their homework every day after school are just equally as interesting as someone who’s been able to shadow and have access to hospitals. Um, I think one thing that’s important, um, we are really looking for quality of experience.
We’re looking for sustained engagement whenever possible. We are looking for leadership, but most importantly, someone who’s made an impact, right? So there’s some students who are members of 10,000 clubs, right? Which is fine. Um, however, we are looking for students who have demonstrated some sustained engagement and therefore have made an impact on their community, whatever that looks like.
Again, that could be working as a Starbucks barista who engages with customers every day, um, and also someone who babysits younger siblings while their parents are at work, but it, it can also be the class president and also the, you know, the state championship and the violin and et cetera. So we’re just looking for students who really can communicate what they’re passionate about, um, through their various activities and, um, commitments, if you will, while also demonstrating, um, sustained engagement and how they really made an impact in their respective communities.
Uh, going off of that, um, a lot of students wanna know how to stand out. So, uh, what does a good activities list look like? Uh, I, you touched on this a bit. Um, are there particular activities that stand out or are more impressive than others?
Well, no, I mean, I think some people, again, um, I, I, I look at those blogs. I’m in a thousand Facebook college groups because I’m interested to see what people are saying about the process. And, and I’m always trying to help demystify, um, you don’t have to have cured cancer or worked at the top hospital or, um, shadow a doctor at Harvard Medical School to be competitive.
Um, I, I always, and I’ve referenced jobs a lot because I actually think sometimes students, um, discount the value of experiences such as jobs or such as babysitting siblings, such as being caretakers for elderly relatives or siblings. I think those experiences are equally valuable. And then sometimes we don’t think that would.
be special cause we don’t have an award for it. And I think those experiences, when I see those, I’m like, wow. Like that’s a very mature young person who’s had to shoulder a great deal of responsibility. Uh, and they’ll, they have a job, you know, they’ve been working at Jimmy John’s making sandwiches. And I think those are always interesting when I see students who have held jobs for whatever reason, summer jobs or jobs to, to make a little extra income or to save for college or what that may be.
Um, so I don’t think there are particular activities that makes someone more impressive to me it’s about impact and again, it’s about sustained engagement. Um, so those are things, you know, that I think are really important. Yeah. And we shouldn’t, um, think about it, that we’re not ever going to discount you because you didn’t have the ability to do some of those extracurricular activities.
If you have responsibilities at home or, um, you know, you have to help out in the home. So to me, like Aya said, I’m always looking at those students who are working an extra job to help out or babysitting. I was the worst at that. So I give students always a lot of credit for taking care of what younger siblings and making sure that they were fed and homework was done.
That’s a big deal at 16 or 17 years old. Uh, kind of pivoting over into grades and test scores. Um, this is like an age old question, but which is more impressive. Straight A’s and less rigorous classes, or a mix of A’s and B’s and more rigorous classes. Mm-hmm. , this question will never go away. Um, so. I appreciate when students are attempting to take, um, AP courses, IB courses, college credit courses, dual enrollment, whatever, all of the above.
Um, but to me it’s not impressive that you are bombing those classes. So, you know, if your forte as math, take the math class and do well in the math class and you’ve got a solid history of four years of math, um, if English is your jam, take that AP Lang course and crush it. It does not bode well, um, to just have taken the class just to take it.
We do want to see some better grades. Obviously, if you have the opportunity and you’ve gotta handle on everything and you’re like, I think I can challenge myself and take the AP English course and the math course, that’s amazing. Um, and definitely appreciate it. But don’t just take the course just because you think it will impress us.
The thing about colleges and test grades and. In high school grades itself is there is a college for you that will accept you for the grades that you have. So taking those classes just to be impressive and bombing them isn’t as impressive to me as a student. Making a mature decision to step back from some classes and succeed at what they can succeed at.
Yes. , I second those comments. ? Definitely. Um, going off of that, do colleges prefer AP, IB or dual enrollment or are they all viewed the same? I don’t think, um, they’re all viewed the same. I think AP and IB are, um, um, sim very similarly for colleges, universities. I think dual enrollment is slightly different.
Um, so it, depending on the institution, dual enrollment is actually. You may not, uh, be able to kind of leverage that credit. Um, at some institutions, they actually, um, it’ll, it’ll say, okay, you took a school, uh, a class at University of Florida, but you’re still a first year student and we’re not gonna give you credit for that.
I know some students will take dual enrollment because they are hoping that they can take that entry level writing class with something and get that outta way for a core requirement. And that does translate for some universities. But at, you know, where, where I worked at Georgetown, we did not accept, you know, dual enrollment credit to then test out of a class.
Um, The AP and IP and IB rather. Um, though were students were able to, uh, if they were able to demonstrate a proficiency with a five on on those exam or a five, or particularly on the AP exam, they were able to get out, uh, you know, maybe a, a entry level math class or some of those GenEds, but Dooma did not have the same kind of translation, um, at, at Georgetown.
So I think dual enrollment is slightly different at different institutions. Um, I know some schools you have to only five on AP exams receive any credit towards or, or class and et cetera. From some schools you can do a 3, 4, 5. Some schools you can do four and five. So it really varies. But I think AP at IB from my experience, or seem very similarly, you know, some schools don’t have IB diplomas, some schools do vice versa.
Um, not all students couldn’t have access to dual enrollment. Um, but I think dual aerobic, uh, appears to be slightly different as far as how it’s received at universities. And that from my kind of professional experience,
Uh, yes. And, um, if you’re, most of y’all are juniors, so um, you do still have time to take dual and, um, AP, but in terms of IB, the IB diploma starts your junior year. So you may not be able to take it though. Some do. Some schools do offer IBCC, which is like course candidate, um, where you can take a few IB courses without being in the IB program and you won’t have to do the extra, um, parts of IB.
I was in IB, so that was, it’s an interesting program in its own right and we have other webinars on it. Dual enrollment from what I’ve seen. Typically it stays, um, within, you can get credit from an in-state school, so if you’re like, I’m from Georgia, so if I took dual enrollment at my high school, I would be able to use it at like Georgia State or Kennesaw.
Um, but I wouldn’t really be able to take it to Cornell. Um, private schools, I haven’t really seen taking, um, dual enrollment credits, but more like public in-state schools do. Um, so if you’re interested in staying in-state, dual enrollment can be a good option, but typically most people I’ve seen take AP or IB if they’re planning on going outta state or to private schools.
Um, but going out to the next question, um, and the questions are always phrased like this, but is it better to have perfect grades and okay extracurriculars or slightly lower, a slightly lower gpa, like a 3.7 and lower test scores within impressive extracurriculars.
Uh, this is, this is hard because it truly is like an algorithm based on what the school is looking for, like we were talking about before, and institutional priorities. Um, I think, you know, if you have a slightly lower GPA and you’re concerned, typically most colleges nowadays have supplements, so you should complete those supplements and demonstrate to the school your interest.
Um, if you have higher testing and lower gpa, this is a good opportunity for your counselor to talk about what your educational history, um, has been and to provide some context for perhaps why maybe you have struggled. So, there’s a couple of ways around this, but it truly is, we take the applicant, um, as a whole, not just based off the GPA, SAT, it’s the GPA, the SAT, the essay, the supplement, the extracurriculars.
So we mesh that all together to make our determination. So, um, you know, I can’t speak on behalf of other universities, but what I can say is we always tell all of our students, all of us that are advising, we’re gonna put together the best package we can. That’s well written, that represents you well, that has all of your extracurriculars on it, that has a solid transcript that represents you.
Um, and we can utilize the additional parts of the application to paint the picture of the story that we aren’t able to tell. So those letters of recommendation truly do assist. Um, and those supplements really do play a part. If you’re a student that’s kind of stressed out about one or another parts of your application, and I, I, again, I, I really something that I’ve, I’ve had to tell people a lot recently is, um, the majority of the universities in this country, except the majority of students who apply.
So if you have a 3.7 and ex stellar, um, extracurriculars, you will. Get into Michigan State University without an issue. You, Arizona State University. There are so many institutions who are, that are open access that you can go to and do incredibly well and thrive and become the lawyer you want to be and live happily ever after.
Right? Uh, and then there are are universities. Some call ’em highly selective, some call ’em highly rejective, depending on where you stand, um, that it is not enough to have you, you need to, you ca a 3.7 is you’re not gonna be competitive. It’s just the reality of it. Right? The students will have 4.3, um, unweighted and waited.
Right. Um, they will have, you know, ex exceptional. extracurriculars. I think the student acts okay. You know, I don’t even know what Okay. Extracurriculars mean exactly. But they’re gonna be exceptional in ways that you’ve, you know, we understand exceptional to look like and it’s gonna be very competitive.
Right. And they’re gonna submit test scores, even though the university’s testing optional. Right. And they’re gonna be over 1450 and, and tho that those students are gonna be competitive, um, but still may not get into that school. Right. So I just want to just remind people that there are so many, I mean, thousands of universities, um, some universities do not require college essay at all.
Right. And you can, you know, check a box and, and be accepted, right? So it just really depends on the type of school you’re applying to, um, and, and what you hope to get out of that. Because there are schools that are, are, will gladly accept a 3.7 with okay extracurriculars, um, or, you know, all a’s, and you know, a few extracurriculars.
So it just really depends on the institution and their, again, their institutional priorities. Mm-hmm. And I think that’s a great pivot into the next question. Why do some students, even with great applications, still get rejected?
This is gonna sound really harsh. Um, but the reality is, is we can’t take everybody. Um, you know, we, if you think about locations of schools, capacities, experiences, each student wants an experience that is positive. So if we accepted every single student and every single student came, all those universities would be in lots of trouble.
There would be, you know, lines of the dining hall every minute of the day. So it’s, it’s more of the bigger picture. Um, and unfortunately, the college, excuse me, cannot accept every single student. So this is a subjective process, right? So I may determine that a student is totally admissible. McKenzie and Aya may decide that they’re not.
Um, and we try to do the best we can, but I just know, and I want students to know, like we’ve been saying, that there is a college for everyone. Um, and college is a process where you do have to take one step outside of your comfort zone. And it may not be the college that you thought you wanted to be at, but there is a college for you that will fulfill, you know, your academic goals for those four years.
So unfortunately, the, the, the harsh answer is because we literally cannot take every student.
Yeah, I, I agree with that. There’s just, there are a lot of exceptional students with a lot of strong applications and there are only so many spots. So that’s the unfortunate reality. Mm-hmm. And we also have other webinars that go more into detail on target, reach and safety schools. But just to give a brief overview, overview, uh, target school is gonna be a school that you match the general qualifications of formerly admitted students.
So like your SAT scores, your activities, your um, courses, every sort of piece of the application. Um, and then a safety school is gonna be something that you exceed their expectations or it’s just relatively easier to get into that school. And then your reach school, some people even consider them their dream schools usually, um, are gonna be your Ivy’s and just the hardest schools to get into.
Um, schools that have, I believe it’s like below a 30 or 20% admission ad admittance rate. Um, and those are just gonna be harder in general. Some people say that my school, Cornell is the easiest Ivy League to get into, but the hardest to graduate from. Just because Cornell is such a big campus, they can’t accept more students even though their admissions rate is lower.
So compared to like Harvard where each school has like similar admissions rate, uh, Cornell technically accepts more students just because we have more space. So a lot of people get into Cornell even though it’s still a very low admissions rate. Um, so that’s something to consider. Um, but going on to the next question, um, where are we?
Okay, so now we’re gonna talk about different parts of the application process. So just to start off, how is one’s transcript used in the admissions process? So like, their grades, course rigor, school. So truthfully, the application, um, the transcript itself is one of the number one indicators on whether or not you are able to be admitted to the school.
So, um, there are different institutions, different needs of, uh, academic rigor. So the one thing you’re going to be evaluated on, um, across the board, everyone will be your transcript. So when we’re talking about the school report, we’re looking to see, um, did you have access to AP school, AP courses or IB courses, college credit as well, or honors courses?
If yes, um, did you challenge yourself? Did you take any of these courses? Did you take one of those courses? Did you pass those courses? So the academic, um, profile of a student, I would say is the number one indicator, and then your personal and extracurriculars would come, um, a short second to.
Yes. Uh, I add. Okay, cool. Um, going on to the next question, uh, SAT and ACT requirements, um, under test optional, will those, um, who choose to sit for the test have a better chance of acceptance? Are applicants now going to be looked at more seriously when they’re choosing not to submit? Yeah. So that latter part, um, looked at more seriously, um, because they choose not to submit.
Um, no. So what the, the argument is if you choose to not submit test, That is, um, one p one less piece of data, right? If you want to consider standardized test, even valuable data’s one less, uh, piece of data or information that the admissions officers have to, to make a decision about your kind of competencies in certain areas.
Now, with that in mind, testing optional schools are testing optional. So if you choose not to submit, you’re saying that I think that other parts of my application, I think my grades, I think my extracurriculars, I think my letters of recommendation, I think my interview, um, strongly communicate my ability to perform well if admitted at your institution.
And universities are reading that with that lens, right? So they’re not, um, the students assume that admissions, uh, make an assumption that your test scores are not competitive. If you choose not to submit them. That they, they, the assumption is they’re like, oh, they must be really low, cuz why else wouldn’t they submit them?
When there’s a host of reasons students choose not to submit, especially in the past few years with the chaos that is the pandemic, the chaos that is our society, right? We’re always in flux. There’s just been a lot going on. Um, test, uh, sites and centers have been canceling. There’s just been a kind of a lot going on.
So there’s a host of reasons why students, um, may choose not to submit. They could have been sick. I mean, a lot of people have been, you know, diagnosed with a lot of. Respiratory, uh, issues recently. So the list is, is long as far as why students make the decisions not to submit those scores. I would just say the university, the admissions officers, they’re going to look at the data you share with them, right?
So if, again, if you have the other pieces of the application and you choose to submit those without test scores, that is where they’re gonna use to make a decision and evaluate. There are some schools, however, where, um, direct emit programs require test scores, right? Um, certain discipline, say if you’re applying and the, you know, the pre-med.
Um, you know, BSMD we require test scores. So there are going to be institutions that have testing optional policies. However, for certain majors, certain programs or disciplines, they may require them, but I just see it as a one, you know, less piece of information. The university has to make a decision, but you are communicating when you submit without test scores that you are comfortable and confident with what you, what you are sharing with them, and that they demonstrate your ability to, to perform well at their institution.
So, um, I just want students to make the decision that makes the most sense for them. Um, and yeah, I, I think students are, could be incredibly competitive. They’re get students without test scores, get admitted to our nation’s, most left universities, you know, every year. So I, I wouldn’t fret about that. Um, but that’s my professional opinion.
Yes. And also, oh, um, Joanne, did you have something? . Mm. Okay. Um, so also with that, um, it’s important to look at the school’s, um, specific policies. Um, some schools are going back to requiring tests. Other schools are remaining test optional. Some have different, um, every school has different policies and requirements.
Some say are their tests flexible, where you can submit, submit it. Other scores in place of SAT and ACT, um, such as IB or AP scores. Also, some schools may require maybe test optional, um, but may still require it if you’re looking to get financial aid or certain scholarships. Spelman College was like this initially, um, when the pandemic first started and every school was going test optional where you could be test optional, but if you wanted financial aid or to be considered for scholarships, you had to submit test scores.
And then, um, still even today, um, different schools, even within the school, the policies can be different. So like at Cornell we have multiple colleges, whereas in the College of Humanology, which I’m in, you do have to submit test scores. The College of Arts and Sciences, you do not, and you apply to those schools.
Um, well you pick which school to apply to, um, but you apply to them separately. So even within a college, they can have different testing policies. Um, but going on to the next question, which is more important, grades or test. I truly think grades nowadays, um, just because so many schools are adopting a test optional policy.
And, um, I think students are, you know, with AP courses being offered, online testing being offered online, I think that has kind of cleared the way for the academics to be standalone. Um, obviously I think not obviously, but I think every student should attempt to take the SAT/ACT, especially for those students that are looking to go into second degree such as law school or med school.
You will eventually have to take a standardized test, so it’s important for you to get, you know, one under your belt. Um, but I think academics are kind of coming to the forefront because the playing field is now a little bit more level for every student. Right. So access for testing has. You know, been, I would say equal or, uh, has had that much equality across the board with pandemic has shifted everything.
But now, um, every student can be evaluated almost quite similarly based, just solely off of their transcript. So to me, I would say the transcript itself, um, is more academic and does carry more weight than a, a test score. Now that being said, if you take it and you have a 1600, obviously you should, should submit that 1600.
It will definitely enhance your application. Um, but I don’t think it’s as much of a loss now for students, um, that are currently applying. Yeah, I, I agree with that. And I, I know one thing. You know, we often say to our students is, you know, when you take a test that is you, you’re sitting down for, you know, the four hour exam, if you will, um, at a particular day on, at a particular moment.
But your high school transcript is often indicative of, you know, four years of courses and engagement and learning, right? So that provides a more holistic and in-depth picture of your academic performance. Also, I forgot to say in the last question, one kind of policy we didn’t talk about is testing blind, right?
Which of the UC system and Cal State Systems have adopted where they, you can submit test scores and they, they’re not looking at them. So, um, so that does also is a policy where they just are not, um, even considering test scores, um, at least in the near future. I think that’s something that they, they’ve chosen to adopt, which is a very interesting, I’m looking forward to see the, the data about that in, in years to come.
So. Yes. And going on to the next question, what’s another part? Um, what makes for a good letter of recommendation and how does, how is that used in the admissions process? That’s a great question. Um, I think the letter of recommendation is to enhance the student’s application for those students that may have, you know, not done so well.
Uh, maybe getting used to a certain course or a certain subject. You can elicit the help of your CollegeAdvisor to help, um, kind of paint that picture like I was saying before. So they kind of fill in the blanks, um, and speak. They allow your transcript to speak a little bit more, so it’s also an opportunity.
those characteristics of yours that, you know, self flattery is a tough thing for students. Um, and your guidance counselor can highlight some of those different things that perhaps you would not have picked up on yourself. So it allows them to tell the reader, um, the person reading your application and reviewing a little bit more, a little bit more about you, um, on a little bit of a personal level just based off of the classroom.
So typically colleges are looking for a letter of rec from your counselor as well as, um, an academic teacher. So I think it’s a great way to show, um, what you are able to do in the classroom and in school. So for those schools who also are allowing a letter of rec from perhaps like a coach or a religious leader, those are character references and are definitely helpful as well.
Uh, going on to the next question, what is the purpose of the personal statement in the admissions process and then also the supplemental essays? Um, , great question. It’s actually a question I ask students when I interview them for my, for my research, um, what they think the personal statement is and the purpose it serves rather.
Um, so the personal statement is, first of all, um, one of the few kind of qualitative, um, parts of the application that the student directly gets to use to speak to the admissions officer. So, um, it provides an opportunity for students to talk about themselves, kind of share a story that kind of, they feel represents their identity, represents their experiences.
They get to communicate in their own words to the university and to the admissions office about ex experiences that have shaped and informed their lived experiences, their interests, and et cetera. It gives us, it gives us a, a, a picture of like who you are, how you write, how you think, um, how you approach questions.
And we often see that in the supplemental essays where universities might ask, while you are interested in a particular academic area, so why did you choose to study government? Or, uh, universities may, you know, ask, you know, if you were a wisdom tooth, what would you say? So that you just wanna see how creative and fun you can be.
Um, and also just again, trying to add depth. because they’ll have grades, right? They’ll have test scores, um, they’ll have letters, but those are all coming from the counselor, it’s coming from the teacher. Now you get to talk and speak directly to the, uh, admissions office. So some students will say they think it’s to stand out.
It, it’s, it’s to add, right? I see the person’s statement and the supplements as additive, right? So we, we see how you show up in the classroom. How are you showing up? Um, when we we’re asking you to respond to a, to a question, and again, so some students might use it to talk about their cultural identities, their background, maybe they’ve passed certain, um, experiences, hardships, et cetera, that may again shape how they enter a space or how they think about the world.
And I wanna show that they want to add a little bit of flair, a little personality, a little creativity to some materials that they may find to be a little sterile, right? Um, so the personal statement again, is to really add and invite the admissions officers to learn a little bit more about you directly from you.
Yes. And um, that is a perfect segue because, um, we mentioned our new essay editing service where you can just, um, receive that essay editing support, um, from one of our advisors, um, through our program if you’re a current senior. But for those in the room who aren’t already working with us and who are looking for a bit more support, um, we know that the admissions process is overwhelming, um, for parents and students like, and our.
Over 300 former admissions officers and admissions experts are ready to help you and your family navigate it all in one-on-one advising sessions. Take the next steps in your admissions journey by signing up for a free strategy session with an admissions expert, um, by scanning the QR code on the screen.
Um, during this meeting, um, you’ll be able to, um, speak with the admissions expert about what your needs are, what you’re looking for in the admissions process from college, what you need additional support with, and that can be a focus more on your essays or on scholarships or on the admissions process as a whole.
And it also depends on which grade you’re coming in. Um, we have different packages for that. Um, but um, Throughout services, you’ll get an amazing advisor who can really help make sure that your essays really highlight who you are and that your application overall, um, tells your story and your personal narrative and really, um, is the best application, um, for submitting to all of these schools.
And that you really do, um, stand out in your own way, not necessarily like in a comparative way to other students, but you really highlight the best qualities of yourself, your activities, your personality, and your character. And, um, so we highly recommend signing up for CollegeAdvisor to receive that support.
Um, but now back to the Q&A. Um, so a word gets thrown around holistic a lot. Um, so what is a holistic process? And then also going off of that, how are students compared to those who had more or less opportunities available? Is it fair? I mean, I don’t think it is fair. Right. I’m gonna be perfectly honest with you.
As a person of color who works with students of color primarily daily, I don’t think that it is fair. Um, I, it just is what the reality of our world is. So holistic review means that we will. Evaluate anything that’s submitted to us. So when colleges are, um, sending out supplements, you can send out a resume, you know, send your top 10 lists of songs.
It’s because they really want to get to know you and, um, a lot of those items are optional. and if I was a student applying to college, I would think of them as uh, necessary. And just another way for the admissions team to get to know you, when I say we review everything that is submitted, so we will take a look at your applicant profile, so the part that you submit, um, we also will look at your list of extracurriculars, any additional essays including your own, um, really and truly comb through your transcript SATs or acts if you submit them, and letters of recommendation.
So this is one of those things that you kind of hold, um, a lot of the power with by submitting all you can, most schools have adopted a, a holistic review policy because there are so many students applying because there are so many academic students. So we want to get to know you more. Um, application review is probably one of my favorite parts of the job.
because it allows a small, you know, 15 minute glimpse of a student, um, and their total application package. So when I’m reviewing, I truly am reading every single essay that’s presented to me, and I want to get to know all the parts of you from the parts of application that you’ve submitted.
Uh, yes. Uh, going on to next question, um, uh, kind of going into financial aid and scholarships, but how are students selected for merit scholarships and what do they need to get them? That’s a good question. So there are different types of financial aid, right? So merit-based aid, um, are institutional, um, kind of scholarships that are often awarded to students who fit certain academic profiles.
And again, these are established by the university. Sometimes they’re very explicit with GPA cut cutoffs, um, as well as standardized test cutoffs, right? So they might say a student who has a 3.8 or higher GPA and a 30 or higher on an ACT automatically gets to a $25,000 presidential scholarship for their university for their first two years, if you will.
Right? So sometimes those are often, um, scholarships that, um, when you submit your application, you are awarded because you fit these set certain kind of priorities that the university has, you then, um, have scholarships where you, you say you apply to the university and they’re, and you get an email saying, Hey, we think you’ll be competitive for this scholarship here.
Apply. Right? So there’s some, uh, scholarships that you, that you have to apply for, right? Submit an additional application, but again, still based on your academic profile. Um, so merit-based aid, um, is not given by all universities. You know, the top, you know, usually 50 or so, the most elective universities in this country do not offer merit-based aid.
They only offer need aid. Um, which, you know, once they. figure out what you need after you filled out your various financial forms. They determine that. So for the schools that do give merit based aid, it is often, again, on grades and test scores. There’s often sometimes various legacy scholarships that they have for, for schools that still do consider legacy, uh, status when they’re, uh, reviewing applications.
So it’s, if you really wanna be competitive for a merit-based, a what you need to do is ensure that you are, have, you know, you have the strongest academic profile you can have that, you have the a strong GPA and if, if they do require them a test, the test scores, right. Some you can look on their website and see what the benchmarks are.
Some are very, very explicit. Um, and just make sure you’re meeting those benchmarks so when you do apply, you can be competitive for those merit-based aids. So, um, that’s, that’s often how that, that is awarded. Right? Um, again, when you submit your application, you can be awarded automatically and some schools have internal applications that you then get triggered to apply for that you can then, um, receive.
And that could be as a first time student, also as a student, once you’ve already matriculated at the end of your freshman year, you might can apply for internal aid if you, um, merit aid if you’ve received a certain GPA or have maintained a certain GPA as well. So there’s also internal merit aid scholarships that universities have to once you are enrolled as a student there.
Yes. And I just wanna reiterate, none of the Ivy Leagues offer merit-based scholarships. It’s all need-based. Uh, so if that’s something you’re considering, um, Cornell, Harvard, all of the rest of them don’t offer, um, merit-based aid. And then, um, Yes. But, um, going on to the next question, um, where is it? Uh, can students, um, can students request more money if their financial aid package is not, um, good or does not offer them enough money?
Um, Sort of. Um, so again, this is something that’s gonna be subjective to each school. You can definitely ask, usually each school has a process to do, um, an appeal on your financial aid package. So you would need to obtain the documents in order to do that, um, and then submit those forms to each school. A lot of the schools will provide you with websites, um, or links to donor scholarships, which you may apply for, um, which typically includes another supplemental essay.
But you know, if they’re gonna give you $10,000 a year, You should definitely do that. Um, a lot of colleges also will put links to external scholarships that you could possibly apply for. One that comes to mind is fast web, where you can easily filter based on your interests, um, you know what you’re about, and then it will generate scholarships that work for you.
So the appeal process, you know, sometimes it yields well, and other times it does not. Uh, what I’ve seen with the appeal process is it really does break down an understanding for each student and family, how affordable or not affordable the school is. So, typically financial literacy does play a big part in this.
So taking a look to see, you know, your year over year instead of, you know, semester by semester, um, definitely assist in that financial part of the process. . Mm-hmm. Uh, going off of that, uh, what should a student do if they applied early decision, which is a binding contract, um, for anyone that was interested, um, but, um, we’re not given enough aid or scholarships to be able to attend?
Well, I think students, before they apply early decision, they need to run the net, uh, price calculator to see what they can actually afford. Because I actually think this is, um, a challenge. You know, some students really want to get into this school, this, it could be their first choice, it could be their dream school.
It can just, their parents can say you need to get in someplace early, um, without really considering the cost. Um, so I do think having a, an early conversation with parents now, especially, we have a lot of juniors in this space and some gap year students about what they can afford, what they saved, and what they would be willing to take out.
Um, as far as student loans, if they cannot, um, I think that’s something to think about. Uh, with that, uh, being said, um, for a, a host of universities, the policy for early decision is if you are unable to afford the institution, if it, if it, if it’s cost prohibitive, um, that there are ways where you can, um, get out of the contract, if you will, that there, um, that it is not, uh, you know, a, a ironclad to the point where you are, um, you know, forced to spend a hundred and you.
thousand dollars a year to go to a school. Um, so it, I, I encourage students and parents to have that conversation early that you should really, um, be thinking through the finances. If my student is admitted, if I’m admitted, will we be able to afford to pay if, uh, I do not receive need-based aid, or if I do not receive merit-based aid, I think those conversations should definitely be happening much sooner.
But I, um, from my understanding, early decision policies are not iron clad if you are unable to afford, um, the institution. And Joanne, is that, is that your impression? Um, also, yes. So typically, you know, It usually will come down to money. Um, and I always tell my students who are applying early decision, this is your jam.
You’re day one and you’re ready to go, awesome. But you should still do the net price calculator. Um, I won’t say it’s highly frowned upon, but schools don’t really love when you’re like, well, I just can’t afford us. I’m gonna go recognize that you made a decision that is taking a seat away from another student.
So that really does have, um, I would say a lasting impact on their class overall. So just make sure that the school you’re applying to you love and you can really afford that price. Calculator is a godsend. Um, every single college in America is required to have it. So take the time with your parents if they are assisting with financing and do the net price calculator so you know, um, what you’ll be on the hook.
Yes. And on that note, I did apply, um, early decision to Cornell and I applied early action to Howard University. Howard ended up giving me a full ride. Cornell ended up giving me $10,000 less than a full ride, um, technically. Um, but um, I’m still happy with my decision. But even with knowing that Howard gave me like the full amount, um, through scholarships, I was not able to like negotiate with Cornell.
Um, so early action is a good option if financial aid or scholarships is going to, uh, are going to be a, um, a big decision for you, uh, in determining which, um, school you’re going to. Um, so that can be an option. And then, um, in terms of early decision, you have to be very, very short about the school and about that you’ll be able to afford it, um, for it to be a good option.
You can get out of it, but it is best to just be sure from the get go. Yeah. Uh, going on to the next question, um, uh, what happens, uh, if a student is waitlisted? So a student is waitlisted, um, you have the opportunity to submit usually through a portal or some other type of way of documentation, a letter of intent, and continue continued interest.
So basically, um, it tells the school that you’re still interested. What will happen is on or around May 1st, this colleges will determine if they’re taking students off the wait list. I know the next question that comes to mind is how many students get released, um, on the wait list. You have no idea. It truthfully is a numbers game, minutes to minute, and.
you know, we were talking about, uh, being, accept or having a major and being accepted into a specific college. Let’s say the College of Arts and Sciences has the capacity to take five more biology students, then the colleges will do that if they have the space within housing and the capacity with within their courses.
So if you are wait listed, do not stress, there is an outside chance that you could get pulled from the wait list and you still need to demonstrate to that college that you are interested in attending. So if that is your number one choice, work on getting, um, you can typically submit an additional letter of recommendation if there’s an alumni that you know, you can work on that, uh, continue to engage with them going to virtual events as well as visits.
So continue on the process as though you were a student that was admitted, and then they’ll notify you on or around May 1st, whether or not you have an. You need to go. Yeah. And in certain institutions too. Um, when you apply early, so for an example, Georgetown, which is an early action institution, um, if you are, if you are not accepted during early action, you are wait listed.
We don’t, or they don’t deny people during the early action round. Um, and then your application just rolls over and then it is considered again during the regular decision round. So that happens as well too. And I, I mean, I have friends who were wait listed originally who got in and graduated in four years with me, and we lived happily ever after.
So it does, uh, it does happen, but again, it comes down to institutional priorities. Um, and that is how universities are building a class. So sometimes they under enroll in certain majors and then they were like, okay, let’s pull those people from the wait list. Um, so it, it really is a lot of peace knowing, and it, it really is, is it’s a crapshoot frankly.
There’s really no kind of true formula behind it except how the universities are thinking about what they still need to fill their classes. . Mm-hmm. going off of that is getting deferred and getting wait listed. The same thing.
I would say it’s slightly different. Um, so usually students are deferred from either ED or EA to regular decision. Um, wait list is a little bit more determinant where they put you on a list and you do have to wait. With deferment though, that’s your chance, right? So beef up those mid-year reports, get all that information in, keep working on those supplements and get those alumni interviews and it gives you another opportunity.
I think it’s a take two, um, wait listed. You just, you literally just have to wait until May 1st. So to me, deferment gives you kind of like a second chance of life. Mm-hmm. , on that note, uh, can students appeal their admissions decision if they’re reject. You can, but every, not every school will honor an appeal or entertain an appeal.
So the college I work at, we don’t do that. We appreciate your interests, but we, we just don’t. And for our final question of tonight’s webinar, uh, and then you can also just give general advice, but how can a student determine, uh, if a college is gonna be a good fit for them? Honestly, colleges I think are like sneakers.
Um, there are so many different sizes, colors, types, varieties, hiking sneakers, walking sneakers. You really have to find the pair of sneakers and college that work for you. Um, I think it’s an easy thing to say, you know, I’d be an amazing student at Harvard. That would be awesome. Not every student is fit to go to Harvard or m i t or to Howard or to, you know, Penn State.
It really is about figuring out where you wanna be for your four years. I would say college is 65% academics and the rest is kind of like life skills, figuring it out. So you have to figure out, um, where your home will be for four years. So don’t do it based off of everybody else’s opinion. You know, definitely parents take, uh, I would say a front seat in this with the helping your decision or those who are guiding you.
But remember, this is your home for four years, so don’t make our decision just based off of somebody else’s idea. Mm-hmm. . Yeah, I would just say, you know, you better than. , anyone else, right? So if you know that you actually don’t like the ideal of being in a rural environment or somewhere where you’re not in close to an urban center, maybe Dartmouth is not a good fit for you.
Um, if you, particularly like a school that has a culture where people are civically engaged, but also has a strong sports culture, look for a school where that is part of the culture and the identity of the students there. So just really thinking about do a self-inventory, a self-check. Do you really like the idea of having really small classes?
Do you like to be able to hide in a class? You know, think about what’s important to you. Um, does it have a major airport? You know, um, those are little things, but you know, just think about what are the priorities, like what matters to you and where you think you can thrive the most, just based on the person you get to spend the most time with, which is yourself every day, and go from there.
Again, you know yourself better than. Yes. And we do have more webinars on choosing the best school or choosing between schools. And I’d just like to add a tidbit. If you have every single Ivy League, I believe there’s eight of them on your, um, college list, you have likely not done enough research on your schools because every Ivy League is not built the same.
If you compare Cornell to Harvard, we are quite different. Um, Cornell is obviously better. Um, but they, they have different climates, different atmospheres. Professors work differently. Students act differently at these schools. Um, and they’re just different cultures Overall, how things are run in the classroom is different.
What courses are taught, how they’re taught. A biology program at Cornell is gonna be different from a biology program taught at Columbia, um, because Columbia is more of a liberal Arts Ivy, whereas Cornell is more stem. So how those courses will be taught can even be differently. So when you’re looking at these schools, really make sure.
That they fit your interest. And you’re not just going off of name or just off of broad details about a school, but really, especially for current juniors, really take that time, um, to research your schools and figure out what’s going to be a good fit for you. Um, but that is the end of our webinar. Thank you everyone for coming out tonight, and thank you to our wonderful panelists.
I, Aya and Joanne for all this great information. Um, here’s the rest of our December series where we’ll have different, um, webinars on, um, test taking as well as, um, different panels and, um, other aspects of the, uh, application process. So do check those out. As well as checking out our other webinars on our website, app.CollegeAdvisor.com/webinars, um, where you’ll be able to find all of our recordings.
You’ll be able to find out more information about what, um, packages and deals we offer, and you can access our blog as well for more detailed information on supplements and different aspects of the admissions process. But thank you everyone for coming out tonight and goodnight.