Understanding the Holistic Application Review Process
What exactly is a holistic review? Learn what is considered in this process from a former Admissions Officer at CollegeAdvisor.com.
Former Admissions Officer Aya Waller-Bey will share her insider knowledge on how to put together your strongest application to set yourself up for college admissions success, during a 60-minute webinar and Q&A session.
In this webinar, you’ll have all your questions answered, including:
– What is a holistic review?
– How can I stand out?
– What are the advantages of holistic review?
Come ready to learn and bring your questions!
2022-11-13 – Understanding the Holistic Application Review Process
And hello everyone. Welcome to CollegeAdvisor’s, Understanding the Holistic Application Process, our application review process. To orient everyone with the webinar timing. We’ll start off with a presentation, then answer your questions in the live Q&A on the sidebar.
You can download our slides and you can start submitting questions in the Q&A tab. Now let’s meet our panel. Good evening everyone, or afternoon, depending on where you are today. I am Aya Waller-Bey, and I am a, uh, former admissions officer working with CollegeAdvisor. Um, so just a little bit about me.
I am a, I like to say I’m a proud first generation college student, born and raised, um, in Detroit, Michigan. I attended Georgetown University, uh, where I studied sociology, and soon after I became an admissions officer and coordinator at African American Recruitment there. Uh, shortly after my tenure there, I went on to my master’s in education at the University of Cambridge in England.
Uh, and I’m now currently working on my PhD in sociology at the University of Michigan Go Blue, where I also study, uh, college admissions. So I have a vast experience over seven years working in higher education and college admissions and really looking forward to this conversation. Great. Great. Well, I’m excited to hear all that you’re gonna share with our audience.
Before we get started, let’s first get a sense of what grade our attendees are in. So I already launched the poll and the responses are starting to come in. I’m gonna give it just a couple of more seconds.
Okay. So it looks like we have about 45% are in the 11th. And then followed by that we have 24% 12th grade, 20%, 10th grade, and then we have a few others. So it’s about 10th grade and other, um, 10th grade, 11th grade, 12th grade, and other for today’s presentation. Okay. Aya, I’ll turn it back over to you.
Awesome. So I see we have a lot of 11 graders in the audience and also some, um, sophomores and a few seniors. So this is a really, um, salient and, um, timely conversation for everyone. Um, so first we just wanna talk about what is holistic review. So that is often a buzz where we, here and I, your higher education, especially as it relates to, um, the application review process.
Um, so when you hear holistic review, think about that universities and admissions officers are reviewing the whole applicant, right? So colleges and universities are considering both your quantitative and in qualitative aspects of the application and the applicant and universities are considering institutional priorities when building an incoming class.
What that means is, although there are these mul, there are multiple aspects to an application. So the university’s considering, you know, not only. You know, your grades and your test scores. They’re thinking about background, they’re thinking about letters of recommendation, interviews, just to name a few. So they are considering all of these aspects when they’re building a class, um, for their, you know, institution.
So that is a little bit of holistic review. So what are the main components? So I just mentioned a few. So universities, they consider contacts, right? So they’re looking at grades, but not just your grades, they’re looking at the rigor of your coursework. Are you taking the most competitive courses and rigorous courses that your school.
And that’s important to, to note your school has to offer and how are you performing instead? Courses, trends. So maybe you, you started ninth grade, you got a B, and you know, your first algebra class. But moving forward, you got A’s in your sophomore year, your junior year. So you have an upward trajectory.
As your classes get more competitive, you seem to perform better in those courses. So something to think about. They’re thinking about grades, they’re thinking about rigor of coursework and your trends. Test scores, right? So they’re looking to see the various test scores that you have, and that could be both SAT/ACT, but as well as the AP exams.
Um, IB diploma, et cetera. So they’re looking to see, you know, how are you performing on standardized tests if you choose to submit those scores. And we’ll talk a little bit more about test optional later. They’re also reading and reviewing personal statement as well as the supplemental essays if they require them.
So they wanna know a little bit more about you. Again, they want to see more of that qualitative side, that personal statement. And the subsequent supplemental essays tend to be, um, tool, the, um, really main opponents where the university gets to hear directly from you. So it’s a really great opportunity for them to get to know the applicant.
They’re also looking at extracurricular activities. So they’re looking at leadership, they’re looking at sustained engagement. They’re looking at how you’ve made impact and how you’ve contributed to your school, your community, your home. So they’re really taken into that, into consideration. Of course, you have letter recommendations and that is from, you know, teachers, counselors, you know, um, clergy, you know, other people you trust and respect and can speak to your ability, um, to be a student or a leader.
So they review those and if required, or offer alumni admissions interview. I went to Georgetown and I also was an admissions officer at Georgetown, we require an alumni interview for our applicants, so that is also something they review. In addition, we have community service, which I spoke a little bit about in thinking about extracurriculars then, is family background, school environment, special talents or passions?
So are you a first generation college student? Uh, again, I mentioned earlier I am a first generation college student. You know, are you, instead of, um, you know, having, like being able to participate in multiple clubs and activities, do you have a job, um, that takes up your time? Do you have to babysit younger siblings?
Is that taking time? So they just really want to look at all of these things that make you who you are. And again, for special talents or passions, I don’t know. There are students who, I mean, they, they love to juggle, right? And they’ve juggled with, you know, in a circus before. Just really interesting, cool thing.
So they’re looking at all of you, um, in a whole list of review, admissions process. So with that being said, when, when thinking about what parts of the application carry the most weight, it’s, it’s really hard to say, you know, Exactly. This is 20%, this is 50%. However, overwhelmingly, um, admissions officers, and again, I interviewed them for my, my research on graduate school, but also as a former admissions officer across the board grades your, your absolute that the transcript, how you performed in the classes that you have is incredibly, incredibly important.
That carries the most ways. So they’re looking for performance in the classroom, including academic rigor and achievement in classes over four years. And it gives universities important insight about your ability to navigate the rigor of their institutions. And it’s important to realize that grades.
Give a little bit more data, if you will, then say a standardized test, because a standardized test is an exam you take at one specific moment for a specific period of time. So usually four hours on a specific day of the year, right? Um, you can have a really great day that morning. You can have really bad day that morning, right?
It can, it can really fluctuate your grades, however, give universities a little bit more consistent data about your performance or a particular, you know, period of time. Usually four years, right? So it actually holds a little bit more weight than some of the other applicant, uh, uh, components of the application.
However, grades alone are not enough to gain acceptance, right? Um, but high school transcripts carries the, the most weight in an application review. So again, grades you can have all A’s and still not receive, you know, an acceptance into an institution because they are looking at all of the other components of your application as well.
So it’s important to keep that in context. So how does going testing optional impact, impact my application? Now, this is a, uh, question that I see people ask a lot. I’m a part of various discussion boards and I’m always seeing what are the conversations that people are having. And one thing that I see is the assumptions.
It is the assumptions made by both student and parent as well as. The assumptions that people think that admissions officers are making. So students and parents believe that the lack of submission of test scores means universities assume that you performed poorly, right? And that’s not always the case, right?
So submitting test scores means you feel confident about your scores and that the test accurately reflects your abilities, right? So your ability is your ability that could. At whatever kind of range that you consider appropriate, right? Um, now some students, and I mentioned this earlier, you sit for a test and maybe you were just off that day and you just feel like this is not the best that you can do.
It could be a really great score, but you say, This doesn’t actually reflect who I am, so I’m gonna choose not to submit that. Right? So not so many test scores mean you believe other parts of the application, say your grades, your AP scores, perhaps your leadership that they put, they better represent your ability, they provide more accurate data, if you will.
So you choose to do that. Now, I will say that for some test optional schools, test scores still may be used toward merit aid. So some students will still, you know, submit them because the school has indicated that in order to make determinations about your merit aid eligibility, that they need the test.
That’s not always the case. That’s very school specific, but choosing to. Submit your test, your test scores does not necessarily put you at a disadvantage. And I think so often, um, that is the belief and that’s not the case.
So another great question, um, is how much is, uh, time is spent reviewing applications? Now, again, this is another, it depends because it really does. One thing I always like to highlight, um, with students or parents is the majority of the universities in the United States, wait, the majority of the applicants who submit.
It’s hard to believe that sometimes because we focus on such a small, um, number of institutions, often in both discourse and in the work that we do in college advising. Um, however, the most, the, the most universities you, you apply, you get accepted, right? So that means that they’re often using different metrics to review applications.
So schools who don’t practice holistic admissions, so they often take less time. So there are some schools, they see your GPA. Okay, 3.9, they see your standardized test. Okay? 27 on ACT in, because that fits their, their, their metrics in you’re, you’re in, right? Some schools do not require even students to submit a college essay, right?
So those schools, of course, they take less time. Now it’s the schools who consider, again, the quantitative and the qualitative aspects of the application. , they spend more time, right? Because they have to read, they, they review the extracurriculars. They’re looking at leadership. They’re, they have their own rubrics that they use.
And then also, particularly the selective institutions, they may employ multiple rounds of review, right? They may have that one reviewer that works with a region, and then after that person reviews it, it goes to a committee and then they review it, and then they make a determination, right? Or they sometimes they’ll have two reviewers.
One person reads this first, and then other person reads the second part, and then they switch, right? So if there are multiple rounds of review and, and they have two or three readers, it’s gonna take more time. So it really depends on the size of the university. It it depends on their emissions practices.
So if they’re holistic reviewing or if they have cutoffs or minimums or maximums or minimums rather. So it really depends, uh, as far as how much time that they take. Both schools that practice holistic admissions tend to take a little bit more time reviewing the applications because they just have more stuff to read.
Okay, thank you. I we’re gonna give you a short break. Um, we’re gonna get a sense of, you know, where are our attendees at in their college application process. So we know we have a few sophomores and juniors, but just let us know. Um, so we wanna hear, you know, happy. Maybe you haven’t started, um, perhaps you’re in the research phase.
Are you working on your essays or for your, our seniors getting your application material together? Almost done. So let us know.
And also as we are waiting for responses to come in, which I see them coming in now, just a reminder that if you have any questions, feel free to ask us in the public chat. That’s gonna be the best way to get your answer. Um, Responded to or your question responded to that is, okay. So here are the results.
We have 46%, which are currently doing the research. Uh, 22% haven’t started, but I’m sure after today they’re gonna be eager to start their research. Uh, 13% are getting their application material together, 11% working on essays, and then 9% almost done. So congratulations to those who are almost done with their college applications.
Turn it back over to you, Aya. Awesome. So speaking of those, doing research and prepping, you’re wondering, you know, what can I do to create a strong application? So one thing, uh, you could do is start early. So you really want to start while you’re ahead. Okay. So if you have, um, if you are a sophomore, you are a junior, or even if you’re a senior planning to apply in, um, in various rolling admission cycles or in a regular decision, you really just want to start making sure you’re doing your research.
I encourage students to work with high school counselors to create a plan, uh, for class elections for the next four years. So for an example, um, at least this was the case in my high school, if I had to take certain classes my freshman year, my sophomore year in order to be tracked into certain AP courses or IB courses.
Um, so making sure that there’s a consistency that you’re in conversations with your counselors about, Okay, if I take biology this year, will I be able to take AP AP biology the next year? Some school I, we’ve seen cases where students are unable to take certain classes because it just conflicts with their schedule.
So just having open and honest conversations with your counselors can really help address some of those concerns. Also, research, research, research. Right. You wanna research schools and create what I could, you know, I think a spreadsheet or a document or however you organize information in your life that list submissions, requirements, and aspects of the school that align with your interests or align with what, what you desire.
Right. So back in my day, over 10 years ago when I was apply to college, I had a binder, like a physical binder. It was laminated, it was a whole thing, um, where I had. You know, I wrote all the schools. It was like UPenn. I had their ACT range. Cause I, at the time, Michigan was an ACT state, so that’s what I took at their ACT range, their GPA range, their major, the major that I wanted to study, why I thought it was a good fit because it was in the city, it had this, et cetera.
So creating something like that so you can just have some data and some information to rely on. It’s really important and it keeps you, um, organized. And also further down the line. This is especially helpful for those seniors if you’re still writing essays, if you already have collected some information when you’re, when you’re writing those white essays, you’re able to just pool from the information that you already have.
I think this is a good fit because this location connects with this particular interest or these particular opportunities. You also wanna create a master resume of your activities, jobs, internships, household responsibilities, et cetera. So I have students email. You know, all, like all the time. I literally responded to an email today with the student, um, that I work with is I need to create a resume for this honors program.
So how do I start that, right? So I always occur students, and I do this now in my own life, a master resume. A master resume means you have everything. So you have your section for internships, if you’ve done them, you have your sections for leadership activities and extracurriculars. You have your section for honors and awards, your section for sports.
And because you’re, that, it’s a master resume. It could be four, four pages. And when you, when you do have to work on, you know, that one resume that needs to be one page, you can just pick and pull what’s relevant, what’s salient, right? So I encourage you to create a mass, a master resume now and just look at it.
You know, every few weeks or so, make sure it’s updated and added. Every time you get an award, make sure it’s on there. Every time you start a new club or you participate in an opportunity or go to a competition, put that on there so you can already have that stuff in one space. Um, also, you really want to, whenever possible, at the start essays, the summer before your senior year.
Now, colleges and universities, especially on the common app, August 1st is when it refreshed. However, those six or seven prompts that they have for the personal statement tend to stay the same. I mean, they’re, they’ve been the same for the last several years. You can look at those now and start thinking about how you want to write your personal statement.
It really, really helps because around this time, especially in October, as people are, are preparing for early action decisions or early decision, it is madness. I mean, Lonnie perhaps will agree it is pure chaos because everyone’s trying to get all those essays in. So you can start earlier, do so, and then if, if you choose to, you know, participate in the, the testing machine, if you will enroll in test prep classes or take advantage of our test prep resources or self-study online.
If you plan to take the SAT or ACT, there’s tons of free resources online. Um, there’s, you know, free, um, test, right? , they sometimes, you know, even students have access to the, the test that that have been used prior. So you really want to get familiar, get comfortable with that test and get some test prep if you really want to put your best foot forward on standardized tests.
And again, that is if you choose to submit, um, testing. Now. So here’s the fun part. Myths, you know, what are the myths about the college admissions process? And this, I mean, I, this could be, you know, 13 slides I, the whole conversation. It could be about myths about the college admissions process, frankly. But luckily there’s just one slide and I’m gonna highlight some of the major ones.
So first, um, so for essays, for an example, you know, a myth is that all schools require personal statement or supplemental essay. That’s not true. Not all schools do. Uh, for some that information is not necessary for them to make the best decisions about who to admit in their school. So not all schools require that.
Um, another I have to write about struggle or hardship or trauma. And my essay not true at all. You can write about a lot of. Experiences in your college essay. Um, you could write about, you know, things that you’re passionate about. You can write about people you admire and respect. You could write about your, your academic interests and from where they stem so you can really reveal whatever about yourself you think is important for the admissions office to know.
But it doesn’t have to be your pain test scores. Um, one, this is a huge one. So I often hear students say, if I take the SAT or ACT, you know, six times, it’s gonna negatively impact my application. No, that’s not true. Um, some schools, like my alma mater, Georgetown, actually require you to submit all your scores, but that’s often not the case for the majority of institutions.
Um, you can take it 12 times. I don’t encourage you to do so. I don’t think that’s necessary. Um, but it, you’re, it will not negatively impact your applic. I mean, it, it would be a lot of money and time used. I do not recommend you take it that many times, but, um, I, you know, take it as many times as you feel is necessary to put your best foot forward.
Um, but do not, um, do not, you know, it, it, it won’t necessarily harm your application. Um, another perfect test scores means that I have a hundred percent chance of being admitted to my top choice schools. No, that’s not good enough. Um, again, that is one piece, that’s a data point, right? And this larger practice, uh, or evaluation rather.
So it does not automatically guarantee you acceptance into a, um, into your top choice. Great. So another, if I have a B on my transcript, I’ll be denied for my top choice. That’s not true at all. Um, students with BS get accepted into, you know, various types of institutions from all over the country. So it is not something that’s gonna completely ruin your chances.
And then, um, this is a really popular one. It’s better to have B’s in AP and IB courses than all A’s and honors of less rigorous courses. It’s better to have the highest grade possible and the most rigorous courses that you’ve taken at your school. So your transcript and your grades are, they carry the most weight in the application.
So you just want to demonstrate that you can perform and excel in those courses. Okay? So if, if you do have access to 25 AP courses, you’ve only taken one, um, it’s gonna look like you didn’t challenge yourself and that you weren’t, you know, challenging yourself and that there might be a challenge once you.
and that there might be a challenge once you get to your, you know, your college. So you do want to show and demonstrate that you are challenging yourself and taking the most rigorous courses that you have available. Um, letters of recommendation. So a popular one also is you should ask for a recommendation, but only for my teacher who gave you an a no.
Because what if that teacher doesn’t know you Well, if they’re just gonna say, Aya was a great student. I enjoyed having her in class. She got all. That adds no depth to your, your, your, um, application at all. I mean, I could look at your transcript and see you got all A’s and that you’re a good student, right?
So you really, when possible, Cause I know this is not always possible. Whenever possible you want to get a letter of recommendation from someone you’ve been able to build or a nice rapport with. Have a nice relationship with who can speak to your character, your curiosity, your leader. Your thought leadership, your ability, um, to support and mentor.
You really want people who can speak to the depth of your character, not just some, you know, John is great. I is great. I recognize that that is not always the case. And we do as admissions officers often, um, either ask for or look up school profiles. So we’ll, we’re able to have that context if it, if we will know that if your, if counselor was overburdened and could not support you, you know, as well as you think you deserved.
Or if a teacher, you know, says that, you know, I have a lot of students in my class, there’s 40 people in AP calculus, so I couldn’t form a relationship with Aya. But from what I can tell, we’ll have that context. So, um, that is something that is out of your control of course, but you really want to, whenever possible, if you can build a relationship in a junior relationship to ask that person to give, um, you a letter.
Now, this is not on there, but it’s also important that there is some alignment with your academic interest. So if you are interested in studying sociology, um, you don’t necessarily have to have your calculus teacher write that letter recommendation. Now, if you’re, if you feel like your calculus teacher can speak, you know the best to who you are and your, your ability to conduct research, um, and solve problems, by all means, but alignment is also incredibly important.
And then finally, extracurricular activities. Um, another myth. I need to be a leader every club I belong to. No, uh, it’s better to have more activities than a few, not necessarily. And then lastly, I have to start a club, organization or company to be competitive for admissions. No, you do not have to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
You do not have to found a, a start a tech startup in Silicon Valley. You do not have to do that to get into a, what you would consider a highly selective institution. That is not true as far as leaderships, universities like to see sustained engagement. And commitment. And that could be to your family, that could be to your job, that could be to your student government, that could be to your robotics team, that could be to your church, that could be to, you know, another kind of, you know, religious or non-profit group that you maintain membership.
You know, So it really, it looks differently for everybody and it, you don’t have to sign up in 25 clubs and be the president of all of 25, because how else would you get any work done? Right? And great. Really matter. So, yeah. So, so with that, here are some facts about the college admissions process. So, um, a lot of students, um, we’ll be using the common app to submit their applications.
So the common app allows you to submit the same application, excluding supplemental essays to over 1000 partner universities. So it’s a great way to submit your application. Some schools do have their own, um, Personal like application and are on the common app. If they have both, you can, you can use the common app and you would not be at a disadvantage, I assure you.
Now, some schools do not, are not members of the common app, right? And then you will have to go through their own portal to do that. So, something to keep in mind, as I mentioned earlier, uh, high school transcript slash GPA is one of, if not the most important aspects of college admissions application. So you really want to make sure that you are demonstrating, um, high performance, um, you know, in context, um, to really show your, you know, that you can perform consistently, uh, in a collegiate environment.
Uh, another piece, um, complete, um, you know, you wanna complete the free application for federal student aid, so the FAFSA to be considered eligible for federal financial aid. So PE grant and federal loans. I sometimes hear parents say, I, you know, I know my student won’t, my child won’t be, um, eligible for any, um, need-based a so I shouldn’t do it.
And I always tell people, you know, you lose nothing by, uh, filling this out because situations change, right? Something you know could happen in your financial situation. And you want to be able to have this already on file because universities look to see what your estimated family contribution is, um, via the student a report.
And they’re able to say, you know, make determinations about how much a to award. And just having that on file is really important. So I always tell people, you know, encourage people. Regardless of what you perceive your financial situation to be, to complete the free application for federal student aid.
And again, it is free. If you go to any website and they’re asking you to pay, it’s a scam exit immediately. And then over 80% of students receive some type of financial aid. And I know we often, um, you know, the discourse around financial aid is, you know, you’re just gonna be saddled, uh, with a lot of debt.
And, you know, it’s hard to get scholarships and need based aid and merit based aid. It’s hard to come by and et cetera. And it, it’s really case by case. But there is often some, you know, financial aid, um, grants, you know, loans subsidized, unsubsidized folks. Like, there’s a very, there’s a variety of, of aid and support, merit-based aid that people receive.
And over 80% of students receive some. And then, and again, I iterated this point earlier, there’s applicants should seek, uh, recommendations from people who know them best and can provide detailed reasons as to why they’re a fit for a school, right? So you really want to get really robust and, you know, substantive, uh, reviewers who are able to kind of talk about why you’re a good fit, uh, for a particular school or institution.
So, um, you really want to try to seek out people who who know you. And again, I, I wanna, uh, reiterate this. Not all schools are the same. And students have various levels of access to resources and people based on this, this school environment and location and socioeconomic status, et cetera. So you want to do the best that you can.
Um, and then when a doubt, there are opportunities for that additional context be pro to be provided in the application. Some students transfer schools, right? So then you have to kind of think through that as well. So there are a lot of factors that go into this, but whenever possible, really try to get that recommendation from someone who knows you well.
Okay. Thank you so much. So that concludes our presentation, the content portion of the webinar. We are now gonna move into the live question and answer how it’s gonna work. I’m going to read your question out loud and then Iya will answer it. If your, you know, Q&A tab is not working, just exit out of this webinar and reenter through your email.
Okay. So let’s get into the first question that we have here, and it reads, for the S A T I am planning to take it twice. What if I do well on the reading the first time and not as good as, not as good the second, but vice versa for math, can I pick which scores I want to use? Usually you are, you will either.
So it depends on the school. So some schools will allow you to super score. So they’ll let you submit the whatever, the highest reading and the highest math, and they’ll let you super score. A lot of institutions though, however, will, you’ll submit both, right? Cause they’ll say, you know, maybe you took the test on October 1st, right?
And you got this particular score and then you sat for it on November 1st and you got this particular score. So they’ll ask you to submit the scores for like the testing dates, and then they’ll have both and they’ll super score on their end. So they’ll be able to see the math and they’ll create that score.
So that happens quite a bit. And again, universities are looking for reasons to admit you. So if you sat and had a really high performance on reading and then, and another time math, they’re like, Well, okay. The student really kinda demonstrated that they have, you know, um, Kind of a strong kind of understanding of this.
Maybe that was just a bad day or maybe they just ran out of time. So, no, you will, depending on the institution, you’ll, they’ll either allow you to super score individually or they’ll ask you to input the, the scores from both testing periods and then they will super score on their, on their end. Okay.
Thank you. Our next question reads, when schools that receive massive volumes of applications, excuse me. When schools that receive massive volumes of applications hire external readers, how do they ensure standardization across readers and personal biases doesn’t come in well, um, person who submitted that question, I hate to break it to you.
Uh, biases exist in every admissions process. Period. Whether they’re external admissions readers or readers that are hired by the institution who work at the university, no one comes in absent of any bias, right? We all come in with our lived experiences that shape how we understand what we’re reading.
So that’s a reality of life. However, um, they, they, they train, usually there is some type of training that external readers have to use or have to go through. Oftentimes they are hiring people who are former missions officers before. So really are they allowing people who’ve never worked as a missions before?
There’s usually people who are retired. Some people, um, are hired that they used to work at the school, but they retired years ago. There’s usually people familiar with the region. So they are making determinations when they are hiring, um, people based on, you know, the familiarity with the school, um, with the various programs and softwares that they use, the region, the schools in the region, because sometimes they require people to live in the area.
Um, so there’s, there’s a level of training. You can’t, anyone can’t just like get a job, be an external reader. I’ve actually been an external reader before, so there are, there’s training that goes in, um, that goes into that and there is a robust kind of support system. So there, I, I will say that there is a level of consistency in that regard and standardization.
Um, but the bias pieces, that’s just a natural kind of tendency that we all have as humans. Uh, but I, I will worry less about that and just know that they are receiving training support and is usually overwhelmingly people who are familiar with the university, the institution are themselves former admissions officers.
Great. Thank you. Thank you. Uh, how much weight does personal essays have in the application process, and what would be the best way to approach. Huh. Okay. So that, that’s a, the, I’ll answer the second part first. So the best way to approach the essay is first read through the prompts that they have on the, uh, the Common App website, right?
Um, or if the school has their own, um, essay, look to see what their prompts are and just start to think about which one speaks to you. Right. Sometimes there’s a choose your own topic, right? So some people will say, you know, forget those, I just wanna write about this thing. But if you, if there’s something that says, like, you know, is there something that keeps you up at night and something that really you’re really passionate about?
Write about that and something jumps in your head. Just start writing. Just, just skip the juices flowing. Just start it to kind of get those thoughts out of your head on paper. Um, you really want to tell a cohesive story. You really want to be thoughtful. You really want to show how you’ve grown and really how you will be a, um, you know, contribute to a campus community.
So you really want to kind of give the admissions officer a window into your life, because again, the essay is one of the few parts of the application where they’re, they’re listen. Directly to you. Like they’re, those are your words. Um, so I, I really want you to kind of look at those, those prompts, see which one speaks to you, begin to kind of brainstorm or just like jot down ideas like, Hmm, what comes to mind is this, I study abroad here, or I led this, this organization and this really made a large impact and it was really important to me because of this particular reason.
So just kind of tell, tell your story. Um, as far as personal statement, that’s a question I, I often, um, ask the, um, admissions officer that I interview in my research, like on a scale of one to five, and they always say it’s three as far as importance. So it’s like right in the middle. Again, grades are number one, right?
Uh, and then they always say the essay is like in the middle. Um, it provides context. , that’s why it’s important, right? It’s also sort of like a writing sample as well. They don’t describe it that way, but they’re seeing how you write. And also, if there’s a huge disparity between how you write and what your grades are in English or reading at your school, that also they can be like, Hmm, something’s, something’s not, something’s inconsistent here.
So it’s, it serves as a writing sample. It gives them an opportunity to learn more about you. Um, it’s descriptive. Um, so it, it just provides important context. So essays, I always say essays like interviews when are offered are really trying to help you, right? They give, they’re, they’re there to help you.
Again, universities are looking for reasons to omit you, right? So I think they’re like in the middle as far as like, um, the weight that they carry. But you do wanna do a good job for sure. Uh, if your grades are not strong and competitive. Will essay get you into the school? Probably not. Um, so that’s always, you know, again, number one, you wanna make sure your grades are, are where they need to be.
That’s really good, really great advice. Uh, is it possible to get letters of recommendation from teachers as early as grade 11? Also, is there a limit as to how many letters you can. Yeah, it depends on the school as far as letters. Some want one, um, counselor letter and two letters of recommendation from teachers.
Sometimes they, they, they’ll specify like it needs to be from a core subject, or it needs to be from a subject that’s connected to your future discipline. So if you wanna study biology, they’ll say needs to, one of the letters has to be from a STEM teacher, like a, you know, a math or a science teacher. Um, so it depends on the school.
Some only require counselor recommendation and teach. Some require counselor and teachers. Some require one counselor and two teachers. That’s very school specific. Please visit the school’s website to, to, to, uh, to learn what their particular policy is. Um, now as far as getting letters or recommendation, So, I mean, you can, you could invite a teacher and say like, Hey, I, when I apply in the fall, I will love for you to be my letter writer and they can draft something, you know, for you.
Um, but you won’t be submitting your application to your senior year, right? So if it is a junior teacher, if that, that’s a great year to kind of get a letter from because they would’ve seen you for at least a full semester. You might not have built a strong relationship with a senior year teacher just yet.
So a junior teacher will be able to reflect on your progress, your growth from beginning the class at the end of the class. And they’re the most recent. Teacher, You know, I do caution students for getting letters or recommendation from like a ninth grade teacher. Um, unless that you’ve had them in the ninth grade, then you had them in your junior year.
If you had them multiple times, you’ve had that report. But you really, junior is a, a good sweet spot, you know, and if you apply for regular decision and you can submit your application in January, you can also get a letter from a senior year teacher in that fall semester. So you can certainly ask a junior teacher or ask the teachers in your junior year that like, Hey, I will be applying for college in the fall.
I would love for you to write me a letter recommendation. And you can kind of start having that conversation. Um, if, and if they have the capacity, I’m sure they’ll want to support you, but you won’t be submitting, or they won’t be submitting that until, you know, in the fall every senior year. So until after August.
Okay. So how should international student, uh, understand the process? Is it any different than what you have already described? Any nuances? Yeah, I mean, there’s certainly nuances for sure. Um, so I think the process is certainly very similar as far as submitting, uh, you know, via the common application.
You’ll still do that. Um, I think where some of the differences lie are. You know, sometimes like transcripts look differently abroad. Uh, so then that’s a whole kind of conversation you’ll have with like your counselor. But the, as far as the portals, how you’re uploading your information, that’s all, that’s, that’s pretty much the same.
You’re still applying through common application or whatever application platform that your school, that the university uses. So that, that’s fine. Also, uh, access to federal student aid. Of course, if you’re not a US citizen, that changes as far as your ability to receive that aid. Um, some universities, um, Some universities consider, um, need when they make decisions.
So there are institutions that are called need aware. So that means if they, um, they’re considering your ability to contribute or to pay when they’re making decisions. So if they, if you are a high need student and they are if, and they don’t think they have their resources based on how competitive they think you are, um, they might notit you if you don’t have the ability to pay.
So those are called need aware institutions. Um, and some schools are need aware for international applicants. So again, this is another example of doing your research. So look at the, you know, create your school list. You know, your, your seven to 10, you’re seven to 12 schools, and begin to, you know, research, create that spreadsheet.
What is their policy? Are they need aware? Are they test testing optional? Are they testing blind? Do they provide financial aid for international students? If there’s interviews. Are international students, um, required to do interviews as well. You know, what is the, So this is, this is the point when you really start to do your research, and I always encourage students, uh, and also parents, but students, this is a time we really need to start advocating for ourselves, right?
That it’s okay to pick up the phone and call. That’s like one of my favorite, you know, past times calling universities in their admissions offices and asking them, Hi, I’m an international student. I have this particular question. How will my transcript, cuz my school doesn’t have a 4.0 system. How, how is that reviewed in your application process?
It’s okay to ask them. You can call them or email them to get those answers. So this, it’s a very, you know, case by case, institution by institution policy. So you really want to start doing your research now. Okay? Uh, this question’s about letter recommendation. How do I know I’m picking the best person to write my letter Recommendation?
I feel like I, a lot of people know me well. Well, that’s good. Go, go you person to ask that question. I was gonna say that too. That is, that’s impressive. I’m proud of you already. Um, so yeah, so in that case, you wanna think about alignment. So if you are interested in studying, um, so maybe you’re like pre-law, I don’t know, say pre-law and you, you might, you can major in anything in college for pre-law, fyi, you know, pre-med and pre-law you can major in anything.
So, but if you’re pre-law and you wanna do the traditional major in history or government or political science, you might choose your kind of a push teacher, you know, um, which is, you know, uh, US history, AP APS history. Um, you might ask your AP English teacher. You write, you know, because they are, you are gonna enter a discipline or areas that require you to write in critical thinking.
So you might wanna just ask, ask a teacher in that area because they’ll be able to speak to your ability to conduct research or to, to write papers or to your, your, your thinking, your creativity. So you can think specifically about that. Um, what areas align with my future major or my future goals. Um, you also wanna be intentional, so, Um, you feel like in this one class you really, you were less, uh, vocal, but you really perform well on like the papers and you feel like your, your, like your ability to write shines through.
You can ask that teacher and then it maybe in another class you really were like a leader. You were really vocal. So you want that teacher to be able to write about that, ask that teacher. So you really want to kind of create, and we do this in the graduate school space too, when you’re picking your letter writings, letter writers, you’re kind of creating your package.
You want teachers who will be able to speak to different things about you. So if you’re a capitalist teacher can speak to your ability to, to problem solve or maybe there’s a lot of peer kind of work, kind of work that happens that Catalyst teacher can talk about that. If you want to be able to talk about your writing and your thoughtfulness and your creativity, um, then you want to pick that English teacher that will be able to speak to that, right?
And you want to be able to show how you’re well-rounded student. So that would be my advice to that student. Okay. Uh, how to start researching colleges if I don’t know my major, because some schools don’t offer certain majors, right? So, okay, so if you, you don’t know your major or you don’t yet know what you want to study mm-hmm.
but you, So they won’t know how to research schools mean that you don’t know your major, right? So, so you might not know your major, but think about what you do know. So for an example, if you are currently at a really large public high school and say it’s 4,000 people and you’re like, Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.
There’s way too many people here. I feel like I get lost. You might start saying, Hm, Google, small liberal arts universities. So you might feel, you might think about size. So think about the factors you do know. So location. So you don’t know your major, but you know that you wanna be in a city. So city. So you’re gonna look at schools that are based in cities, right?
You realize that you cannot do a large public university after your experience here in high school. So you want more medium size to smaller institutions. So then size becomes a factor, right? Maybe you are from Michigan, I’m from Michigan, and you absolutely hate the snow. You say, I am absolutely getting away from any thought of snow, so I don’t wanna be in the Midwest or New England, right?
So then you say, Hmm, let me go to the southwest or the West coast. So you begin to narrow down based on factors that you think are important to you, right? Maybe you want a school that has strong academics and a really strong athletic program. So then you’re gonna look at schools that are division one and you, cuz you want to be able to go to the sport games and you want to really get, you know, a really strong application, or excuse me, competitive education.
So you really want to like think about what you do know, right? So start using those factors, um, to really build a list that way. And, you know, a lot of students. Change majors, you know, So majors do change quite often, but think about what you enjoy now. You know? And your major is not your declaration about what you wanna be in the, for the rest of your life.
It is a area, it’s an academic interest, it’s an academic area of study. That is all it is. It is not what you will be for the rest of your life. So it’s okay to not know. It’s okay to go in and change it as well. But think about what you enjoy in school. So maybe you love numbers, but you feel. The way it’s in calculus, it doesn’t kind of make sense, so you’re more actually econ so you like economics a little bit more cuz there’s some storytelling there.
So you really just think about what am I currently doing, currently taking in school now? What actually makes me feel good when I do it? Um, what aligns with my passion? Um, and also think about like the future. Like, I don’t know what I wanna study, but I know these are the types of problems I wanna solve.
These are the types of conversations I wanna be a part of when I’m an adult and, you know, have a career. So start to think, ask yourself those types of questions so you can start thinking about what the, the majors or programs might look like. But again, I encourage you to start with what you do know and not what you don’t know.
So start with all the things that you think are important to you. Size, location, um, uh, weather, sports, extracurriculars, you know, those types of things. See what schools offer those things and fit into those boxes. And you can start from there. Okay, so we’re gonna take a short pause from our questions and answers for me to share a little bit about CollegeAdvisor.
So for those who are in the room who aren’t already working with us, we know how overwhelming the admission process can be, especially for competitive applicants like yourselves. You all are asking Great, great questions today, um, in the webinar, which lets me know that you are definitely a competitive applicant.
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Also, if you are a senior and you are interested in just focusing on your college essays, we also offer that as a service as well. Uh, so after getting the QR code, you’ll be able to select a date and time for a phone conversation with a member of our team. And I will leave the QR code here on the screen as we continue with our questions and answers.
So the next question is, um, is there any advantage or disadvantage to applying undecided? Versus with a declared major during the app? During my application at a liberal arts college. Oh, at a liberal arts college. That’s a great, um, point to, to include. Um, yeah. So at a liberal arts college, um, there is not a particular.
Disa, like you’re not disadvantaged. And that’s particularly because for a lot of those schools, you’re not even allowed to declare a major until the end of your sophomore year. So they, you might pick that you like psychology and you might start taking, you know, some intro courses. But for liberal arts and liberal arts curriculums, they tend to be, you know, more holistic.
There are, um, more required courses, um, more exploratory opportunities. So you would not be, um, at a disadvantage, especially for a liberal arts school. Um, for some schools that are larger public universities that require you to apply to a specific or specific program or specific, you know, some schools have multiple undergraduate schools and you are required to apply directly to that school, or they put a cap on their majors.
Uh, and that’s usually popular in more STEM oriented or nursing types of programs where you, it’s, it’s imperative that you apply and, and come in. Declaring that because your track is already specified, But in the context for liberal arts, no, it’s, it’s okay to be undecided. A lot of people there are undecided and oftentimes you are not required to declare a major or not even allowed to declare a major until the end of your sophomore year.
Okay, next question. How could I measure if I’m picking the right school, I’m passionate about playing soccer in college. Should this be the main factor determining how I pick the school?
So it depend, It’s, this one is actually kinda hard to answer without having a little bit more information. So, um, playing soccer in school can mean a lot of things. It, it can mean you are currently on a soccer team now and you want to join an intramural team once you go to college, which most universities have soccer teams.
It can also mean that you are incredibly competitive and like highly skilled and ranked soccer player and you plan to be recruited in or currently being recruited to play soccer. That’s a very different conversation, so it’s hard to say, um, without knowing if you’re speaking in terms of recruitment, um, which is very different.
And those processes, those conversations usually start a little earlier in high school. Um, a lot of if recruited athletes specifically for division one tend to know where they. Going by the time they’re juniors in high school. So being recruited versus just playing is very different. Uh, if it’s just to play, I, I think you should consider a lot.
There are a lot more factors to consider, um, because you can love the soccer team. But what about the classes? What about the location? What about the people? What about the culture? What about the ethics? You know, the, the institutions vary so differently, so, uh, and it’s hard to say, um, to give a definitive answer without more information.
But I think if you are interested in being recruit, And you are already a sophomore or junior, uh, it is time to start making enrolls with set university and set coaches because recruiting is a very different admissions process that requires a lot of additional steps, um, that looks differently than just applying to a school and joining a soccer team that is not division one.
Um, so there’s, again, intramural club sports. You can, all those schools tend to offer various levels. Varsity, you know, which is like usually division one, uh, intramural and club. So it just depends on where you, where you fall on that spectrum. But I always encourage students to think about all the other factors as well, because you will be a student , uh, a student athlete if that, if that’s your route.
And this, you know, there’s more to, to, that will be more to your college experience than just soccer. Okay. Um, so the next question reads, if you’re not great at interviews, uh, is it still a good idea to try rather than not? If you’re not great at, um, interviews. Well, I mean, I think you can practice. Yep. I think, um, there are interview guides.
Um, there are so many ways to just like practice and just think about, um, just your, just like who you are. And like I really encourage students and cuz I, I served as an alumni interviewer for Georgetown for quite some time, and the conversations were super con like they, they’re conversational, um, alumni interviewers or interviewers.
Um, if the interviewer is not in the missions office, so if it’s like an alumni interviewer, they do not access to your application because they. , they’re, that’s not legal. Um, so they’re coming in with like a blank slate. Uh, some might ask for a resume in advance. Um, some do that. But that, that’s, you know, not required.
Um, I think interviews are something you can get better at, and I think if you just prepare, um, they’re gonna ask the same types of questions, you know. Tell me a little bit about yourself. Why you’re interested in this school. What, what do you enjoy doing at home? What do you enjoy doing in school? What’s your favorite subject and why?
What do you know about this school? I really think just kind of practice, um, because I think interviews are, are, are there to help you. Right. That’s a, that’s a, a really. Uh, specific and one of the few opportunities you can really, if it’s an alum, uh, interview, really talk to an alum casually about their experiences.
Alumni tend to be really excited to talk to prospective students. I know I, that I love doing alumni interviews and, and if it was in, if it’s admissions office, uh, interview as well, they’re super excited to meet, put a face and a voice to the person that who’s filed that they’ve been reading. Also if I know there’s been, um, conversations because a lot of universities have gone, um, virtual for interviews.
And actually I, I think if you have an opportunity to do virtual, you could do that as well because at least you could have notes available and we don’t get to see what you’re looking at. So you can have some, some, uh, talking points there as well. Um, so if you feel more comfortable being behind a camera where you can have notes, I say, you know, do that.
You won’t lose points by doing a virtual interview as opposed to an in-person one. And you can be comfortable in your home or your bedroom or wherever you feel most comfortable to, to have a conversation. So I’ll just say practice. Um, think of it as a conversation. They’re really trying to get to know you.
Um, and it’s, they just, you know, most of the time you, they write a small report about what they learned about you and share it with the admissions office, but it’s there to really help and I think there’s a way to practice it. Um, so it’s not as daunting or, or scary. Okay. This question reads, uh, do colleges look at social media?
If so, how much? You know, I saw a blog post about this actually. Was it today or yesterday? . And I was like, I have never ever Google, like, looked up a social media post. We, I didn’t have time. Like I don’t know who, who these people are doing all of this digging on social media don’t have time unless it’s like something that, you know, you see on you, you watch the news and you like, Hey, wait, isn’t Lonny a student application that just looked at, um, I mean there was a student who wrote about winning an award and I, I googled it and I was like, Oh my God, that’s super cool.
Um, but um, I feel like colleges, I, I don’t wanna say a hundred percent, but I think most universities have so many applications that they don’t have time. However, um, we have seen people lose opportunities for egregious social media posts. Those are the ones we see that go viral because they’re often very negative.
So I would encourage anybody to avoid, um, posting, you know, anything that will be considered offensive because you don’t know what the people reading your applications have access to or what they’re looking for. But generally, I feel like most admissions officers are so busy, um, reading thousands and thousands of applications that they’re not looking up every single person again.
Now, if something happens and you happen to go viral and then you know, people. Tweeting about it and tagging the university, then they’re gonna pull up your file and then they’ll make the, you know, decisions that way. But generally, most univers, most admissions officers are not individually going to Google your profile because they have so much.
I mean, letters of recommendation, extracurricular resumes, essays, no time. But please do not post any, you know, offensive, um, material just for your own saying, just for your future. Just, just don’t do that. Okay. And I think we have time for maybe one or two more questions. Uh, let’s see. Okay. So do colleges look at attending a home school or a virtual school, cyber school as an advantage or disadvantage?
It’s not a virtual school. It’s not an advantage or disadvantage, it’s just another type of school. Um, and again, so one thing it’s important, um, to think about is as a a, a child, a student, you often don’t have control over where you go to school, where you live, right? You just happen to live in this. Family that made this decision.
Right. So consequently, what universities try not to do is punish students for decisions they didn’t have control over. Right. So you don’t choose the school most cases. Right. Um, virtual schools are certainly becoming more popular, especially with c and people feeling like it’s safer to have their, their child at home.
Um, as long as there’s like a standardized kind of, um, kind of, uh, curriculum where, you know, they are meeting the metrics of whatever the state requirements to do. So it’s not a disadvantage, I think, where the challenge becomes like how students, uh, engage in like extracurricular activities and like what that looks like.
Um, but I know that I, I mean, I’ve worked with students. Um, there was a network, so they created these, you know, own sports teams and other extracurriculars with the schools, the students in that network, despite it being virtual. So I don’t think you will be put at a disadvantage, um, per se because universities are reading you in the context of your school.
So they’re, they’re gonna look at you in the context. Um, in that regard. Homeschool. The only challenge is really with homeschool is a, making sure that the curriculum is standardized. And usually, I mean, homeschooling has really evolved where there, there’s usually some type of connection to some type of homeschool network or education body that, you know, makes sure that it’s above board.
You know, it’s just really making sure that, you know, um, the letter letters of recommendation are really reflecting the student’s academic performance. Um, making sure that, you know, wherever possible that students are still engaged in some type of leadership or service, which can be done, you know, in a home school or virtual school environment too.
So, I mean, homeschoolers, that is a part of our educational system. Virtual schools are increasingly important a part of our educational systems. So it’s just like a different mode of learning. But as long as you can communicate, um, you. How a student is performing in the, in the classroom, whatever that looks like, and you know how they’re involved in their community, their essays show, you know, um, thoughtfulness and et cetera.
I think a student will be fine. Thank you. Okay, so that is actually gonna be our final question for this evening’s webinar. So thank you Aya for sharing all this great information with our attendees. And then I wanna remind everyone that every week we have a webinar, multiple webinars, and they’re all geared towards preparing you for the college application process and for those who are going through the college application process now, gaining some more tips to make you a stronger applicant.
Um, so please make sure you check them out. Also, if you didn’t get the chance to scan that QR code, there will be an additional screen that will pop up at the end of this webinar, giving you the opportunity to meet with one of our representatives to talk more about College Advisor. Um, so again, thank you so much AA thank you to everyone for all your great questions.
This is the end of our webinar. Goodnight.