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My Admissions Hindsight & Lessons Learned

ocgirl92ocgirl92 291 replies7 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
Hi CC!

Now that it's almost June and I'm about to graduate, and seeing that I'm already in a reflective mode, I thought this would be the perfect time to take the time to share with everyone what I have learned - hopefully something here will inspire the class of 2011 and beyond as you approach your respective college admissions cycles.

This is a bit long, but I think it is pretty exhaustive! Thanks again, CC, for giving me so much great great great information through the years. I would be more than glad to answer any questions about this post that you might have - PM me or just leave a comment ( : This post is mostly geared towards students who are looking to enter top private schools, but perhaps could be helpful for anybody applying to college in the near future.


1) Grades are the most important factor.
The purpose of high school is teach you how to learn. Ideally, you'll be intellectually stimulated and be able to choose a path that interests you in college. However, keep in mind that your GPA determines your work ethic and competency-level in your academic pursuits. GPA is not necessarily an intelligence-indicator, so don't look at it that way. Maintaining a high GPA says to colleges that you can handle a heavy workload, and have the discipline to keep on top of your grades. That being said, keep those grades up! You don't need perfection, but definitely never stop striving for it. Higher grades increase your chances at admission, that's a fact.


2) Find something that interests you, and pursue it.
Sounds easy, right? Not actually. You don't need to be an international chemistry champion or Intel/Siemens project winner, but you need to have something that genuinely interests you, and that you're good at! The way I see it - applicants are admitted on either achievement, or potential. If you're an Olympic athlete or PSAT National Merit Scholar, you will be admitted on achievement. However, most of us (myself included) do not fall into that category. Instead, we fit a much larger pool of applicants admitted on potential. Something on our resumes, our applications, our essays, our teacher recs - shows that we've got a spark. Something is interesting, something is unique, and something in you is just waiting to be tapped and let loose upon the world! You can show your potential through starting clubs, joining pre-existing clubs and helping them flourish, etc. Pick something, stick with it, and make it meaningful to you. Don't be afraid of trying new things!


3) Research colleges, and apply to as many that can fit your budget.
I'll be entirely honest: the way I went about choosing which colleges to apply to was by looking at the USWNR rankings. I applied to 16 of the top 25 schools on that ranking, and three safety schools. Some people might think that this was too many, and others might think this wasn't enough. It really depends on what you want in a college. Sit down, and write a list of 5-10 things that are most important to you in your college experience. For example: class sizes, location, availability of majors/minors that interest you, prestige, social setting/class size, the diversity of the student body, study abroad options, etc. Do some research - as much as you can. But chances are, you still won't know an exceptional amount about the colleges that you apply to. Also, you'll have plenty of time as colleges send you information AFTER you've been admitted to sort through your options. However, for now, great resources include: emailing or calling the admissions office, talking to your counselor to find the contact info of alumni from your high school who attend the school in question, visiting the college (spring break and summer are great times for visits!), reading over the school websites and publications, reading College ******* or CollegeConfidential. Remember: when finalizing your list of colleges to apply to, pick 2-3 safeties that you genuinely would not be disappointed in going to, pick at least 3 match schools, and make the rest "reach" schools. Make sure that every college that you choose to apply to is a college that you would absolutely LOVE to go to.


4) Don't apply early unless you really, actually, want to go to that school.
There is Early Decision - which is binding. There is also Early Action, which is non-binding. It is very true that applying ED will increase your chances at admission. But what happens if that school isn't your first choice, and you get in? Now you're stuck and you MUST attend that school! Bummer ) : However, if you love that school and get in early, you're set! For some top schools, the EA option is available. EA will not increase your chances of admission - they might even decrease your chances. Don't send in an early application if your essays aren't ready, either! That's really just shooting yourself in the foot.

I admit, I applied to Yale SCEA when my essays weren't ready. I hadn't spent very much time on them, and my resume looked pretty shoddy as well. I was rejected, and had a tough tough time dealing with that early rejection. I had thought I would be rejected by most of my colleges in April, too. It was definitely a tough couple of months between December and April. However, it was a reality check for me and I went back to the drawing board. My regular decision cycle was very successful as a result ( :


5) Essays!!!!!
Next to grades, probably the most important aspect of the college admissions game.
During July or August, www.commonapp.org will open up registration for the next admissions cycle. Sign up online, and add all of the colleges that you want to apply to. Look at the SUPPLEMENTARY essays that each college requires. Most of these supplementary essays will ask: "Why do you want to go to this college?" - so that goes back to research. You'll definitely want to talk about TANGIBLE, DETAILED things in your essays. Now, there is also a common application essay, which every college that you apply to will receive from you. I can't tell you what to write about, nor can I tell you what I wrote about. It's something that you need to figure out on your own. But my advice is this: for a lot of private schools these days, anywhere between 18,000 to 36,000 high school students are applying to the SAME colleges that you are. What are YOU going to write, that NONE of these other thousands of students are going to write? As one admissions officer put it: "Every admitted student is hand-picked." One Stanford student (current senior) wrote about George Foreman grills in one of his essays. When he first arrived to campus as a freshman and met his admissions officer, the officer immediately recognized his name from the application and exclaimed,"You're the George Foreman grill guy!"

If you write an essay that is reflective of your personality - you can't go wrong.

On December 31, 2009, I was just about to hit "submit" for my last application. It was the longest, most involved, but most interesting application - the application to Stanford. I was frustrated at having to write so much, and even thought about not applying at all. I thought to myself: "I'm not even going to get in, so what's the point?"

But at about 8pm that night, I sat down, and rewrote EVERY essay that I had written already. I thought: "Why not? I might as well take a risk. I'm not going to get in anyway, so why don't I just have some fun?" I wrote every essay genuinely. I wrote about Van Gogh, Reese's Pieces, Ellen Degeneres, the Macarena, Kobe Bryant, my friend Chris, just to name a few. But the essays were uniquely me, and I am confident that this was why I was admitted (among other reasons).


All in all, I would say as long as you've worked hard in high school, found a few things that you truly loved, and wrote meaningful, unique essays, you will end up going where you belong. It may not be what you want at the moment, but it will be what you need.


I never really considered Stanford in high school student. My first choice college jumped from Johns Hopkins to Brown to Columbia to Dartmouth to Duke to Georgetown in a matter of months leading up to my senior year! But now that I really consider everything big-picture, Stanford is the best possible place for me in terms of academics, personality, and what I want in a college. I had really wanted to get into a particular Ivy-League school back in November of my senior year, and when April 1 came around, I found out that I was waitlisted! That broke my heart for about a couple of weeks, until I visited Stanford as an admitted student - and then I knew for sure that this was my school, my new home for the next four years. Now I can't wait until this fall! I've already made a lot of friends and can't wait to start my time as a Cardinal! I'm confident that everything works out for a reason as long as you stay focused and stay passionate. As Steve Jobs said in a commencement speech to Stanford's class of 2005: "Stay hungry, stay foolish." High school is just the beginning - prime yourself for the best four years of your young adult life! Work hard, play hard, and I wish everyone the best in their college endeavors. And in the end, it's all what you make it. Maintain a positive attitude, follow your dreams, and know that the best is yet to come!
edited July 2010
6 replies
Post edited by ocgirl92 on
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Replies to: My Admissions Hindsight & Lessons Learned

  • hotinpursuithotinpursuit 698 replies21 threadsRegistered User Member
    Very informative and inspiring. Thank you and congratulations on the Stanford acceptance.
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  • cadillaccadillac 779 replies107 threadsRegistered User Member
    I hope you don't mind me adding on to this, but I have a somewhat different approach as I was rejected to my top choices, Stanford being one of them. I will be attending Duke in the fall, in case anyone is curious.

    I feel that #2 is most important. In my experience, grades are very important, but the classes you take are not. This doesn't mean take all CP classes, but there is a tradeoff between extracurriculars and courses, unless you're a straight up genius. For example, if taking CP US History means getting an A and commiting your one to two hours of homework a night to pursuing a leadership position in a volunteer service or a business or whatnot, then that will surely mean more than a B in AP US History. Or heck, even an A in AP US History and nothing else. I would only do this once or twice though. The large number of people on the waitlist tells you how many people have the grades. A high supply means a low demand. If you aim for the most prestigious universities, you will need unique extracurriculars. How can you find one? The answer is to pursue what interests you but go REALLY FAR with it.
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  • byuboundbyubound 1316 replies11 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Good tips here and congrats :)
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  • bellybelly 869 replies326 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    thanks the OP for the post
    But the research part is the part I worry about the most. On the school websites, there is simply too little information, or skewed one to attract students. There are links to associated websites, and at this point I am not quite sure what major I want to take. So how can I research a school, finding its interesting points through the internet?
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  • imbri3imbri3 94 replies6 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    ^ I often had the same problem when I was researching schools, and I found a great source of information is right here on CC. Spend some time on the schools' forums that you're interested in, and you'll likely pick up a lot about the school.
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  • 082349082349 2143 replies85 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    3) Research colleges, and apply to as many that can fit your budget.

    Unlike most people on CC, I have a limit to the number of colleges I can apply to, so this will not apply to me.
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