Admissions Corner: Get Your Questions Answered by a Former Stanford Admissions Officer

@MichaelCShort is a former Stanford admissions officer, attorney, and educator. When Covid-19 hit, he founded Admitium.com and created a YouTube channel to offer his expert college admissions advice to anyone who wants it—regardless of your zip code.

The Admissions Corner is intended for students. Ask Michael all your questions for improving your college admission chances.

Posting etiquette: Please follow the AMA format and let the host answer incoming questions. As per our ToS, please respectfully flag any inaccurate information and remain courteous even when disagreeing with an answer.

Hi, @MichaelCShort, I am currently a junior in high school. My GPA is a currently a 4.0, and I expect to have a 30-31 on the ACT. I am wondering if my current courseload seems sufficient, as it is causing me alot of stress.
I have completed all required science courses at my school, including Earth science, Chem, and Bio, and did very well, and opted for a dual enrollment forensics science course over AP biology this year (something that is stressing me out as I am not sure if this reflects the rigor I desire) As for English, I am currently taking AP lang and am also taking APUSH. I am in the basic math track but am excelling, and plan to take AP stats next year along with 4 other APs. I am in a dual enrollment spanish course. I am wondering if such a schedule that lacks AP bio is detrimental for getting into semi selective schools like BU. Sophomore year I also opted for a dual enrollment world history over AP world and got a 99 Gpa. Thanks so much! I am feeling very overwhelmed because I feel my schedule isn’t advanced.

@bgriffin Don’t be stressed or overwhelmed. It’s junior year and you have plenty of time. It sounds like you’re taking a Most Demanding courseload to me.

But do this: Set up a meeting with your college counselor. It’s important to become close with this person. They will write a recommendation letter and fill out your School Report form. Tell them you want to take a shot at the most competitive schools and let them know you want to ensure you have a Most Demanding schedule. That’s a box they will check on the School Report form that’s important for the highest ranked schools.

I wouldn’t worry about specific AP courses unless you plan on majoring in one of those fields. So if you’re saying you want to study Biology, then you want to take that AP Bio course.

–MCS

2 Likes

Thank you so much this helped a lot!

Hi @MichaelCShort, I’m currently on my last semester of undergrad and now applying to grad schools. I do have more relevant professional experiences with well-known companies comparing to my peers. However, I have a low cumulative GPA and 1 academic probation that were directly caused by not knowing what I wanted to study for the first 2 years and also my grandma passed away during the semester which I got the probation. After that, I managed to pull myself together and really started working hard and now have a 3.5 on my semester GPA. I know at the end of the day I’m still held responsible for the outcome, but I’d like to know how badly would the low GPA and the academic probation effect my chances? Could you give me some advice on how to mitigate the situation?

Thank you so much for your help!

Best Regards

Hello there,

My name is Misrak and I am currently a junior as well. I don’t have much going for, as my grades are not that stellar, my cumulative gpa is around a 3.9. I have taken 1 AP class Sophomore year, 2 Honors Freshman year, and now im in full time running start. I do volunteer at various sites in my community, and I was Vice President elect at my old school before we moved. What can I do right now to get into colleges like UW? What would improve my chances drastically or allow me to be considered the on the same scale as someone who started their own club or volunteered abroad? Thank you so much for your time!

Hi Michael,
@MichaelCShort Looking for some help. My daughter was recently notified that she was not accepted for admissions into OSU. Long story short she had a very late diagnosis of Dyslexia at the end of her Jr. year in high school. She disclosed this diagnosis and learning disability in her application and even wrote her essay about the challenges she faced in high school and her learning disability. Her GPA was 3.67, her ACT was 27, all without any 504 plans or special assistance. Do you have any advise where we go from here? I dont feel like OSU admissions took into account her disability and how it impacted her high school academics. Does she have any options?

@Rchan020 Hey: I don’t have any graduate school admission experience besides attending law school. I’d think many core principles would overlap. But I’d be speculating–especially without knowing what type of graduate school you’re applying to. So I can’t say how badly your grades would hurt you.

If you pop a 180 LSAT, I’m sure plenty of schools would overlook those grades. So I’d think your best way to mitigate is with a big score on the graduate school test your take.

Other than that, it’s going to be tough to handle that in an essay. (And I’d avoid mentioning your grandma unless you were her primary caretaker.) It can sound like excuse-making and draws attention to it. If you did have a compelling reason, I’d say put a sentence or two together in an Additional Information section. But I’m not hearing it. I don’t think I’d address it if those are your best reasons. If there’s a teacher who could document this upward trend for you, that would be the best person to explain it for you.
–MCS

@misrakhill03, for most students, my best advice is to develop an academic point of excellence. That means identifying a specific field you might want to study or a job you might want to do, and getting involved in related activities.

For example, a student I mentored wanted to study theater, activism, and become a Broadway actress. So she focused her activities in those fields: She did some research and found Theater of the Oppressed–a cool program that uses theater to help folks in underserved communities deal with community problems; she wrote a paper on the Beat Generation and feminism and submitted it to competitions; she acted in every school play; etc.

So most of her activities were grouped around her interests. When she told colleges she wanted to study theater, activism, and become an actress–she had lots of activities to back up her claim. That is, she convinced an admission officer she was for real. She authenticated her claims. And then, those experiences led to amazing essays and knowledge of her disciplines. So her writing authenticated her activities and claims as legitimate too. By taking the time to think about what she wanted to do, and then go after that goal with vigor, she demonstrated compelling qualities: that she was the type of thoughtful, mature, self-starter who colleges want on their campus.

So I’d say spend some time thinking about your academic point of excellence. It has to be something you actually care about and, ideally, are passionate about. My best professor offered students this thought experiment to figure out what you might want to do as a way to figure out what you might want to study: “Are you any good at it? Do you get a kick out of it? And do people need you to do it?”

Another thought experiment: If you had $100 billion in the bank–after you traveled everywhere and hooked up everyone you care about–and you had to work, to do some job every day–what is the specific job?

Whatever your answers, that’s a good start for a job you might want. Now find out what you need to study and learn to be ready to do that job. And go learn about and do those things. Of course you can change your major and job path. (The Broadway star became a talented writer and film producer instead.) But I think by setting your sights on a goal now, you’ll learn a ton, become a more dynamic, interesting person, and put yourself in the best possible position to stand out in a college application.

–MCS

@entrepreneurrrr It sounds like you know my playbook cold! (Honestly, from all the references, it sounds like you’ve seen most of my YT videos and read most of my writing.)

I think you’ll give Stanford a very hard time: Plenty of academic firepower, first-gen., and points of excellence in entrepreneurship and econ. Fantastic intellectual, novel, focused activities.

My only big advice: You’ll want to make sure you authenticate your impressive activities by writing about them. You need to discuss that Concord Review paper so they don’t think you just submitted something to put it down; gotta talk about creating that patent-pending startup; and probably want to talk about that research. Some might have to get handled in the Short Questions since you have so many activities.

Let us know what happens–you sound like the type of compelling candidate the best schools admit.

–MCS

1 Like

Hi @MichaelCShort. I’ve been a good student up until now, when I messed up this semester and couldn’t fish out an A. Is it true that one B will immediately rule you out of UCs and Ivy? I know I can do a lot better, but ever since receiving this B, my parents have been very angry with me for not getting that A after the resources I received, plus saying that now I cannot go to the colleges I wanted to anymore. Could you elaborate on the truth of this “One or two Bs and then you’re done”?

@kc4nebr For her new applications, I don’t think I’d write about her learning disability as the main event. I know this sounds harsh, but I’m trying to be candid: It’s just too hard to write that essay without coming across as making an excuse, and, flagging her grades at the same time.

If you want, I’d mention her situation in two, matter-of-fact sentences in her Additional Information section. That’s much more likely to get read, and read the right way: “Oh, wow. Her personal essay was brilliant–I’m kind of shocked to find out she dealt with dyslexia. And she says it as if it’s not a big deal. I like this girl.”

Others might counsel you to tackle the issue head-on in an essay; I think my approach is better.

Why did she get rejected? Who knows. But I wouldn’t assume it was because they failed to consider a disability. (And admission offices won’t tell you the reason for the decision.) I’d just focus on making her writing as strong as possible for Regular Decision at other schools.

–MCS

@funkandsoul The truth is it’s extremely difficult to earn admission to a single-digit acceptance school with one or more Bs. People don’t like to say it out loud. Especially admisison officers and counselors. But it’s true–again, for single-digit acceptance schools, which is not many.

Can you still do it? Yes. Some of my favorite admits at Stanford had a B, or two , even a C. But it’s rare. And I want to be real with you about that.

The UCs? Probably a different story. How much? I’d be speculating. You can check out the unweighted GPA for the admitted freshman class and try to suss out some intel. I’ve heard folks on this site challenge my math that less than 25% of admitted freshman students at UCLA had more than 1 B on their transcript (unweighted GPA). I forget their rationale. Mine was just based on the freshman admitted profile you can find for yourself.

Bottom-line: You can still get into plenty of excellent schools. And maybe even the most selective–but you’ll need to have strong activities and writing. (And if the B is in a subject you want to study, go knock out a big SAT II score in the subject, earn a top AP score, or take a college-level class and earn an A.)

–MCS

Hi Michael,
My daughter’s college advisor submitted two applications on her behalf (we’re new to this and didn’t realize that’s not how it’s done). When my daughter reviewed her ED app in the portal, she saw that her advisor had reordered her activities list, removed one activity and added another activity, and set her religious preference as “none”—all without telling her. My daughter was very upset, promptly changed her password, removed his access, and emailed him about this breach of trust.

My question is about the impact of the inconsistencies this has caused. For example, during the interview, when asked what activities she’s interested in pursuing at the college, she talked about joining the campus Hillel and how she looked forward to having a Jewish community in college because she doesn’t have one in high school. And when the interviewer asked if there was anything not reflected in her application, my daughter didn’t want to rat out her advisor so instead she said her application was submitted “too soon” and that she wanted to add her Torah study class to the list. In other words, the things she talked about as being important, didn’t line up with the submitted application. Despite high stats and a strong application, my daughter was rejected by her ED school (not an Ivy but an LAC a tier below Williams/Amherst). Could these inconsistencies have contributed to her being rejected? My worry is that my daughter has an interview with the second school this afternoon and I want to avoid a repeat of her ED results. Thanks so much for tackling this weird question.

@GoldPenn No, I don’t think leaving off the examples you mentioned had or will have any impact.

But I’m not following: her college counselor submitted two different applications? Like, one app. Early that left off the items you mentioned and then … another app. to RD schools that includes them? Or sent two apps. to the same school?

I’ve never heard of a school counselor making direct edits to a kid’s app.–let alone without telling them. And I’ve never heard of them submitting the app. instead of the student? This sounds bizarre.

Anyway, if it’s just leaving off religion and a religious activity, I wouldn’t flag that for an interviewer or mention submitting the app. too soon.

–MCS

Hey @MichaelCShort can you comment on my application and give me some tips what I can do to improve my chances, as I’ll be applying RD to Stanford and some other top schools.

So that’s my application :

Not reported SAT/ACT

We have a percentage system, and I got 96% in 9th grade; 97% in 10th grade; 78% in 11th grade (our grade 11 is very holistic especially at my school the exam paper is set extremely difficult with a hard marking, and I had the highest among a class of 62)

Neither much consideration is given to ECs in my area, nor I got the opportunities to do engage in them due to some family problems. Also, I study in a small school, and there is no school in our area where we have anything like “clubs”
So I only got chance in most school-level activities, but I am known to every teacher, Principal, Director and most students in the school as I volunteer in almost every program at school, and also the Head for conducting and arranging for the morning assembly and giving commands.
I won the school debate competition in classes 9-10-11.
Represented my school in debate competition (grade 10th) in Zonal competitions and stood 4th out of 61 schools.
Represented the school in GK Quiz competition (topic : Global Warming) in class 11th and our team stood 4th out of a 70 schools.

For the personal essay, I had a constant love for knowledge and was very curious since childhood. But, we had financial crisis, even lived for months without electricity when I was 10 yo, but I continued to study. Due to the same, I was not able to attend many years of school fully, i.e., I was kicked out due to non-payment of fee in classes 5-6-7, but I studied by myself at home, and also helped in household chores since my mother used to be very ill and father was busy in work and job due to financial crisis. I also tutored my younger brother and sister.
But the conditions started to become good since class 9th, and now last year we bought our own home ! :blush:

Some other things which I mentioned in the Additional Essay, (since the family conditions became better by the time I reached class 10th, so I’ve did as much as per the available resources, and had no guidance from the teachers (not their fault, since no one in the whole region ever does this here)
(i) I came up with a solution to the Grandfather Paradox in Nov, 2019; but later after investigating I found that exactly a similar solution as mine had been proposed in 2015 by Dr. Greenberger, a PhD Physicist from Germany & his team.
(ii) Tried to answer Dark Matter & Dark Energy by using the concept of “negative mass” (An idea that I think many get, nothing unique but just mentioned ) in August, 2020. But found out from an episode of PBS SpaceTime that a research paper had been published on the same idea in October, 2019
(iii) I was trying to prove/find a way to slow down photons in vacuum (which is considered impossible till date) but instead ended up proving Borsuk-Ulam Theorem of topology.
*I hadn’t published a single paper, although I wanted to do it so badly, but there was no one to guide me and also the people here don’t understand the importance and load you with other sh!tty work so didn’t got enough time to learn it myself through internet.

Thanks for your helpful responses on this thread. Could you elaborate a little more about writing in your essays about a paper that you submitted to a journal like the Concord Review? That is, suppose you write a paper in an area where you already have a significant interest (with courses and ECs to back it up). You submit it, but it does not get published, recognized, etc. Should you consider using an essay to discuss that paper in order at least to explain its value? Or is it something you should downplay, as it was not recognized?

Hey @MichaelCShort :slight_smile:

I’m a high school senior who wrote an… unusual personal statement, and I was wondering if I could email it to you and hear what you have to say 'bout it?

I love the way it reads so far and think my message is good, if strange, but I have no clue what it will look like in the eyes of an admissions officer and would love your feedback :slight_smile:

Would you be so kind as to let me email it over to you?

Thank you so much for helping people out like this, it’s really cool of you!!!

From,
Some Random Kid on the Internet hehe

@Anantaniium, I need some more information. Where do you attend school? What are you planning on majoring in? And what scores did you get for each class in grade 11?

Based on what you’ve provided, here’s what stands out:

You appear to have to interests in debate and physics. I think it’s smart to write about some of those specific ideas you mentioned–like solving the grandfather paradox; a debate experience and the specific issue debated.

You also have a strong backstory about coming from a tough home situation. I think it makes sense to tell that story–just remember to say something smart and thoughtful about it that goes beyond just the obstacles you’ve overcome.

For example, it seems wild a student misses three years of school because they can’t afford to pay. I’d think given your debate/public policy chops, you might want to use your education to prevent that from happening to other students. And have something thoughtful to say about that experience. A student persevering to study at home for three years is gritty and attractive.

To improve, you may want to take some online courses in the subjects you didn’t do as well in in 11th (Sounds like you’re international and I know grade inflation is different in the US vs. the World.) I’d also focus on creating your own activities: can you organize an event related to one of your academic interests? Can you write something and submit it to a local paper or a writing competition? And don’t forget work counts–if you have a job helping yo support your family, that’s excellent.

–MCS