AMA: Standing Out In the College Admissions Process With Former Admissions Officers

I agree! It’s completely unpredictable. If we go off of previous years, it seems like liberal arts colleges are likelier to admit students off the waitlist, rather than top national universities. I found an article titled " We looked at waitlist acceptance rates for Princeton and seven highly selective schools. Here’s what we found." from the Daily Princeton rather helpful earlier this year in seeing just how competitive waitlists have been!

Hi Dana! So sorry I missed your question the first time! International students applying for aid are not automatically rejected - typically, schools have a set amount of aid available for international students so they need to know who needs financial aid (and how much) on the front end. It can be helpful to talk to financial aid offices on a school-to-school basis and also figure out how need-based vs. need aware policies factor into the international students’ cases as well. Often schools that guarantee meeting students’ demonstrated financial needs will try to do so for international students as well.

How acquainted with varying school systems are admissions officers? Myself- being an international student- I do not have what in an American context would be considered a good transcript. I have been in the top 5% of my class my entire high school carrier, but because of my educational system, look as though I have appalling grades. I am within a system taking CIE assessments, and have 5A*s and 5A’s at igcse, about to right Alevels. My SAT will probably be a 1550+ based on practices. How able will AOs be to recognize I am still a student achieving academic excellence? Will they conduct relative research to the student? Is there a place within an application to highlight specific academic differences and academic shortcomings?

Hi Dean! Admissions officers often read from the same region, so an AO reading your app would probably have already reviewed files from your country before. They are definitely familiar with IGCSEs and A-levels as they are well regarded exams that are submitted for grades by a number of students. In any case, there is an “additional information” section on the Common Application that allows you to explain your grading system if you still wish to do so. Congrats on your great results!

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I know it’s sort of silly to ask, but would a study hall in freshman year hurt my chances, even if it were for just a semester?

Would a study hall hurt at all?

What would you say is a good balance of honors/AP for T20 schools?

Hi! Colleges know that you’re still figuring out a lot of different things (including your schedule) out freshman year, and unless your grades that year (and the years after) have dropped, there’s no reason to stress out about having study hall! Colleges often assign greater value to AP, especially if the subjects are relevant to the student’s academic interests. I would say when choosing subjects, consider both rigor (what is the most challenging class available to you in you field of interest?) as well as interest (are you happy taking the course?). Interest usually inspires effort and strong performance, so impressiveness will automatically follow.


It seems like Young Global Scholars etc carries lot of weightage… my D did lot of work at grass roots level to address changes and contributed directly to policy amendments. We were not aware of these IVY type summer programs. Although she has mentioned her actual work in essays and probably part of her recommendation letter as well but it seems like curated applications are valued much more than actual work and i can understand that there is 5mins time on per application but this process has been eye opening for us

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Thank you. Could you please give examples of academic enrichment outside of school?

Hi, thanks so much for answering questions!

My child was in honors Algebra 2 sophomore year. It was a very difficult year as there were many complaints about this particular teacher’s experience and style. The result of this was the majority of the kids dropping down to college prep the next year because of their grades and/or lack of confidence in their math skills. As an aside, the class average for the other honor’s teacher was much higher, which is frustrating as they will all be compared if applying to the same schools.

My child ended the year with a B-, decided to move down and this year has an A in college prep level pre-calc. I am trying to encourage her to move back up to honors or AP for calculus next year (it’s the same class for both, the AP kids get one extra question on exams) - so I don’t even know which class she would take. She is very nervous to do so knowing she will have to struggle and devote a lot of time to do “just ok”, and doesn’t want her other grades to suffer. She wants to take 5 AP’s next year (Spanish, Art, Econ, Psych and Lit). How will it look if she takes regular calculus as she plans to apply for business (marketing)? Would admissions officers frown on someone who did not move back up to challenge themselves since it would be more related to her intended major? She has been in all honors or AP classes besides this. Thank you!

How do admissions officers treat transfer applicants who were rejected freshman year?

I’ve heard from this forum that they’re discriminated against - that applying is disrespecting the office’s decisions that they made the previous year. How true does that claim hold?

I am not sure these stand out so much anymore. The number of young people who come on this forum with non-profits and self-published writing would seem to indicate that colleges are seeing a lot of this type of initiative.

I think colleges are making more of an effort to honor the need to work that some applicants may have. It is not necessary to attend an academic program to impress unless there is a “passionate” interest driving attendance.


If schools say they won’t look at things (LOCIs, Letters of recommendation) if you are on waitlist, should you still send LOCI? Will it hurt your chances b/c you aren’t paying attention to what they said or will it help at all?

Thank you for answering our questions.

Does a late submission of an award have any chance of affecting an application. D22 was just informed that she is a national finalist for a competition yesterday, She emailed/updated all her applications that afternoon, but there is only a little over a week for some and days for others. We figured it couldn’t hurt, but is there any chance that something late like this could put her on the AO’s mind and shift an app or affirm that her app is a yes? We are hoping.

She had already sent an update on 3/1 with the regional win for this competition, a regional honorable mention for a competition in a different field and NMF status. Hoping that the updates demonstrate that she is committed and not slacking off.


Hi Igana. It honestly depends case-by-case. We’ve had plenty of students who haven’t attended Ivy (or similar) summer programs but have shown their involvement and impact in their fields of interests in unique ways. It sounds like your child has done a lot of important work—something that’s helpful for AOs when quickly reading over applications is the way they’re framed in activity lists. They watch out for numbers / quantified data + description of actual impact. This can also be done through PS and supplemental essays.

Hi smeck - some of the ways we have encouraged our students to pursue academic enrichment outside of school is through college/community college classes, summer programs/courses arranged by top colleges in related fields, work at labs, independent research or capstone projects, work at local labs for STEM students, online courses/workshops (for example, writers’ workshops and conferences for students interested in creative writing) to name a few.

Hi, thanks so much for your question. AOs check for upward progression when it comes to grades. So going from a B- to an A is definitely a plus, especially since it’s from Algebra 2 to pre-calc. It’s important to note that for a business candidate, colleges do expect prowess in math. So, you’re right in encouraging her to sign up for honors or AP calc (AP calc is particularly well-regarded in this case). From the AP classes you’re saying she’s interested in, it seems like she is a more arts/humanities oriented student - the AO in this case might be compelled to ask if these are subjects she’s more interested in. To answer your question, of “Would admissions officers frown on someone who did not move back up to challenge themselves since it would be more related to her intended major?” - I am leaning yes. Typically, courses we’d ask top business students to take are AP Calc BC or above, AP Micro/Macro (a plus if offered, but not necessary), as well as aim for 5’s on Math-related APs. These typically help demonstrate quantitative and analytical aptitude in students’ applications. However, if she absolutely insists on not taking calc, she can show business/marketing interests through her extracurriculars.

Hi! While AOs might note that the student did not get in in the first round, what they will see is HOW the student has improved since they have applied. If the student submits essentially the same profile, with little to no improvement in their application in terms of qualifications, they are likely to get rejected. However, if AOs see significant change, including top performance in the student’s current school (as well as pursuit of extracurriculars and LORs from college professors), we’ve seen many students get transfer acceptances to schools they’ve previously applied to. Another important factor in transferring is whether or not the school/program the student is trying to transfer into will benefit the student more than their current school. If the student is already at a top engineering program for example, it might be tough to attest to exactly WHY the other program might be preferred. In such cases, the student must take advantage of the essays and really drive home their reasoning behind transfer (actually point out helpful facilities/resources that can help them reach their goals rather than just saying “this is a higher ranked college” etc.)

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Yes! 100% - please pay attention to their instructions and requests. If they say they won’t look at it, they really will not. Often, these waitlists are then decided by looking at the makeup of students who have submitted deposits and then deciding what kind of students (in terms of academic interests particularly) the school might want that particular year.

Hi! Different schools have different decision dates. Chances are, most schools have already made the decision so it’s difficult to tell whether or not they’ll reconsider unless it is a really significant award. However, if it is her top choice, the update won’t hurt! And she’ll know that she’s done everything she can to get in.

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Oh! I didn’t realize getting on to the waitlist required deposits. My daughter was offered spots on WLs at two schools and she signed up but we didn’t see any mention of a deposit. Should we be reaching out to the school or is it that not all schools require deposits to secure a spot on the WL?
Thank you