Looking to differentiate your candidacy? I’m a college counselor with 15-years experience. AMA!

For college applicants, hitting submit is just the beginning. Find out what goes on between now and your notification. Or, if you’re a sophomore or junior, find out what you can do now to shape your candidacy.

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Is there anything an applicant can do between the common app submission and the decision notification to improve his or her chances of admission?

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Any tips for interviews beyond being prepared for the basic “why us” and “why you” questions?

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Assuming a candidate has a serious ACT GPA ECs etc, how many reaches should be on a list to give a very good shot at getting into say a T20 university? Also assume the essay quality isn’t unduly diluted by the number

If you’re an Early Decision candidate, you can get in touch with the admissions rep by sending a short, upbeat email. You can also email them with any developments in your candidacy such as getting an award.

Yes! Do your research and practice commonly asked questions. Beyond that, it’s very important to have no fewer than three questions for your interviewer. They should be creative and not something you can readily find on the website. For example, ask about the college’s business model and links to employers.

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I believe about 1/3 of the colleges should be so-called reaches, though I’m not wild about safeties and reaches. In this era of test-optional admissions, a serious candidate has to go beyond a statistical profile to show how they’d be a great community member. They do that through essays that are thoughtful and highly customized to the particular college.

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Nina Berler (@lapster) is not only a college counselor with years of experience, she’s also one of CC’s guest writers and a former alumni interviewer for Brown University. She is the author of this recent article on questions to ask during your college interview. She’s available to answer questions about applying college until Monday morning.

The first 15 people to ask a question on this thread will receive a free copy of Nina’s eBook on Mastering College interviews.

(I am posting this with Nina’s permission, of course!)

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What if the interview is kind of off? The alumni does not know info about current things on campus or encourages a different school.

How are schools that track “demonstrated interest” adapting to the interruptions of pandemic travel? Does attending online sessions covering different topics count as more interest than just attending one session? Does visiting campus count for a higher level of demonstrated interest? Or do colleges just track a binary yes/no for demonstrated interest?

Hi @lapster , thanks for sharing your expertise. What is the dynamic admissions/scholarship committee will be looking for if a student makes it to interview weekend for a scholarship? Are they wanting to see how students interact with each other? With current students? And what makes good questions to ask - please elaborate. Thank you.

Thank you for sharing your expertise! Would you also recommend a short upbeat email also for Early Action Candidates? D is hoping to be offered an interview for an early admission vet school program. Any tips beyond what has already been written for college interviews (at least 3 questions, do homework and research the program)? If the pandemic has curtailed many opportunities to volunteer etc., and that has been briefly mentioned elsewhere in the application, should it be restated if the college offers a specific section to write any hardships (knowing that many students are facing much greater hardships)?

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What do you mean by a short upbeat email to admissions? I have never heard this suggested. Wouldn’t it be annoying? What if every applicant did that?

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You are correct: an applicant should never overdo it. Emails should be done very selectively, so I do encourage my applicants to only use them if they apply ED, if they’re deferred or waitlisted or if there’s a significant development that would enhance the candidacy after applying. They should not ask dumb questions, I.e., those answered already on the website. Any emails should be carefully proofread and totally sincere.

There are some colleges that make a point of not considering demonstrated interest and others such as public research universities that have tons of applicants. Exercise caution there.

Sometimes my applicants get short, upbeat responses from their admission reps. They feel great!

If the interview is kind of off, I wouldn’t worry about it. You mention an alumni interview, which are almost always informational rather than evaluative. Colleges want to make the candidates and alums comfortable, but it’s the holistic review that really matters. The same goes for interviews conducted by students. Colleges state whether or not they offer interviews and how they’re factored into the admissions process.

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I wouldn’t recommend the email for an Early Action candidate when that same college offers Early Decision (e.g., Villanova, Northeastern). But the vet program would depend on whether there was a legit question or something to add that goes beyond what’s on the application.

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For an unhooked female applicant, what score range should she look for in a reach to make sure it isn’t a waste of time? If she has a 32 ACT should she look at schools with a 32 median or 32 at the 25th percentile?

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Filing FAFSA Vs not filing FAFSA - will it impact merit scholarship decision at all?

I don’t know the particulars of the situation, that is, how you (or the candidate) will be read holistically. Colleges mean it when they say test-optional, and I don’t advise getting hung up on test scores unless you’re a very high-end applicant and a prospective engineer (or something like that). The colleges will look at the 32 and move on. Does she have a story to tell? Does she have a killer transcript? That’s far more important.