Why do some students get admitted and others rejected?

Wait, what?

"Wait, what? Jimmy got into Berkeley? Are you serious? My son has the same GPA and SAT scores - maybe even better. He took just as many weighted classes as Jimmy. Why didn't my son get in?  They both have the same profile."

This is one of the most common questions I hear from the PrepWell community and from random people around the water cooler, lacrosse field, and locker room.

I'd like to shed some light on this question by comparing three students that I counseled privately this year in my Private Mentoring program.

[FYI: I run a program where I work closely with a handful of PrepWell Academy students who opt to move from the online program to a full-service program in junior year].

What accounts for the difference in outcomes?

There are several factors at play here (e.g. extracurriculars, leadership, letters of recommendation, demonstrated interest, major preference, parental involvement, etc.)

However, I believe the biggest difference-maker is when a student...

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Will Rohan Get into USNA or ROTC?

 

As a college admissions counselor specializing in students with big ambitions (e.g. Ivy League, Military Service Academies/ROTC, Athletic scholarships), I have seen dreams realized, shattered, and everything in between.

Case Study

In this case study, I discuss whether Rohan has what it takes to get into the United States Naval Academy or win an ROTC scholarship. These insights can be applied to similar service academies (e.g. West Point, Air Force Academy, Merchant Marine Academy).

Click these links to find out more about military service academies and ROTC scholarships.

Rohan just finished his junior year at a big public high school in MA. He hadn't thought much about applying to a service academy and didn't even know what ROTC was. No one ever introduced these two options to him. Now, as Rohan begins to prepare his college applications, he is struck by the amount of work required during the process.

Will Rohan be too late to submit a solid application?

Here are the summary...

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Will Mia Get into MIT?

 

As a college admissions counselor specializing in students with big ambitions (e.g. Ivy League, Military Service Academies/ROTC, Athletic scholarships), I have seen dreams realized, shattered, and everything in between.

Case Study

In this case study, I reveal what goes through an MIT college admissions officers' mind as they review Mia's application. What do they care about, what do they disregard, what jumps out, and what factors might seal the deal for her (for good or bad)?

Mia just finished her junior year at a big public high school in CA. She has a great GPA, killer SAT score, nearly perfect SAT Subject Test scores, and some impressive extracurricular activities.

Will this seemingly extraordinary application stand out?

Here are the summary findings for Mia:

Objective Academic Metrics:

Excellent.

  • SAT: 1520
  • GPA: 4.4
  • SAT Subject Tests: 800 and 790
  • AP Cal BC: 5
  • AP Physics: 4
  • Rigor of classes: very

Extracurriculars:

Very strong. A combination of academics, work, STEM camp,...

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Will "Pretty Good Pete" get into UPENN?

 

As a college admissions counselor specializing in students with big ambitions (e.g. Ivy League, Military Service Academies/ROTC, Athletic scholarships), I have seen dreams realized, shattered, and everything in between.

Case Study

In this case study, I reveal what goes through a college admissions officer's mind as they review an application. What do they care about, what do they disregard, what jumps out, and what factors might seal the deal (for good or bad)?

In this blog, I review Pete's profile. Pete just finished his junior year at a big public high school in NY. He has a pretty good GPA. pretty good SAT score, has taken pretty hard classes, is a pretty good lacrosse player, and has pretty good extracurricular activities.

Are you getting my drift?

Pete is "pretty good" at just about everything. This is the profile of a lot of high school students these days.  That's why we call him "Pretty Good Pete". He has a closely-related friend named "Pretty Good Pamela."

The question...

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What are NTTAs?

Assume a group a college applicants have similar:

  1. GPAs
  2. standardized test scores
  3. and high school course loads

but participate in different "Extracurricular Activities" that could be categorized as Typical or Non-Typical Teen Activities.


TTA (Typical Teen Activities)

  • VP, Spanish Club
  • President, Student Government
  • Corresponding Secretary, Recycling Club
  • Jazz Ensemble member
  • Mathletes Competitor
  • Captain, Soccer Team
  • Chess Club Member
  • Book Club participant
  • School Tour Guide
  • Sales Clerk, Forever 21

NTTA (Non-Typical Teen Activities)

  • Founder, SlimeFest (World's Largest Slimemaking Convention)
  • Skateboard Artist and Instagram Influencer (250K followers)
  • Founder, Bird Scooter Services (maintenance, repair, charging)
  • Subject Matter Expert, 19th Century Military Leaders
  • Professional Nerf Gun Collector (350+ different Nerf weapons)
  • Khan Academy Expert (completed 750 unique learning modules)
  • TEDx Speaker (topic: the demise of local newspapers)
  • Airsoft Military Simulation World Games...
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Running Out of Extracurriculars?

As applications are reviewed by college admissions officers, they must survive several "screens" to make it to the end. The more selective the school - the less porous the screens.  This week, we address the first two screens in the process.

Screen #1

  1. GPA
  2. Standardized Test Scores (SAT or ACT)
  3. Rigor of coursework

Outcomes on these three criteria will dictate the "selectivity" of colleges to consider. 

Screen #2

When (and if) a student gets through Screen #1, the more selective schools dig deeper.

Next stop: Extracurricular Activities

Extracurricular Activities include anything that happens outside the classroom:

  • Sports teams
  • Debate Team
  • Part-time work
  • Elder or childcare responsibilities
  • Summer experiences
  • Volunteer work
  • Theater
  • Travel

On the Common Application, there is room for 10 such Activities. The activities should be listed in the order of importance to the student. Space is limited (50 characters for the position and organization name and 150 characters for the...

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How to Audit Your Child's Extracurriculars

Before we get too far into the new school year, I encourage you to perform an extracurricular activity audit with your 8th, 9th, or 10th-grader. Sounds like a blast, right?

This will either reinforce that you're on the right path, or open your eyes to a world you never knew existed.

Extracurricular activities are a critical component in the college admissions process - especially for very or most-selective colleges (Top 75).

Admissions Screen #1

There are 3 primary factors that determine whether or not your child will pass through the first admissions screen:

  1. GPA
  2. Rigor of course work (number of AP, Honors, IB classes)
  3. SAT or ACT score

As you move up the selectivity scale, the holes in the screen get smaller and smaller.

Admissions Screen #2

Once your child gets through Admissions Screen #1, admissions officers will then review their extracurricular activities:

  • sports
  • clubs
  • theater
  • music
  • family support (child or elder care)
  • job
  • summer experiences
  • internships
  • shadowing
  • volunteer...
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Who's to Blame for College Admissions Misses?

Decision Time

Yesterday was the deadline for most high school seniors to make their final college choice. It shouldn't be as stressful as many people make it out to be.

Part of the reason can be explained here.

In this blog post, a mom wonders why so many highly-qualified students aren't getting into their dream colleges and what effect it will have on their psyches.

She also, within the first paragraph, blames:

  • this "generation"
  • the "system"
  • parents
  • Admissions Offices

This is a rough post. I agree with some of the sentiments, but not others. Here are my takeaways:

Managing Expectations

Just because your child's stat line reads: 1480 SAT, 4.3 GPA, varsity soccer team, student government, black belt, and quarterly soup kitchen volunteer doesn't mean they'll get into a highly-selective college. It just doesn't. Not even close.

There are thousands of kids just like this. They grow on trees these days. Just ask any parent. I'm not sure why so many people think that a high-performer like...

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The Golden Years | Freshman and Sophomore Year

 

A Broken Model

After years of engaging with hundreds of high school students, parents, and guidance counselors from around the country, I've witnessed an unfortunate pattern.

These individuals continue to operate under the assumption that "college preparation" should begin in junior year.

I strongly disagree.

In fact, before stepping one foot into junior year, students should have a firm understanding of the expectations, milestones, and context for what lies ahead. [More on exactly what these factors are in a subesquent post].

Otherwise, students (and parents) risk feeling overwhelmed, paralyzed, and ill-prepared to manage the onslaught of information dumped in their laps. Once a student enters junior year, there are no do-overs.

In my private counseling practice, I find that a student's freshman and sophomore years (The Golden Years) have disproportionate impact on their readiness for the college admissions process, college selection, and life itself.

They are - as an economist...

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How to Be Strategic About your Teen's Summers

 

How teens spend their summers has become an increasingly important piece of the college admissions puzzle. Objective measures like GPA, SAT/ACT scores, and transcripts can quickly become lifeless numbers in a sea of sameness. (Yup, another 4.0 GPA, check).

Admissions officers are being forced to look elsewhere to find what differentiates students from each other. They often turn to letters of recommendation, alumni interviews, and, of course, summer experiences. 

Let's start with the tactics, then we'll move into strategy.

Here are some options to consider for the summer:

Volunteer Work (FT or PT):

Volunteer work is easy to find, affordable, and can be full-time, part-time, or project-based. Not only does volunteer work show that you care about someone other than yourself, but it also allows a teen to gain real-world experience in a field or industry they enjoy. 

Paid Work (FT or PT):

Colleges love to see applicants who have worked at a paying job - of any kind. Sometimes,...

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