Tuesday, December 6, 2016
Dear Mr. Bradshaw,
When I visited Princeton a few months ago, they told me that out of all the applicants who had perfect scores on their SATs, they rejected nearly half of them. Was this because their personal essay statements were poor or because they had not been part of extra-curricular activities in high school?
High School Junior
First of all, very few students have a perfect score on their SATs. Admissions committees do not base their decisions on SAT scores alone, but they do pay attention to the number of Advanced Placement (AP) classes an applicant has taken and how high they score on those exams. These tests measure how well a student has completed college-level work in a given discipline in a high school environment. The results speak to the ability of a student to perform at a college level.
An AP score of five (extremely well qualified) is needed at most highly selective colleges to test out of a subject. A warning: Yale and other Ivies are establishing new policies requiring students to take a foreign language even though they might have tested out on the AP exam. Proficiency in a foreign language makes sense in an ever-increasing interlocking and diverse global economy. Harvard's president is breaking with tradition and actively encouraging students to take a year and study abroad.
I have discussed in earlier columns some of the more obvious blunders that students make when applying to college. Here are some examples: listing wacky political books on their favorite reading list (remember that 90 percent of college professors vote for one party); poorly written personal statements and errors ranging from bad grammar to non-existent proofreading. Some students even use the wrong name for the school they are applying to — referring to Princeton in their personal statement to Harvard.
Extracurricular activities are important. The most important academic ones are those in which students have competed against other scholars locally, at state and nationally. Holding a leadership position in these activities is also significant.
For the scholar/athlete, even more weight is given to academic over non-academic extracurriculars, even if the candidate is a truly outstanding NCAA Division I athlete. The New York Times reported the experiences of Haverford College lacrosse coach Mike Murphy. Despite the fact top high school athletes want to play for him, he has to encourage many to focus on other colleges if they do not measure up academically. A high school grade point average of 3.1, on a scale of 1 to 4, and SAT score of 1,120 would make the candidate a long shot for admissions to Haverford, he said.
Selective colleges are primarily interested in admitting top scholars. They do not admit athletes who will have a difficult time academically.
I always stress the value of a well-written personal statement in the admissions process.
This is your opportunity to offer your qualifications in a way that will be compelling to an admissions committee. The personal essay takes you beyond the numbers and allows you to distinguish yourself from other applicants. Remember to get input on your essay from faculty, counselors and peers — you might find that they know you better than you think!
Gerald Bradshaw is an international college admission consultant with Bradshaw College Consulting in Crown Point.
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+ 219-781-2372 (cell)
Colleges and Universities, College Consulting, International Students
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