Now that the frantic days of the application period are behind us, school is over, and most of us are relaxing on vacation, it’s time to sit back and reflect on what we’ve learned this past season. In that context, I’d like to share with you some of my personal observations based on the 2014-15 admissions cycle.
1) While numbers (grades, standardized test scores) do matter a great deal, the way you represent yourself in your essays is also extremely important! And tone of voice, which demonstrates attitude, is just as important as content! The wisest move any rising senior can make is to start writing during the summer. Having at least the 2nd draft of your personal statement ready by the Fall will make a big difference – you will have made major progress, and will be able to start writing the school-specific essays.
2) It’s not the quantity of extracurricular activities that matter, but the quality; over-reaching doesn’t help, and neither do improbable claims at lofty exploits that ultimately work against you by making you sound implausible. When listing activities, be truthful and be concise.
3) When applying to your dream school, you may want to make a strategic decision regarding your choice of major based on selectivity, unless of course it’s the profession itself that’s your dream (i.e. engineering) and not the school itself, which is a much healthier approach, in my opinion. But if you are absolutely fixated on that school, then it might be a good idea to apply for a less demanding area.
4) Extra letters of reference from “outsiders” really don’t help unless they know you well and have witnessed your performance firsthand; otherwise, they can backfire pretty easily. That person may be an influential alum or a prominent professor at that Ivy institution, but colleges can tell if your reference has never mentored you.
5) Do take both the SATs and the ACT if you can. However, if you simply don’t have the time to study for both, then concentrate on just one. Likewise, you may take AP exams even if the classes are not offered at your school; however, if studying for them on your own will hurt your academic performance at school because they take up too much of your time, then avoid them. It’s your grades and mandatory standardized test scores that matter the most – a lot of the rest is the proverbial icing on the cake.
6) Make that school list wisely. Please avoid making choices based on sheer emotion rather than reason – of course you may, and even should, have a dream school, but apply there only if it’s a “reachable” reach. You only have so many bullets to shoot, so to speak, in that you will be applying to a maximum of 14 schools – any more would not be feasible, as these applications take a great deal of time and effort.
7) Finally, be very sure of two things: first, that your final list has a safety net, schools where you feel confident of being accepted, and second, that you will be happy and content to attend any one of those schools on your list, including your safety ones.
Meral Bolak Gürol is the College Counselor at TIPPS. Founded in 1998 as one of the first test prep centers in Turkey, TIPPS is dedicated to helping students on the path from high school to university through a wide range of materials, including a host of mobile apps available in the App Store and Android Market.