By Dr. Gina La Monica
As the class of 2021 gets ready to embark on their college adventure, the class of 2022 begins to prepare for their college admissions journey. Based on this year’s college acceptance trends, what factors will be important for the next cohort of graduates? How can you increase your chances of being accepted to the college of your dreams? I have been reading many articles and books on college admissions with the advent of COVID, which changed how admissions folks evaluate a student’s college admissions application. As a result, college admissions staff have a new process of evaluating applications with a revised rubric. The New York Times bestselling author Jeffrey Selingo summarizes many important tips to success in the revamped college admissions process in his book “Who Gets In And Why” detailed below.
As I stated in previous articles, many colleges have gone test-optional or test blind for the next couple of years. Take advantage of this situation by taking the entrance exams (SAT/ACT) but do not report your scores unless you do well. The ideal score depends on what tier of college you would like to attend. The more competitive the college, the necessity for a higher score. Unfortunately, during this period of heightened college competitiveness, there are more perfect scores and elevated grade point averages (GPA) than ever before. In the past, a 4.0 GPA was rare, but nowadays that might be considered a substandard GPA with many students earning 4.5 and higher. Moreover, studies show taking these entrance exams more than twice does not guarantee a substantial increase in points. Instead, practice test-taking techniques especially under timed conditions replicating the testing environment and learn how to quickly assess each problem so that you complete the SAT/ACT with time to spare for review. Examine your past test questions to identify what subject areas you need to concentrate more time on. If you cannot achieve the score that is required by the college, do not submit it. The University of California will no longer be accepting these entrance exams, but instead, be creating their own tests that best fit what they are looking for in their freshman students.
Without the use of test scores, admissions staff will be examining the high school curriculum more critically. Is the course of study progressively more rigorous? Is the student taking challenging courses? Did the student take courses that are required for his/her proposed major and perform well? For example, a computer science major should be able to demonstrate success in advanced math courses. AP Calculus is now used as a predictor of college success. If you plan on studying in the STEM field, make sure to successfully pass this course with a B or higher at your high school or local community college.
Letters of recommendation are more important than ever. Obtain letters from teachers from both within and outside of your major. Write a short bio about yourself so that the teacher can reference it while writing the letter. Make sure the teacher includes comments about intellectual curiosity, character, empathy, cultural competency, leadership, social responsibility, and commitment to service. Look at the college’s mission, vision, and core values statements. What is important to this college? Align your letters and essays with who they are looking for in their college community.
Activities are viewed closely looking for continuity and sustained commitment. Have you excelled in a sport, leadership role, art, piano, or other talents or hobbies in your life? This defines who you are – what is important to you. What makes you stand out among the thousands of applicants? Participate in activities that match your career goals. If you want to be a doctor, then obtain an internship in a medical office or volunteer at the local hospital.
A question that I get asked regularly is whether a private or public high school has the advantage of admitting more students to prestigious colleges. The answer is simply in the numbers. This is public information so you can find it on the internet. With regards to Harvard, the top high schools in order of the most students admitted are the following: Boston Latin School, Phillips Academy, Stuyvesant High School, and Harvard- Westlake in Los Angeles comes in at number 12 with 8 students being accepted. As you can see, these high schools are either public highly competitive, specialized schools or private academies. Therefore, if you want to increase your chances of getting admitted to a higher-tier college, it is more advantageous to attend a challenging, charter-like public high school or a private college prep academy. The college admissions staff know the high school profiles in their region, and therefore, spend their time where they know they will obtain the greatest yield of college-committed students who best fit their admissions requirements. Each college has feeder high schools they know they can depend on for high achieving students who have met their rigorous curriculum requirements.
No one can predict one’s chances of admission to a competitive college. I always will remember a parent who told me even though his twins had the same GPA, courses, and experiences, one got accepted to UCLA and the other to UCSD. He concluded that college acceptance is like winning the lottery. No one can predict the outcome. This is particularly true since many of the admission factors are internally driven. Every year, enrollment management administrators get together to decide what they are looking for in their next freshman class. The goals are driven by many variables including the following: more families willing to pay the full tuition, majors in need of students, diversity commitments, or a goalie for the women’s soccer team. This is the million-dollar question – who is the college seeking out for their next cohort to complement their current college population?
As college admissions often focuses on being admitted to the top brand name colleges, many non-brand name schools deliver the same quality of education. The college scorecard which is a government-managed website gives consumers data on student success. Many unknown colleges are very successful in graduating students with the skills and knowledge for their chosen careers. There are over 4,000 colleges in the United States. Find the college that has the attributes you are looking for in size, environment, location, and most importantly, curriculum and professors. Students often overlook reviewing the college’s catalog and professor credentials. This is of utmost importance along with the success variables displayed on the scorecard website.