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College Admissions Panel Debunks Myths, Answers Questions Surrounding the Admissions Process

Screen Shot 2018 05 22 at 12.57.08 PMThe Nine PanelistsCollege Admission: the Myth, the Hype, and the Reality, presented by the SHS Guidance Department on May 10th, gave parents an informative (and surprisingly entertaining) look into the college process. Nine admissions officers from a diverse list of schools were invited to participate in a panel designed for parents and their juniors at SHS. First, admissions officers from each college gave a brief introduction to their schools to pique the interest of students and parents.

Ann Fleming Brown of Union College kicked off, emphasizing Union’s appeal as a small liberal arts college with a wealth of research opportunities. Robert Pertusati of Stony Brook noted that this SUNY school is more economical and also provides students with many research opportunities. Columbia reinforced the strong core curriculum that dictates the student experience. Texas Christian Dean Heath Einstein emphasized the school’s spirit and eight diverse colleges. Lynn Holcomb of Colgate University warned not to let the title of “university” fool you; the school is almost entirely undergraduates. Christian Pritula of Washington University in St. Louis believes the university creates an environment to encourage and support an ethos of wide-ranging exploration. The representative from George Washington focused on its belief in social justice issues, and highlighted its international connections as an establishment inside of Washington DC. Adelphi representative Kristen Capezza focused on Adelphi’s ability to create a personalized education for each of its students. The University of Georgia has a focus in experiential learning and accelerated degrees.

After introductions, the session broke out into two separate Q and A’s, with half of the parents going to the cafeteria, and the other half remaining in the auditorium. Before taking questions from the audience, each admissions officer debunked a myth about the process. One myth was quotas on the amount of students taken from certain school districts/geographical areas, and the notion that going to a different high school increases the chances of getting into a certain college. They also emphasized the holistic nature of the process, and the importance of building relationships with the college admissions staff.

The panelists were thrown a curveball from the get-go by the questions asked from the audience. One distraught parent asked what to do if his child doesn’t have A’s but has a decent standardized test score. The rep from the University of Georgia said there’s a college for everyone, and the rep from Adelphi added that only a few of the top schools have single digit admissions rates, and that its most important to find the right school profile for that student’s achievement. The Adelphi rep said that having an upward trend in grades may also help, and it might not be the worst idea to get a letter of recommendation from a teacher in a subject the student struggles in, as the teacher can advocate for the effort that student puts in.

The second question of the night regarded course rigor, and if a grade of B or C in a higher level class looks better than an A in a regular class. The Colgate rep encouraged students to take risks and said, “You might get a C once in a while”. The Texas Christian rep recommended that students take “appropriately challenging” classes.

The next question regarded the myths and realities surrounding standardized testing. The Adelphi rep recommended taking the test twice, as many colleges superscore, meaning they consider the highest subscores for each section. Adelphi and University Georgia place an approximately 1/3 weight on standardized testing, and 2/3 weight on GPA and course rigor. The Texas Christian rep perhaps said it best: “test scores are not as important as you think but more important than we’ll tell you.” He indicated that one or two points off on the average ACT score for a given school won’t necessarily make or break an applicant, but any more more will decrease the student’s chances of admission.

A parent also asked about the true meaning behind “recommended” SAT subject tests, and if recommended really meant required or optional. The Adelphi rep interpreted “recommended” as giving a student an edge if they do submit the score, but indicated that not submitting would not necessarily hurt the student. The Columbia rep advised students to send in their good scores, as additional information will help the admissions office gauge who a student is, but warned against sending in scores that would reflect poorly on a student.

On demonstrated interest in a specific school, reps from University of George and Columbia admitted it is not a factor in their admissions decisions. Adelphi does consider it a factor for admissions and when comparing two nearly identical students, the one who has engaged with the school either through visiting or clicking on emails will more likely win out.

After a brief intermission, the questioned resumed when the second panel of college admissions officers entered the auditorium. Before answering questions from the audience, each admissions officer gave general suggestions about the process. They recommended students and parents stay off websites like College Confidential, as they often have misinformation, they explained that decisions should not be taken personally, and reinforced that students need to be their own self-advocate. The rep from Union stressed the principle of self-advocacy and decided to use the rep from Wash U in a demonstration. The role-played scene was at a college information center. The Wash U admissions woman was instructed to be the Union admissions woman’s daughter, and the Union rep proceeded to gently push Wash U onto the stage and jumped backwards. Being the parent in the scenario, Union emphasized the importance of having the child take the lead in asking the questions at the college while the parent stepped back.

On essays, the George Washington rep emphasized authenticity, and that the safe essays aren’t the best ones. The rep Union stressed the importance of details, and finding a specific quality to focus on. She said, “Think of the admissions people as your grandmother, so no vulgarities. Strong Brook looks for statements that use logical examples and concrete thoughts.

Regarding extracurriculars, the Union rep stressed the importance of being in touch with a college coach if a son or daughter is considering playing sports in college, and to write efficiently on the activities section of the Common App as very few words are allocated.

The final question of the night was about the roles of the choice of majors in decision-making. The Union rep said that a major selection on the application is just a starting point and not permanent, and also noted that certain majors may be more specifically desired due to their low attendance nature (i.e German). The Stony Brook rep cautioned that being undecided is fine, but it should not be used as a strategy to sneak into a difficult-to-get-into major in the future.

The night attempted to put parents’ fears at ease by debunking the most notorious of myths surrounding college admissions, but conflicting responses reinforce that there truly is no singular right answer on how to approach the college admissions process.

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