Sohbet's Guide to College Admissions (part 1)

Sohbet's Guide to College Admissions (part 1)

I have seen a number of great questions and posts here on RoundPier including college applications, extracurriculars and many other topics. I thought it would be great to put together a few thoughts on what I think is important to college admissions and perhaps life in general (at least from my perspective). I am one of those lucky international students who have been accepted to a US university and received full ride to study here. However, take my advice with a grain of salt as I am still not sure what got me into Columbia...however, connecting with and observing a number of US and international students from different colleges as well as being on the Recruitment Committee at Columbia provided me with a bit of insight. So the most common question that I see is usually something like this: 

How can I get into a top US university like Princeton, Columbia, NYU or UChicago? 

The are 4 things to keep in mind when evaluating how strong your application is for these elite schools :

1. academics

2. beyond academics

3. recommendations

4. essays 

As a sequence of articles, I will dive into each of them a bit more. I want to start with academics in this post.                        

1. Academic factor includes everything from high school GPA, IB or AP courses, SAT etc. Basically everything that relates to your coursework or test scores. I think this is intuitive. What is tricky is that most top colleges do care about something called “academic rigor”. It means that they look at how a particular candidate chooses his/her high school classes based on availability of courses like APs, whether he/she has tried to his/her best not only to achieve higher GPA but also to challenge himself/herself academically given circumstances. That last part is important because the elite schools look at your application based on your own circumstances. If your HS offers 10 APs but you didn’t take any of them, even if your GPA is 4.0, they seriously question whether you have “challenged yourself academically”. Or if HS provides boundless opportunities for research in the field of study that you are interested in and you haven't done any the same question will come up. Basically the key thing to remember is the criteria would be solely based on your circumstances. For example, if you come from rural India and weren't offered any APs, you won’t be judged by the number of APs you’ve taken (at the same time if you have managed to take some AP classes online it would be a great addition to your application). But if you come from Manhattan and were offered 15 APs, you’d be judged according to the number of APs you’ve taken. That’s what "holistic" approach is about. And that’s in a way how colleges try to level the playing the field for all candidates. 

Now let's talk about SATs, another cause of stress for HS students. As I have pointed out above, a good SAT score can be a really important factor, especially if one doesn't have a great GPA (although it is unlikely to compensate for a weak GPA unless you have a very good explanation). Yet, there is something important to be aware of. SAT is only a factor, among many other factors. A lot of high school students think of it as something that can make your application. It won't. Also, make note of the fact that there is not so much difference between 1500 and 1550 or even 1600. It doesn't mean to demotivate you to achieve a perfect score; but when thinking in terms of time, don't allocate too much time on turning your 1500 score into 1600. In other words, don't waste your time trying to perfect 1530 score; if you get or don't get into your dream school most of the time it won't be because of your SAT score. Instead work on other important aspects like essays or continue to excel in extracurriculars. One final note about SAT for international students. If English isn't your native language and you are attending school in a different language Admission Officers will be aware of the fact that achieving high score on on the reading section will not be easy (again doesn't mean to demotivate you from trying to do your best).  Also, if your reading score is over 600 or 650 (out of 800) you can contact the university you're applying to and ask for TOEFL/IELTS waiver. But you do need to get in touch with them by email just to make sure that you don't need additional TOEFL score to be considered. 

Feel free to post comments here or message me if you have any questions!

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Sohbet's Guide to College Admissions (part 1)
Hello Sohbet, thank you for the fruitful post!
Thanks Sohbet!