While success in a demanding college preparatory program is an important consideration when reviewing applications, it isn’t the only thing colleges look at. Their holistic review includes the combination of courses you chose, your grade-point average, standardized test scores, out-of-class experiences, leadership opportunities taken, and your essay.
Consider the following:
- Colleges do put a fair amount of emphasis on your transcript. Slightly lower grades in more rigorous courses may be more important than higher grades in an easier program. Remember too, that advanced courses are weighted accordingly.
- Due to the effects of COVID-19, many colleges have gone test optional meaning that students have the choice as to whether they want to submit their standardized test scores. A student would opt to send their scores if their scores are in the middle 50% range of a college’s reported scores for the most previously admitted class, because doing so would support their application. If not within that range, the students would not report their scores. Note that if scores are not submitted, colleges will look more closely at what they do see, namely, their transcript, their application, their essay, their letters of recommendation.
- Even if a school is test optional, some majors within that school may not be (examples of this might be nursing or engineering). Be sure to check the college’s website for your major prior to making the decision about whether to send standardized test scores.
- Letters of recommendation from your College Counselor and two core subject teachers (usually from Junior year) are taken seriously by most colleges, because they give evidence of your potential, character, and classroom effort.
- Colleges want to see involvement in a few extracurriculars about which you’re passionate. Their assumption is that you will continue to be involved and contribute to the school’s overall educational climate and culture. Community service, student government, athletics, unusual hobbies, and participation in theatre, music, art, dance, or academic clubs are viewed positively.
- If a college encourages interviews, be sure to take advantage of the opportunity. The interview is an excellent way to determine if a college is a good fit for you because admissions counselors can give you particular insight as to what you need with regard to your education. Impressing your interviewer may make a difference in the way your application is viewed.
The following descriptions are a guideline as to what classes a college may be looking for on your transcript:
English: Skill in expository (essay) writing is considered very important
Mathematics: Courses in more advanced mathematics are considered very desirable
Language Other Than English: are encouraged
Laboratory Science: Living Environment, Chemistry, Physics
Social Science: U.S., European, Economics, World History, as well as Government
Advanced Placement Courses: Advanced placement courses demonstrate your ability to handle advanced work. Selective colleges view advanced placement courses as a sign of willingness to accept a challenge and as evidence of your intellectual curiosity.
Other Courses: Courses such as music, art and technology are valuable complements to the courses previously listed. They develop personal skills, promote aesthetic awareness, and foster recreational interests.
When searching for a college, there are many things to consider: size, location, major, culture, degree, extracurriculars, and sports, just to name a few. Ask yourself the following questions to start:
- Do I want to stay home or go away to school?
- Is the cost of attendance a factor? Am I willing to take on student loans?
- Do I want to pursue a two or four year degree?
- Do I want to be in a Catholic school environment?
- How large a school would I be comfortable attending?
- Do I want to go to school in a major city or do I prefer a suburban campus?
- What’s the best school I can realistically get into that offers my major? Am I undecided?
- Does a school with an Honors Program interest me?
- Do I want to study abroad?
- Are sports important to me, either because I’m an athlete or because I enjoy that type of school spirit?
- Are there certain extracurricular activities that I enjoy?
- Do I want an active social scene or Greek life on campus?
Once you’ve carefully considered these and other questions to discern what it is you’re looking for in your college education, there are many tools to help you narrow your search. The first place to start is Naviance, because it helps compare your stats (GPA and SAT/ACT scores) to previous OLMA students so you can see how you stack up. (You shouldn’t use this as your only criteria, however. You still need to consult the college’s website to check out their national statistics.)
There are many other college search databases, but here are some you might consider using:
When applying to colleges, it’s important to choose your schools wisely. You should make sure you apply to a mix of target, safety and reach schools. You should never consider the top U.S. colleges and top universities to be safety or target schools. The admissions standards at these schools are so high (and can change from year to year depending on the applicant pool) that no one is guaranteed acceptance.
A target school is a college that you are pretty likely to get into because your test scores, and/or high school grades fall right into the middle range when you look at the school’s profile.
A safety school is a college that you will almost certainly get into because your test scores, and/or high school are well above average when you look at the school’s profile.
A reach school is a college that you have a chance of getting into, but your test scores, and/or high school grades are a bit on the low side when you look at the school’s profile.
The college essay is extremely important for two major reasons:
- It enables the college admissions office to evaluate your communication skills. Through the essay they can assess clarity of thinking and your ability to convey thoughts in written form.
- It gives the admissions office a chance to learn more about you as a person beyond what grades and standardized test scores scores can convey. A well-written essay can speak volumes about attitudes, feelings, personal qualities, imagination, and creativity.
Here are a few general hints about the most effective way to approach your essay:
- First and foremost, make sure you answer the question!
- Many feel the easiest topic to write about is you. Since one important purpose of the essay is self-revelation, it’s no place to be shy or modest, although you shouldn’t exaggerate. Little incidents and facts are often the most revealing about character and outlook.
- Don’t be afraid to write about something a little different. A unique essay topic or approach is often refreshing to a college admissions officer who reads hundreds of applications, will show your creativity, and help to differentiate you.
Before sitting down to write a first draft of the essay, spend time organizing your thoughts. Develop a framework so it will have a smooth and logical progression from one idea or incident to the next. Consider what you want to be conveyed and set your tone. Decide on a style that is comfortable for you, not one that you think the college admissions committee prefers.
You don’t have to get it right the first time! Instead, write your first draft with a focus on content. Then set it aside for a day or two, reread it with a fresh perspective, and make any necessary changes. This is the point at which you should look critically at organization, style, grammar, spelling, and tone. At this point, you can have others review it and offer suggestions, but the final product should reflect how you would answer the question if asked in person, and reveal your feelings and personality.
Interviews can be an opportunity to exchange information. At many schools, the interview is little more than an information session. Be sure to check each college’s interview policy before visiting. At those where it is optional, arrange for an interview if seeing an admissions officer face-to-face will give you the opportunity to have questions answered so you can make an informed choice as to whether that college is a good fit for you. Making a good impression is important, but in almost every case, grades, test scores, extracurricular activities, written application, and school recommendations will carry more weight. Remember to schedule on-campus interviews well in advance.
There are two keys to a successful interview:
- Make yourself stand out from the crowd.
- Don’t try to be something you’re not.
In other words, make the interviewer remember the interview by highlighting things that are worth remembering. The interview, like the entire admissions process, can be a productive learning experience. At its best, it can even be fun.
A successful interview is enjoyable. Good interviews humanize the admissions process. Look at this opportunity to have direct, human contact with the admissions process. Relax and make the most of it.
QUICK DO’S AND DON’TS
- Be prompt
- Be honest
- Listen; take time to reflect
- Be energetic and enthusiastic
- Make eye contact
- Give a firm handshake (if you are comfortable shaking hands)
- Use the name of your interviewer
- Bring an unofficial copy of your transcript
- Dress comfortably and neatly
- Research the school online
- Ask questions
- Bring a copy of your resume
- Lie or exaggerate
- Be negative
- Yawn, slouch, stretch
- Chew gum, hair, or nails
- Recite a prepared speech or brag
- Interrupt the interviewer
- Be disinterested or nonchalant
- Criticize teachers, school or friends
- Bring an elaborate portfolio, resume, or display
These are samples of the kinds of questions an interviewer might ask. Being prepared is key!
- How do you like your high school? What has been the most positive experience you have had? The most negative?
- If I visited your high school for a few days, what would I find is your role in the school/community? What would your teachers say were your greatest strengths as a person? As a student? Likewise, what about your shortcomings or weaknesses?
- What is the most significant contribution you’ve made to your high school?
- What is the overriding consideration in your choice of a college?
- What are some of your goals — personal and career — for the future?
- Tell me about a class in which you found yourself intellectually stimulated.
- What is your reason for participating in athletics, student government, newspaper, etc.?
- Since you are interested in science and math, why are you interested in a liberal arts college rather than a more technical institution?
- How and in what ways do you expect, plan, hope, to transfer your secondary school contributions, achievements, activities to the college level?
- What has been your favorite subject in high school?
- What might you study in college?
- What books or articles have made a lasting impression on your way of thinking? Have you read deeply into any one author or field?
- What events, if any, would you deem critical in your life thus far?
- What societal pressures, if any, do you feel?
- How have you spent your summers?
- What are your reactions to current events?
- Describe some issues that you have really become indignant over in the past year.
- How would you describe yourself as a person?
- How do you spend your free time?
- What are the top 5 websites that you visit regularly?
Recognize that an interview is an information sharing opportunity. You should come prepared with questions that are relevant to what you need to know in order to make an informed decision. Don’t ask questions about things you can easily find on the school’s website; rather, ask those that you can’t find answers to, like “What do most of your students who pursue a law degree major in?”
College is one of the most important and expensive investments you’ll make in your future, so you need to have clarity about exactly why you want to go to a particular school. Use the interviewer as a resource to understand the college better. Your interviewer may be an alum or current student, so they can offer a unique perspective — and they will love talking about their school!
A sampling of these questions would be appropriate to ask at college fairs, interviews, campus visits or any other opportunities students have to talk to college representatives.
Please note that many of the answers to these questions can be found on the colleges’ websites, but are here to give you the full scope of what you should be considering. Given that, limit your questions to those that are relevant to you and that help you make an informed decision.
Questions About Admissions Policies
- What high school courses do you require?
- What tests are required? What range of scores typifies your admitted students?
- What grade point average and class rank are typical of your admitted students?
- What emphasis is placed on extracurricular activities?
- Do you offer Early Decision or Early Action? If yes, what are the deadlines and what is the commitment?
- Do you accept Letters of Recommendation?
- Are personal interviews offered? How do you obtain them?
- What majors have additional admissions requirements?
- What percent of applicants do you accept? Is there a waitlist? An appeal process?
Questions About the College or University
- Where is the college located? Is the setting rural, urban, suburban, beach, etc.
- What is the community like? College town? Relationship with the community?
- Is the college public or private? Does it have a religious affiliation?
- What is the current enrollment? Of that, what percent live on campus? Are there any special programs offered?
- Does the college have a program it is known for or ranked in?
Questions About Student Body
- Where do most students come from?
- How is the Greek System (sororities and fraternities) perceived? (if applicable)
- What percent of students join?
- What role does athletics play in campus life? Are there NCAA sports? Club?
- How would you characterize the student body? Diverse? Affluent?
- How would you characterize the school in terms of school spirit?
- Politically would the school be characterized as liberal or conservative?
- Degree of emphasis on social life vs. academic?
Questions About Academics
- What is the average class size? Ratio of professors to students?
- What percent of classes are taught by TA’s vs. professors?
- What percent of students return sophomore year? What percent graduate in four years?
- How difficult is it to get required classes?
- Will I have help finding a job when I graduate?
- What are the most popular majors? Which of those have special requirements?
- Is there an honors program?
- Are there special exchange programs or opportunities to study abroad?
- Are students recruited aggressively? Are they offered internships?
- What percent of the students are accepted to graduate schools?
Questions About Financial Aid
- What percent of students receive financial aid? What are the filing date deadlines?
- Are jobs available on campus? Work-study programs?
- Are there other grants and loans available? How does one qualify or apply?
- What is a typical financial aid package for freshmen?
- When is a student notified about financial aid?
- Are there other special scholarships for athletics? Arts? Leadership? Academics?
Other things you might want to ask:
- What is a typical day on campus like for a freshman student?
- What do students do on the weekends?
- What is the coolest class you’ve heard about/taken?
- What kind of career support is offered outside of the classroom?
- What is the most popular student organization on campus?
- I enjoy playing ______ in my free time. What club would you recommend for me?
- What are the dorms like? How about the food?
- I want to pursue a major in _____, can you tell me more about the program and how it’s different than other schools?
- What is the coolest part about the city/town?
- What question do you wish I would ask?
Excerpted from ACT.org