(Chicago Tribune) By Gerald Bradshaw| |
There is much misinformation about applying for admission to a top college or university. I will attempt to demystify the process.
Some students have vague ideas about privilege, gothic spires and crewing on the Charles River. These ideas are certainly aspirational, but should be considered peripheral when making your choice.
What will get you into a Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania or Notre Dame is intelligence, an ability to perform well under pressure, and careful planning. You must have a precise understanding of what courses you wish to study, and why.
First of all, research a number of schools before you decide that an elite college or university is the place where you can best pursue your career goals. You need to embrace the idea that you will be a part of a highly competitive student body. Students at top schools learn quickly, are taught in smaller groups, have a very low dropout rate and enjoy conditions conducive to outstanding academic performance.
Next, it is important that you graduate in at least in the top five percent of your class, although this does not mean a solid set of A’s. If you have an uneven record in your freshman year, but are on target in the second and third years, you should prepare a brief explanation of your academic performance in your personal statement on the application.
Because they are the only criteria that are universally standardized, top SAT and ACT scores will carry a lot of weight with admissions committees. A good showing is a score of at least 750 (out of a possible 800) in each category of the SAT and Subject Tests. The magic number is 750, but admissions committees point out that students with perfect scores are routinely turned down, and students with lower test scores are admitted. A 750 in Math II and U.S. History and 720 in Physics is typical of students admitted to top colleges. A 34/36 on the ACT is acceptable.
You must realize that entrance to an elite school is very competitive and that every year seemingly top candidates fail to get in. Should you not get an offer, there are other excellent schools — some of them state schools where you will receive a top-notch education.
While a college may say that their general admission rate is 60 percent you will find that direct admits to computer science and engineering may have admit rates as low as 10 percent. If you do not have copies of recruitment materials from your preferred schools order them from the admissions office and ask for course specific brochures as well. Pay close attention to course descriptions and major requirements.
Once you have considered all the above and are still set on applying to an elite school, focus on the admissions process. One of the reasons that certain high schools have so many students admitted to elite colleges is that they expect them to aim high and they prepare them well academically. These schools expect their graduates to have the university application process completed in draft form before the end of summer of their junior year. This helps to assure that early application deadlines, typically November 1, will not be missed.
Remember that as you compare colleges and universities you are preparing for your future and that the school you choose should be the one that can best help you realize your career aspirations.