Wednesday, October 7, 2009

High School Extracurricular Activities Q & A

This is an email I received and responded to about high school extracurricular activities and their relation to college admissions. Hopefully this is helpful to some of you!

Hey Sohan,

Firstly, you said last time that depending upon my extracurricular activities, i have a legitimate chance of getting into Cornell. Now, to what level does Cornell require one to peruse these extracurricular activities? Could you tell me which ones you did so that i can get an idea of how long term or to what level the activity is meant to be?

Also, do you have to be proactive (i.e. continue doing activities) once you are accepted into Cornell? Since i am a bit concerned I might be spending a lot of time on activities rather than studies.

Last but not the least, how much weight age does Cornell give to SATs as compared to other qualifications?

My response:


I think that Cornell looks for people who are actively involved and genuinely interested in their extracurriculars. It looks great if you have leadership positions, or have had a big, relevant experience in an activity that you can either write about in your essays, speak about in your interview, or somehow else demonstrate. I wouldn't recommend just joining a bunch of clubs to have on your resume - I'm positive that they can see through that.

I played varsity soccer, tennis, and chess, was president of my chapter of FBLA, was secretary of the class, and was in National Honor Society. I was pretty involved in all these activities.. I think on the applications it asks you to estimate how much time / week or month you devote to each activity, which is pretty telling of your involvement.

Once you're accepted into Cornell, you can quit all your clubs if you wanted. The only that matters is that you keep up your grades to a certain extent. One kid from my school was accepted into a great university, but slacked off for the last half of the year, got a D in AP bio, and his admission was terminated. They don't check to see that you've continued participating in clubs, though.

I can't tell you exactly how much Cornell specifically weights the SAT, but I believe it is quite important. Aim for at least above a 2150, though one of my close friends here only got a 2000 and was accepted. However, he was very involved in his community and extracurriculars, and he took the most challenging courses his school offered.

In the end, just do extracurriculars that you truly enjoy - don't do them just for the sake of embellishing your resume. Have some good experiences that you can talk about in your application.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

College Admissions Questions & Answers: GPA, SATs, Cornell Engineering

This question came in via email, by a rising high school junior. Hopefully this question about college admissions can help others. The question goes as follows:

Hey Sohan,

I am going to be a junior in high school. After reading your blog, i felt like you were an great source to answer my question. My high school, being one of the toughest, and largest public schools in the state offers very challenging courses. These courses look good on my resume but they have had an impact on my GPA. I moved during my freshman year, so the transition was tough and as a result my freshman grades consisted of a few b's. Luckily im still in the top 8% of my class. As for SAT, im very determined and i'm studying every day for at least 2 hours, so far my highest score has been a 2200 but i usually score in the high 2100's. As for Extra Curricular activities, i am president and captain of the debate team at my school, and plan to make this my selling point along with working for an open source computer society that makes programs for disabled people. That being said, i'm looking at computer/electrical engineering as a major or something along the lines, and i will most definitely apply early. That being said, as you can tell my GPA will not look good on application, in fact it might be a cause to reject my application. But my question to you is

1.) do you think i have a fighting chance at engineering at cornell, i mean its an ivy-league and most of the people must be valedictorians,
2.) really what type of an SAT score do you think i need to make up for the GPA, or lack thereof
3.) do you think it would be a strategic move to apply early considering my application

I know you're not the admissions counselor, but they are rather political and I have already asked them. I hope this doesn't take away from you're time, and i sincerely appreciate you're help. Admissions is a stressful time (even though im 1 year early) and its people like you who make this less stressful and can offer key advice


P.S. I hope this doesn't make me seem like some pesky high schooler who gets stressed out about everything, because i've heard this before



Haha, not too long ago I was a "pesky high schooler that was stressed about everything," so no worries.

If you only got a few B's freshman year, then it doesn't sound like your GPA is hurting as much as you describe it. If your school is one of the most competitive in the area, then the fact that you took harder courses will only help you. Also, given your description of your school, it sounds like your guidance counselors should be adept and able to vouch for you on your application (if you still feel like your GPA doesn't get to where it wants to be). (Your guidance counselor has to write you a letter of recommendation for college apps).

As for your SAT score, I personally got 2250 (only took it once, though). My friends at school have ranged from 2000-2300, so if you can get 2200+ you will be solid. How are you prepping for the SAT? Are you studying from a book or taking a class? I didn't do any of the princeton review classes, because they mostly just try to force you to take practice tests and study. However, if you already have the drive and self-discipline to study on your own, then just getting a book is best. Do as many of the practice tests from that big blue SAT book as you can, and perhaps take a look at the book: "Barron's SAT 2400." That book has had much success for me and a few of my friends.

Your extracurriculars seem good, especially the programming for the disabled. That will be a huge selling point when applying to engineering schools, imo.

Cornell Engineering is the top engineering program among the ivy league schools, but not in the nation. However, I don't think that it's out of your reach at all. A kid at my school just got in this year with stats similar to what yours will be. And you may have a misconception about Cornell, because its ntoed as "the easiest ivy to get into, but the hardest to graduate from." There aren't that many valedictorians, but just a lot of bright, hardworking kids. Honestly, I feel the other ivies like Harvard and Yale get all the valedictorians haha. That;s not to say there aren't extremely smart kids at Cornell - trust me, I feel humbled every day.

Keep working at those SATs, don't forget to take your SAT II's, and keep taking the hardest classes at your school. If you still feel like your GPA is too low, then there are places on the applications where you can give "additional info." There, you can include why your freshman year grades were low; they should be pretty understanding. I'm just saying that this is always an option, though it could be conceived as making an excuse. The main point here is: don't worry so much about your past GPA, because it can be accommodated for.

Finally, if Cornell is your reach school, then apply early decision to the engineering school. Your chances increase a lot. I do suggest that you apply somewhere early action and/or early decision, though.

If you have any more questions / need any clarifications, feel free to email me.


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Campus Life at Cornell - Reflections

Here is a video I recorded during my last days as a freshman in college at Cornell. Hopefully it will provide insight into what your first year college experience will be like - after the whole college admissions process.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Open Discussion - 3

Here it is: Open Discussion 3. Talk about your college admittances/waitlists/denials or anxiety for applying to / visiting schools in the fall. To all you seniors: good luck with your college careers. I'm sure you've all been accepted to wonderful schools and will have a blast. To all you rising seniors: good luck getting to that point! Well, that's why I'm here! So, ask away!

"Post a comment on anything - any questions on deadlines, advice, the application process, anything! You can post your stats (SATs, GPA, activities, schools interested in) and I'll tell you (honestly) what we think your chances are of getting in to the colleges you want, and what direction you should take to improve. Everything is anonymous, so please ask all questions on your mind! Remember, I was in high school not too long ago."


So my first year as a freshman is winding to an end, and it's been quite a journey. I'm going to post another video of college life soon.

In retrospect, I think I've grown a lot intellectually and socially. In college, I've actually been challenged to THINK and NOT just memorize a process, plug, and chug. I've seen my thought process change to accommodate this analytical thinking. As each semester progressed, I found that classes were getting easier, not because I was getting used to the class, but because I adapted the way in which my mind grasped the concepts to actually understand.

I know I'm speaking in very general terms, but I think my biggest improvement can be summed up metaphorically: instead of just knowing how to apply an equation, I understood its derivation and context in the subject.

Socially, I've made a lot of friends- a few close ones and many acquaintances. I'm pledging an Honors frat (Phi Sigma Pi woot) in hopes to meet some more cool people. Basically, everyone at college has an interesting life, and it's awesome learning about different cultures (or just bro'ing out).

That's all I have for now.. I might start posting again, so stay tuned.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Accepted, Deferred, or Rejected by Early Action or Early Decision

Did you get accepted the school for which you applied early decision? Then congratulations! The culmination of your past four years of trials and tribulations has successfully placed you into your dream school. You did it! You now have permission to slack off (to a moderate extent) if you choose.

Accepted early action? Before accepting, weigh your options. See to where you are admitted in the spring, and compare financial aid packages, campuses, your prospective major, etc. Remember, the university you choose will be your home for the next four years and impact the rest of your life! Don't make a hasty decision.

Were you deferred? Being deferred means that you were not accepted early action or decision, but your application will be reconsidered and reevaluated with the rest of the regular decision applicants. You will be notified of your admittance with the regular applicant pool, usually in spring. Don't be discouraged! I applied early action to MIT and Wharton B-School at UPENN and was deferred from both. Needless to say, I was heartbroken, but remember that you stay alive for a second round. Here's what you can do:

=Send a personalized letter to the schools expressing your continued interest in admission. (You can find out who the head admissions officer is, and address the letter to him/her.)

=Call the school's admissions office and ask them how you can improve your chances at regular decision. Most schools will accept additional material on what you've done since your EA/ED application. For example, if you did volunteer work, won a tournament, or did anything significant since November, be sure to send it in the college pronto! Colleges want to see that you've kept diligent since applying.

=Ask your principal, guidance counselor, or a reputable member of society to write an additional letter of recommendation for you or call-in a recommendation. Make sure you call the college to see if they accept additional recommendations first - e.g. Columbia doesn't want any additional information when being considered for the Waitlist.

Were you rejected? Again, don't be discouraged. You are by no means a failure! Early admittance is especially tough. Keep your head up, and I'm sure you'll hear great news in the Spring.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Break!

Hey everyone,

Sorry, but I'll be going to California (yay!) this Christmas break (Dec. 23 - 31). I probably won't be checking the blog or my email very much if at all. I apologize for the inconvenience in your most hectic hour. I wish everyone good luck on their applications, and make sure you send them in on time! Merry Christmas and happy holidays!