Monday, December 1, 2008

Open Discussion - 2

Hey guys. It's now December, and college apps are due in about a month!! Unfortunately, I have to start studying for my final exams and won't have that much time to write new blog posts.

However, I'll always respond to any questions you have, and I might create blog posts about any good questions and answers. That said, here is Open Discussion 2.

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 we'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, we were in high school not too long ago.

Link to Open Discussion - 1


  1. Hey everyone! I just want to say that I discovered this blog yesterday and I think it's wonderful that you guys are willing to spend time giving us college applicants advice. Thank you so much.

    I guess I am looking for advice on how best to present myself, especially for Cornell.

    Applying to:
    - Stanford (Early Action)-already applied, but I don't think I presented myself well on this first attempt (common app essay could have been... um, entirely revamped and done on a better topic X.X) and am now working hard to salvage the mess for the rest of the schools I'm applying to
    - University of Michigan-I'm in-state so with all my other qualities, I'm quite sure I'll get in (safety school), but would prefer to go to one of the schools below (or above :P)
    - Princeton-doubt I will get in and don't really wanna go, only applying at mother's insistence >.<
    - Brown-my older brother got rejected from Brown; he went to U of Mich
    - Cornell-my older sister went to Cornell College of Engineering: I'm applying for the College of Arts and Sciences, so I should not be comparing myself with her to figure out my chances since I am applying to a different college and the admissions criteria are different, but I can't help it.

    I am mainly aiming for Cornell because I feel it's a bit of a reach, but it's my best shot at something higher than U of M. And I know I'll be happy there; I'll be happy anywhere in the end, but I would be beyond thankful if I could just get into Cornell at least.

    - Female Filipino American
    - live in Upper Michigan, public school of ~425 students (considered biggest and best in area, but small when compared to other schools nationally)

    - 30 ACT composite (35 on English, other categories clustered around 30, 8 out of 12 on Writing)
    - 700 Math IC
    - 720 Chemistry
    - 570 US History (Should I be worried about this because I'm applying to CAS? :S CAS only requires two SAT IIs and they're unspecified, so the math and chem ones work, but will a lower score in an "artsy" field hurt me because of the college I'm applying to? Also, my school is heavily geared towards math, engineering, and the sciences and hardly any emphasis is placed on history classes, so should I be mentioning that myself in the Common App in response to my score, or should I just expect my guidance counselor to have mentioned it?)
    - 3 on AP Chemistry
    - will take AP English and AP Biology tests in spring
    - ~3.987 unweighted GPA

    To make the rest of this short, I'm applying to the Cornell College of Arts and Sciences and I'm hoping to major in Asian languages. My whole supplement essay talks about how much I love studying languages and why I like it so much. I wanted to be a doctor since I was little, so I talk a little about that, too, but I like studying languages far more and my interest in medical fields has since waned considerably. But I'm still taking AP Bio and other such classes in high school just in case I change my mind.

    To support my passion for languages, I took Spanish I and II (that's the highest level offered at my high school; could have gone on to higher-level classes at the local university, but the daily transportation hassles convinced me it wasn't worth it) and am now taking French I. My French teacher most likely wrote me a "beyond outstanding" rec, and my 10th grade English teacher definitely wrote me a "beyond outstanding" rec (English teacher is also newspaper club advisor; I am the editor this year). I also self-study Japanese mainly during summers, but during the school year I pop open a Japanese study book every now and then. After senior year, I am deferring college to go on a yearlong foreign exchange, hopefully to Japan or another Asian country (discussed in supplement essay). My aptitude for English shows in my 35 English section of ACT and English teacher rec.

    I think for Cornell, I should just show what I'm passionate about and make sure my essays are a lot better this time? Or is there even more I could do to better my chances? I'm not sure whether you guys know much about getting into CAS 'cause you're in the Engineering college, but I would really, really appreciate any advice you could give. Hopefully you could follow all of what I just said. Thank you so much again for taking the time to read this. :)

  2. Hey,

    I'm glad to hear you're applying to Cornell. From an engineer's point of view at least, the criteria for getting into CAS is wayy different than getting into Engineering, as you mention. From the information you gave, I think you have an adequate chance of admission.

    You definitely show competency and a genuine passion in language. However, be aware that you should also be well involved in your school and community if you want to earn admission to any top school, so be sure reveal your non-academic activities/achievements on the application.

    As for the 570 in History, I'm pretty sure that when you send your "official SAT score report" to colleges, they will see this score, even though you can choose to self-report your best two scores. In the "additional information" section of the common app, I'd advise that you mention that your school is geared heavily towards the maths/sciences and that you've developed a genuine interest in language anyway. I wouldn't recommend mentioning that this could be a reason why you got a 570, as it will be seen as an excuse and will have a poor reflection on your character. I also wouldn't expect your guidance counselor to mention this, but you can double check and ask him what (if anything) you should do about your score.

    But as I've said earlier, colleges like to see students who are extremely proficient in one subject or area. Don't solely rely on your supplement essay to divulge your character and aspirations; make sure your other essays reveal YOU. If you feel comfortable, I could take a look at any essays you've written and offer constructive criticism. You can find me email information in the "About Me" section of the blog.


  3. Yes, I do have other extracurriculars, but I thought the comment was getting on the long side and there really isn't much that can be done to change my entire high school EC track record. I'll tell you them here anyway for purposes of "chancing" admission (this is the order I used for Stanford; I may change it around a bit):

    Academic Awards/Honors:
    - NHS (12, only seniors can be inducted)
    - school Honor Roll (9-12)

    - Piano (9-12 year round): to test for highest possible level in March 2009
    - Rotary Youth Exchange (12-PG year round): study language of host country, prepare for my exchange, etc.
    - Violin (10-12 year round): Suzuki Book 5, self-taught for first 2 books
    - First Violin in local youth orchestra (10-12 school year): perform two concerts per year in local community, Second Violin in Chamber Strings
    - Newspaper Club (11-12 school year): editor for 2008-2009
    - Hospital Volunteering (11-12 year round): visit with elderly
    - Aikido (9-11/12 year round): only high school student qualified to attend evening classes for local college students, help beginning college, middle school, and elementary school students

    Stuff that got put in Additional Info:
    - Quiz Bowl (12 school year): A Team starter (I wanted to put this in with the rest of the ECs, but I can only have 7. Should I combine both violin ECs into one slot so I'll have room for QB in the 7 main ECs section?)
    - Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee participant (grade 6; won't say year 'cause I'm supposed to be anonymous)
    - Regional spelling bee winner, UP spelling bee finalist (both 6-8)
    - other similar things I did in middle school
    - several other things I will add later....

    + my sister's a Cornell alum!

    I know my ECs aren't meteoric or anything, but I mainly do what I like and I try my best at what I do. Many of the things I am most interested in are things not available in my area, so that's why you notice I'm self-studying a lot, and just plain forgoing some activities I would love to do in future if I ever get the opportunity. I should say all that in the Additional Info, too, right? Anyway, please chance my truthfully. Of course, you're not an admissions officer, but it helps to have realistic expectations.

    I guess I could always use an extra opinion on my college essays, so sure, please critique my writing! However, I am not quite done with them yet, so there's no point in me sending them yet... over the next two weeks or so, though, I'm going to try really really hard to get them all done and done as well as I can. Could I e-mail them to you then?

    Thank you for everything!

  4. Hey,

    Yeah, I would definitely suggest grouping your violin activities together to add Quizbowl to the academics. It shows you have a greater depth in your ECs, while still maintaining the point that you're heavily involved in the ones you do.

    Also, from a third person point of view, I'm not entirely sure what you mean by "to test for highest possible level in March 2009," and it may be unclear to an admissions officer as well. Perhaps try to clarify that under the "positions held" field.

    For the additional information, I would direct you to my blog post:

    You have the right idea by explaining: "Many of the things I am most interested in are things not available in my area, so that's why you notice I'm self-studying a lot, and just plain forgoing some activities I would love to do in future if I ever get the opportunity." I cover this aspect of the additional info in the post.

    However, I wouldn't suggest mentioning too many things that you did in middle school unless they were really significant and you can explain their importance and relevance to you now, because to an admissions officer, it seems like you'd be trying to just "fill" your application.

    Definitely include the spelling bee items, because they are pretty significant.

    And yeah, don't hesitate to email me your essays or any questions, though I would prefer that you post any non-private questions here.

    In all honesty and sincerity, I feel that you will have a tough shot at getting into Princeton and Stanford. I think you'll definitely get into UMich for the reasons you listed. I think you have a really fair shot at getting into Cornell, which is known to have "easier" admissions. The fact that your sister is an alum will also help. For some reason, I feel like Brown is more selective but is usually ranked lower than Cornell in many areas.

    Don't forget that your guidance counselor's recommendation and mid-year report are factors, so make sure he/she writes a good one.

    Take Care,

  5. Hello Sohan...

    This blog is just absolutely fantastic...Wish you luck for your exams. I need help for essays for uni of Michigan...the topic is
    “We know that diversity makes us a better university – better for learning, for teaching, and for conducting research.” Share an experience through which you have gained respect for intellectual, social, or cultural differences. Comment on how your personal experiences and achievements would contribute to the diversity of the University of Michigan.

    I am very confused, as to what kind of information do they need. Please help!!


  6. Hi there,

    OK, so UMich wants to know how "diverse," or accepting you are of people will other qualities and beliefs.

    UMich is saying that they want students from all different kinds of backgrounds who will work well in an environment with many types of people because they are diverse and accepting of others' diversity.

    SO they want you to describe an experience you've had in which you've "gained respect" for another person or group.

    I think "gained respect" are the key words here. You need to reveal how you overcame differences, be they intellectual, social, or cultural, with someone else.

    Was there ever an incidence when someone else revealed to you his way of life, different from yours, and you found a new appreciation for him? Perhaps it explained an aspect of him, about which you never knew.

    Look into the categories of intellectual, social, and cultural. Try to think of a time when you've been enlightened on others' ways of life, or when you've helped someone from another status and gained respect for them.

    This is a tricky subject, because it's hard to say that everyone has had such an experience. If you have not had a profound experience as such, then look for smaller incidents.

    They key in your essay is to show "how your personal experiences and achievements would contribute to the diversity of Umich."

    From this revealing experience or incident, shed light on how YOU are such a diverse person, and how you are intellectually, socially, and/or culturally accepting and diverse.

    I hope this helps you get a start on this essay, or at least jogs your thinking a bit.

    Best of luck,

  7. Sorry i posted my quesiont on the open discussion 1, I will just post it here again. Hi Sohan, thanks for taking time to read my profile, I am currently a high school senior in DC and I am originally from Ethiopia, I have a 3.7 and an 1800 on my SAT. I will take the ACT in the coming days. I have done a lot of extracurriculum stuff including co-captain soccer, president youth choir, preventing underage drinking, tutoring young kids, collecting books to send to africa. With all this stuff and the fact that i am culturally diverse, does that give me an edge over the regular applicant? Schools are Cornell and Brown. Thank you so much.

  8. Hey,

    With Ivy League admissions, sometimes it's really hard to tell what they're looking for. There are many layers to the college application: scores, extracurriculars, essays, and then an "intangible" factor.

    Sometimes one year a school will need a tuba player for the band, and if you happen to be a great tuba player that year, then you just may get lucky. This "intangible" factor, though, can be geographic location / race. For example, top schools want to say that they represent as many states and nations as possible, as well as cultural backgrounds. Please don't take offense to this, but in all honesty, the fact that you are Ethiopian will give you an edge over students with similar stats as you.

    That said, you have a good depth in your extracurriculars, but your SAT score seems on the lower side for schools like Cornell and Brown. However, if your essays are good, you have good recommendations, and your ACT score is competitive, then the "intangible" factor could help you pull through.

    Have you taken a very rigorous course load in high school, i.e. the most challenging classes your school offered? This is also a big consideration for Ivys.

    So, to sum up, your cultural diversity will give you an edge over students with the same stats and resume (and possible a range of higher stats) as you. Your current SAT score is a little low for Cornell and Brown, but your ACT can make up for that. With Ivys, sometimes admissions is like a lottery, so be sure to apply to a range of reach/match/safety schools.

    Good luck,

  9. HI Sohan,

    This blog is absolutely superb. Can you please help me with this one...
    Write a letter to your first-year roommate at Babson. Tell him or her what it will be like to live with you, why you have chosen Babson, and what you are looking forward to the most in college.
    I can think of are things which will be common to all, can you think of things which will be different?

    Thanks.. :)

  10. Thanks really appreciate ur help.
    And yes, i have taken all the competitive classes at my school. and hopefully my act score will be good. My essay, hopefully will give me an extra boost. thanks again

  11. @Eyasu:
    No problem =)

    This is a pretty loaded essay question.

    When talking about "what it will be like to live with you," the college wants to divulge what your personality is like - how you will fit in with other students at the college and how you can add to their diversity.

    When it asks "why have you chosen Babson," you should pick something specific about the school; try not to be general here. Elaborate on a specific aspect - a program they have, renowned faculty that you want to meet, or a personal way in which you connect to the school. It's always hard to say what you "specifically" like about a school, but it should be something personal to you. You don't want to merely say "it has great academics, a great campus, etc."

    The final part will also be personal to you. You probably will not want to answer with "partying," but rather what you seek from a college education. You can talk about how you're excited on learning about your major, growing up by gaining life experiences, or something of the sort. Again, make it personal.

    It's hard to tell you what things will be different, but try to make the essay personal, specific, and make sure you answer all the parts!

    Sorry for the slow response, but good luck.

  12. Hi Sohan,

    I'm an international student and if I take the SAT three times, will that be too much and affect my college admission?
    Also, will it compromise your score if you only take the best score of each section of each test and add them up to get your SAT score because it's not the score you have on a single test?


  13. Hi Sohan,

    I'm now a junior and will soon be a senior this September. I came from China to the US for high school(junior and senior years) would like to stay here for college. My GPA thus far is 4.0 and my SAT is around 2150. The extracurriculars I'm involved are: Newspaper Editor, Chinese and Physcis Peer Tutor, International Student Club, School Tour Guide, Math Team, Mentor of the Sophomore Connection, Penny fellowship volunteer group, Winter Musical, Lacrosse team, Ballet(I have passed the highest level of ballet in China and have performed many times), Piano(Passed Level three), Performance Host( In my old high school), worked during summer at a software company, group leader of a Roots and Shoots group in China.
    I have also organized several activities such as : selling community old books to raise money for the earthquake in China.

    How do you think of my resume? Are there any more extracurrilars I can do to make them better?

    Thank you!!

  14. Also, I'll soon join the Roots and Shoots New England Leadership Council.


  15. If I tutor a teacher's kid piano and get paid, should that be counted a a job?


  16. @ Olivia:

    Taking the SAT three times will not impact your decision. Any more than three may be detrimental, though.

    According to college admissions officers, they select your highest scores from the tests and only use this as your combined SAT score. I can't really say much for the validity in practice of this statement, though. As long as your scores aren't differing by a significant amount ~200+ points all three times (unless it's steady improvement), then you shouldn't worry.

  17. @Helen:

    Your extracurriculars are great and eclectic. I'm not familiar with the Roots and Shoots, but the only improvement I could see is for you to try to obtain meaningful leadership positions in some of your activities. Colleges love big leadership positions (e.g., ones which demonstrate that you can take on big responsibilities) and lots of community service (with the stipulation that it's meaningful and in-depth).

    You are well qualified to gain admittance to some top universities, but it will depend on how well you can portray yourself in your applications.

    Yes, definitely count your tutoring as job.

  18. Hi Sohan,

    Thank you so much for your reply and it gave me much confidence.
    I took the SAT twice, the first time I got 2060, and the second time I got 2180, but if I take the highest of each section, I'll have 2210.
    What do you think of my chances getting into UChicago, Cornell, Brown, Dartmouth and Upenn( they are all my dream schools)?

    Thank you!

  19. Helen,

    Do you know what you want to pursue in college? your acceptance will somewhat depend on if you want to do any special programs (ex. engineering, (cornell and penn), business (wharton), etc). Your choices are all competitive schools, but I think you have a great range of extracurriculars. Therefore, I think you have a very fair chance at getting into each school, but there's no guarantee (because there never is for any of the top colleges).

    I think the thing that will affect your admittance most is how well you complete your apps..

  20. Hi Sohan,

    I want to major in business at college. I took economy class at my old high school in China when I was a sophomore. My high school here in the US will open an economy class to students next year, so I'll definitely take that.
    Is there anything else you think I can do to show colleges I'm really interested in business and economy besides taking related courses?

    Thank you!