Tuesday, March 1, 2011

What am I even looking for?

I thought today would be a good day to shed a little light on what I do as I review an application for admission to Saint Michael's College - I remember feeling like it was a mystery as a senior in high school, so I thought I'd share some insight here...

First, when a complete file comes across my desk it will usually include the following things: Common App and SMC Supplement, Official Transcript, SAT/ACT scores (if you have chosen to have us consider those), Secondary School Report, Letters of Recommendation (from Guidance Counselor and at least one teacher), School Profile and (depending on the time of year) any senior grades that might be available (if you apply Early Action I there will most likely not be any senior grades included, Early Action II might include 1st Quarter grades and Regular Action might include Semester grades - it all depends on the timing at your school). Other items may be included, but these are the required pieces.

The first thing I do when I open an application file is go straight to the transcript. I check out the passing grade at your school and then calculate you letter grades (some schools put letter grades on their transcripts, others put numbers. Getting them all into one format is important for when I review your grades). After getting your transcript all cleaned up, I highlight any AP courses you have taken in pink and any Honors courses in yellow. I also put a red box around any D's or F's that are on the transcript as well as any C's that appear in 11th or 12th grades. Then I take overall stock of the transcript - are the grades consistent? Is there an academic area that has been especially challenging? Is the general trend for grades up or down?

Tips for succeeding on your transcript here at Saint Michael's:

1) Take challenging courses (AP/Honors) as appropriate
2) Earn A's & B's
3) Explain anything out of the ordinary! I would much rather read a quick explanation of why your Chemistry class was a challenge for you and you earned a C- instead of just having you pretend it didn't happen - I'm looking for reasons to accept you, not deny you.

I then take a look at your SAT/ACT scores if you have chosen to submit them. If they fall within our range (550 on all three sections for a total of 1650) I make a mental note, but not much more. If they fall well below our range, I'll also make a note, and I take notice if they are significantly higher or lower than what you grades might suggest - perhaps suggesting that you are challenged by standardized testing or that your academic grades don't speak to your true potential.

I then take a look at your application and supplement. I peruse each page to see if anything jumps out, mostly things that might explain a dip in grades (like an illness or parents divorce). I read every essay and evaluate it on the basic stuff (like grammar, punctuation, proofreading etc...I don't go over it with a fine tooth comb but as an English major I can't help but notice some mistakes) and then also on how interesting it is, how much of a story it tells, how your overall writing skills are. I also look closely at the "Why SMC" question and see how much you know about St. Mike's and what you level of interest is.

Tips to succeed on the Admission Application

1) Proofread, proofread proofread! Preventable mistakes can be frustrating for your reader...
2) Answer the "Why SMC" question - I see so many applicants who leave that question blank - and to me, it's one of the most important and most interesting ones!
3) Have someone else look at your essay and give you honest feedback - you want to know if they're bored, confused, excited or anything else so that you can improve it to give off the vibe that you're hoping for.

I then take a look at your Guidance Counselor and teacher recommendations. I like seeing Guidance Counselors delve into who you are a student and a person, as it adds a narrative touch to your transcript that I can't get from your grades alone. Be sure to sit down with your Guidance Counselor and have conversations with them about what you hope their letter will address - maybe they reinforce what you told me about your Chemistry class, or they go into more depth about your learning difference, or your family, or you passions. I love to read Guidance Counselor letters that tell me things I wouldn't have necessarily known about an applicant from their transcript.

After I review all of this I make my comments and suggestions on whether I think you are a good SMC match or not. I take into account what extracurricular activities are important to you, whether you're interested in playing a sport, essentially if you are a good SMC fit.

So there you have it - a look into the mind of an Admission Counselor! What kind of questions do you have for me? Leave a comment!!

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