After working closely with high school seniors at a college access organization, I thought I knew just about everything about the college admissions process before jumping onto the admissions side of this field. Ultimately it turned out that I knew a lot, but there were more than a few aspects of the process whose significance I didn’t fully understand until I was immersed in my first reading season last year. Here are a handful of application elements that I totally underestimated, and perhaps you have too:
1. Senior year grades
It is tempting to believe that the academic data that comes with your application is basically locked in before your final year of high school even begins, giving you the chance to relax a bit once 12th grade kicks off. However, despite what you’ve heard, we pay very close attention to students’ academic performance in their senior year courses. Often senior year is when you are enrolled in the most challenging courses you have had the opportunity to take thus far (AP Calculus, anyone?) and your continued success in these rigorous courses helps provide evidence of your potential to thrive in our curriculum here at Tufts. I’ve been surprised, and often disappointed, to see how often high-achieving, compelling applicants have a serious dip in performance when their first quarter/trimester/semester grades land in their applications, casting a bit of a shadow over the committee room. Furthermore, a noticeably impressive start to senior year can add some useful academic heat to your file, reassuring the admissions committee of your preparation for the rigor of college. I say this not to add an extra layer of stress to what we know can be an overwhelming time for so many students, but to remind you that maintaining steady performance in the classroom is worth prioritizing, even when you have a dozen unwritten supplemental essays looming over your head.
2. Good college research
Maybe this is a no-brainer for you, but more and more I’ve realized how important it is for students to having a strong understanding of their distinct reasons for applying to each of the schools on their list. Basically this means you’ve done your homework well enough to be able to articulate in just 2-3 sentences why each college has caught your attention and is worthy of your application. Why? Because we’re going to ask you to do this! The “Why Tufts?” question in the Tufts supplement is the obvious spot where your interest in and knowledge of Tufts should shine through, and the optional alumni interview (if you request and receive one) is an extra opportunity to show that you understand who we are. You need to have done good research to make this happen. It’s obviously a cause for concern for us when an essay or interview report explicitly reveals that an applicant is interested in an academic program or opportunity that is not actually offered on our campus, but it can be equally unsatisfying when I’m left with the impression that a student just doesn’t know much about our community at all. I encourage you to push yourself to dive deeper with your online research – beyond our location and majors – and practice (out loud, even) answering the question, “Why are you applying to Tufts?” I promise that, at some point, someone is going to ask.
3. Your Application Status page
Of all the emails you will receive from our admissions office, the most important has to be the one with the subject line “Application to Tufts,” which you’ll receive within a day of submitting your application. You can contact our office if a few days pass, you’ve checked your spam folder, and there’s no sign of the email. Here you can find the login information to activate your Application Status page, commonly referred to as your admissions portal. Once you’re in, you have access to a world of information available to make your life (and my life) easier! This page includes your checklist of application materials to see what we have and have not received in your file, a list of the standardized test scores you sent us, the option to request an alumni interview, and the link to apply to the 1+4 Bridge Year Service Learning Program.
Equally important is the financial aid checklist tab, where new required documents can be added on an ongoing basis as our financial aid office reviews your aid materials. Regularly checking the Application Status page saves you (or your parent…or your counselor) from needing to call our office to verify receipt of application materials, and it keeps you from missing important deadlines. And your admissions decision gets posted here too!
Between class assignments, out-of-school commitments, family responsibilities, AND college applications, I know you’re balancing a lot. For that reason, it’s worth a reminder that there are likely so many pieces of this process that you think are important, but are not (a typo in a college essay, for example). Trust me when I say that recognizing the importance of the three points I mentioned above will save you anxiety and frustration in the long run and make you feel more in control of your own admissions process.
Photo credit: ctsnow via Flickr