I’ll be the first to admit it: college admissions can be a little buzzword-y sometimes. When I was in high school, I remember internally groaning as I heard admissions officers spew what felt like the same words over and over… holistic, contextual, and perhaps the worst offender: interdisciplinary. I think I spent too much time being annoyed with how often these words were used that I never actually stopped to take the time to think about why they were being used and how they would be useful for me to consider.
… So I’m here to do that for you today! I’ll go over ten of some of the most important pieces of college admissions lingo, and I’ll throw in some tips along the way for how can use this knowledge to help you out in your college search endeavor.
What’s the point of this whole college search endeavor anyway? Well, to find a school that fits: an ideal incubator for your future ideas, a place for you to be simultaneously comfortable and uncomfortable, a place to find people like you and unlike you, a place for you to blossom academically and thrive socially. You’ll want to consider size, cost, location, and academic programs, yes, but also direct your detective work to campus culture: the vibe, the mood, the feeling. That’s no easy task… aaaaand also not something you can just Google at 11:50 pm the night you hit submit on your application. Spend some time getting to know the schools you apply to—it’ll make a difference. (And, by the way, the idea that for each student there exists just one singular, perfect college “fit”? A fallacy.)
2. Liberal arts
My colleague Sean debunks the myths around liberal arts in an entire blog post much better than I could in a short paragraph, but here’s the gist of liberal arts. Neither inherently political nor necessarily having to do with art, liberal arts refers to broad engagement with the diverse modes of thought and frameworks to provide you with the empowerment (and the widely-applicable skills) to be an active, critical, and humanistic member of modern society. I like to think of the liberal arts as teaching you how to think, not what to think. Especially in today’s age where new industries can literally appear and disappear at the drop of a hat, it might be impossible to major now in a field you might be working in in just a decade or two from now—because it might not exist yet! I know it can sound a little fuzzier than the more traditional direct link between your major and your eventual career, but a liberal arts education is a pretty darn good way to be prepared for this landscape.
Tufts sees value in an interdisciplinary education because we know that the world’s problems won’t be solved by one person in one place doing one thing that relates to one academic discipline. Here at Tufts, academic areas aren’t siloed, but rather interwoven throughout the classes and the curriculum. Students at Tufts are tasked with building bridges between disciplines, and often stumble on unexpected dialogue between disciplines like sculpture and women’s and gender studies, or computer science and international relations. Once you start looking for these connections, you’ll start to see them everywhere. What connections can you see between or within your high school classes?
4. Distribution requirements
Imagine a big, capital letter “T”—this represents your Tufts education. The upright stroke of the letter corresponds to your major, the deep dive into an academic discipline that serves as the focal point to your studies. But a T is no T without the horizontal upper stroke. This, my dear friends, represents the distribution requirements, which serve as the foundation for your four years of academic inquiry on the hill. (Unless you double major, in which case maybe the metaphor is the pi symbol, but let’s not get too technical.) Essentially, we’ll ask you to take a handful of courses scattered across the different academic disciplines—because we think it will make you a better thinker to appreciate the various modes of thought and analytical frameworks used in these different disciplines. Now how to use this knowledge strategically: challenge yourself with rigorous and diverse courses in high school. The joy of learning for learning’s sake is one of those hallmark Tuftsy qualities we strive to identify in our selection process.
One of my favorite parts of my job is learning about the communities and places from which our applicants come and meeting students where they are during our recruitment season, whether in their high school when I’m on the road or over Zoom. When we evaluate an application, we give especially careful attention to what the student has done in the context of the opportunities that are available to them. What their family life is like, what type of school they go to, what type of extracurricular opportunities are available in their community, and so on. Your high school only offers 2 APs? We won’t expect you to take ten! Had to quit soccer to babysit your younger siblings? We get it! Your action item here is to rest assured that, well, we understand.
Although this term is perhaps a bit overused, it sticks around because it truly does accurately describe the way schools like Tufts evaluate applications. Under a holistic admissions process, we consider the entirety of your application when making decisions… seriously, I read it cover to cover. And good thing—I would be out of a job if we had a computer just automatically accept all the valedictorians, or the students with the highest GPAs in our pool. We could fill our class with these types of students, but the fact that we put so much effort into not simply doing this tells you just how much we care about everything else—what makes you, you. So give us those personal details to latch on to. They make all the difference.
7. School-specific questions
A lot of colleges—Tufts included—will ask you to complete a few additional school-specific short-answer questions after you complete the main application (which is where you provide information about you and your family, your activities, and a personal statement). The school-specific questions are a chance for us to ask what we want to know about you. This is your chance to tailor your application in a powerful way to the individual college at hand and, at least in our process, it does a lot of heavy lifting—so be especially attentive and thoughtful here. My other pro tip for the school-specific short-answer questions: pay attention to what, out of the million different things the college could have chosen, they ask you. This is often an insightful window into campus culture…
8. Early decision (ED)
Early decision is an application plan where, in exchange for getting, well, an early decision on your application, you make a binding commitment to enroll if you are admitted. In that case, go buy your Tufts sweatshirt, you’re coming! Students who apply ED signal to us that Tufts is their number one choice, which we consider when evaluating their application. Early Decision is wonderful in that it streamlines and shortens your college application and selection process, but (and this is a big but) it really should only be used if you are positive a school is your first choice. Don’t apply to Tufts (or anywhere) ED just because you think it will help your chances of being admitted, and don’t feel pressured to apply somewhere ED just because ED exists or just because your classmates are. We know that so many factors can go into a student’s choice of whether or not to apply ED (financial, logistical, or just plain old I’m-an-indecisive-human-being), so we don’t take it personally! And we always make sure to save plenty of room in our class for nonbinding Regular Decision admits. I could talk about Early Decision forever, but I’m out of space here—so check out another blog post about ED by my colleague Beky here, and read up on the nuts and bolts of our ED plans here.
9. Demonstrated interest
In our selection process, we don’t just want academically qualified students on campus, we also want true-Jumbo-at-heart students who are genuinely excited about joining our community. Demonstrated interest is how we get insight into that crucial second part. Arguably the best way to demonstrate interest is to understand Tufts… and then articulate that understanding in a compelling way to help us picture you here as a Jumbo. I encourage you to take advantage of the opportunities available to learn about Tufts—virtual information sessions and tours, our Fall For Tufts virtual open house, our Instagram, and more. Our Jumbo talk student blog and JUMBO magazine (insert plug to join our mailing list here) also serve as great direct lines to the student experience. Your demonstrated interest homework: when you apply, pour your heart into your Tufts supplement. We notice when you are thoughtful and genuine here, and this really helps us identify students who are truly earnest about becoming a Jumbo.
10. Meets full demonstrated need
If you’re admitted to Tufts, that means we want you to join our community, and we’re committed to making sure that can be a financial reality for your family. Tufts is fortunate to be among a small group of US colleges and universities with the financial means to guarantee to meet the full demonstrated need of all admitted students. Our financial aid office will use financial documentation you provide to determine how much your family can reasonably contribute to your college education, and whatever cost is leftover will be covered with a comprehensive financial aid package from us—we won’t leave you hanging. (And extra bonus: the majority, if not all, of that package will be made up of grants that you don’t have to pay back!) Check out the other schools to which you’re applying to make sure they won’t “gap” your family with a financial aid package that doesn’t cover your full need.
So now go forth and conquer with this knowledge. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll feel a little less inclination to groan the next time you hear me excitedly go on about “context.”