I’ll be the first to admit it: the college admissions realm can be a little buzzword-y sometimes. When I was in high school looking at colleges, 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 to me as I was looking at and choosing schools.
… So I’m here to do that for you today! We’ll go over ten of some of the most important pieces of college admissions lingo, and I’ll wrap up the discussion of each with a takeaway that you can use to help you out in your college search endeavor.
So 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, 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, 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 skills and empowerment to be an active, critical, and humanistic member of modern society. Or, teaching you how to think, not what to think. Especially in today’s age, new industries can literally appear and disappear within a decade, and only something like 25% of people end up with a job directly related to their major. I know it can sound a little more fuzzy than a more clear-cut pre-professional path, 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. It’s great if you just want to be a straight up poet or civil engineer when you grow up, but still, to tackle the world’s biggest problems, it will help you to at least appreciate the various modes of thought and analytical frameworks from other disciplines. Yes, even calculus (I’m sorry about that one).
4. Distribution requirements
Imagine for me a big, capital letter “T” (seriously, get those neurons firing). Now this “T” is 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 human being and thinker to do so. 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 when I hit the road to visit high schools during our yearly fall recruitment travel. This is a time for me to talk to students and counselors about Tufts, but also a learning experience for me to understand the places from which our applicants come. 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 everyone with SAT or ACT scores above a certain cutoff. 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.
A lot of colleges—Tufts included—will ask you to complete a few additional short-answer questions after you complete the main application, where you tell us standard information about you, your family, your activities, and a personal statement. The supplement is 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 school 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 supplement: pay attention to what, out of the million different things they could have, the school chose to ask of 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 won’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. It’s great if you can make it to campus for a tour and information session, but don’t sweat it if you’re not able to. 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.”