Saturday, August 4, 2012

Trends Among Colleges

Commonalities of Ivy Leagues and Prestigious Schools
While visiting the East Coast with our group of ILCers, I had the opportunity to visit four prestigious colleges, two of which are Ivy League schools. While visiting each campus, we attended information sessions, spoke with current students and faculty, and went on tours. We visited Wellesley, Dartmouth, Brandeis, and Harvard. While listening to the information dispelled throughout the tours and in the information sessions, I began to notice trends or commonalities among the schools. Each is a small institution with intimate class sizes and low student to teacher ratios. Each promises personal care and attention from a nurturing and supportive staff. They all seek out exceptional, passionate, ambitious, caring student leaders. The Ivy Leagues and prestigious schools of the East Coast are looking for extraordinary students who excel in academia, extra-curriculars, and character. They boast of diversity. They all offer popular study abroad programs and a multitude of extracurricular activities, clubs, and athletics in which students are encouraged to participate in an effort to take learning and life beyond the confines of the classroom. They lay claim to exceptional graduate school acceptance rates. Each offer need-based financial aid promised to cover 100% of every student’s need (dependent upon income brackets). They have similar requirements and similar price tags. Not to say that the schools are without differences, for there are many, but I decided to focus on a comparative study of similarities and trends among these four prestigious East Coast schools. The following chart provides general information for each school collected through the information sessions, tours, pamphlets, and websites. 

General School Information
Student Population
Median Course Size
Student: Teacher Ratio
6:1 to 8:1- data varies
Financial Aid
# of Courses Needed to Graduate
Majors, Concentrations, and Programs


I recognized admissions trends between Wellesley, Dartmouth, Brandeis, and Harvard as well. The buzz word this year for applications is a “holistic approach,”meaning that each school will read all pages of each application and view everything as the whole picture rather than focusing on one component more than another. Each of the aforementioned schools is looking for exceptional students who promise academic achievement, strong ties to extracurricular activities, and personal strength of character. There is not one aspect, such as grades, test scores, or the essay, that outweighs the others. The prestigious schools of the East Coast are interested in candidates who are well-rounded individuals. If an applicant struggles in one regard, he or she may still redeem him/herself in another. The following chart details some of the admissions requirements for the four schools we visited.

Admissions Requirements
Common App?
No minimum.Students are expected to demonstrate academic rigor and drive.
No minimum.Students are expected to demonstrate academic rigor and drive.
Around 70-80% of students admitted from 2008-2011 had GPA’s of 3.7-4.0+
No minimum.Students are expected to demonstrate academic rigor and drive.
No minimum.Students are expected to demonstrate academic rigor and drive.
ACT and Writing or SAT and two Subject Tests.
SAT or ACT (Math, English, and Writing) PLUS two SAT Subject Tests
SAT I or ACT with writing
SAT Reasoning Test or the ACT Plus Writing; Two SAT Subject Tests
Mean Score for SAT Math, English, and Writing and/or ACT
SAT: Critical Reading: 692,
Writing: 703, Math: 693
ACT: 30
SAT: Critical Reading: 680-780
Math: 680-780
Writing: 680-790
ACT: 33
SAT: 1950-2150 total score
ACT: 29-33
Average scores are usually in the 600-800 range per test.
The essay asks you to write about who you are, who you will become by attending Wellesley, and what you will add to the  school. You may want to consider that Wellesley is an all-girls school and speak about the benefits of this.  Above all else, be honest and be yourself!
A long essay and two short answer essays are required. Put equal time into all three. Pick an activity that matters most to you. Essays should be personal and about you. Give readers a sense of your humanity.
The essay should be honest, true, and proofread. Who you are is good enough; don’t try to be something or someone you’re not. Brandeis is dedicated to activism and community involvement.
Harvard is looking for students who exhibit passion, academic vitality, extracurricular activities, and strong personal qualities.
Supplemental Materials
Wellesley College Supplement: Why you want to attend Wellesley. It also asks for biographical and contact information as well as your decision plan. Additionally, you may choose to submit an Arts Supplement or Athletics Supplement if applicable.
Supplements: Name and personal info (address, etc.); Peer recommendation;
PLUS supplemental essays/ short answer questions
Brandeis Supplement: Includes a personal statement or essay
Harvard Supplements: Contact information and academic intentions; extracurricular interests, background, & teacher evaluations; supplemental materials, essay, & information for students abroad
Recommended, but not required.
Optional and by alumni invitation only.
Recommended, but not required.
The interview is very important
Letters of Recommendation
Three are required: Two from teachers of academic subjects and one from a guidance counselor
Select someone who knows you well and will say good things about you. Additional letters accepted.
Three are required: Two academic subject teacher recommendations and a counselor recommendation
Two are required: A letter of recommendation from a teacher in a core academic subject and a letter of recommendation from a secondary school official
Two are required: Two academic subject teacher evaluations
Class Rank
Approx. 95% of admitted students were in the top 20% of their graduating high school class
Approx. 95% of admitted students were in the top 10% of their graduating high school class.
More than 75% of admitted students were in the top 10% of their graduating high school class. 93% were in the top 20% of their graduating high school class
Top 10% of graduating high school class
Acceptance Rates


Most schools indicate that there is not a minimum GPA requirement. However, rigor, challenge, and quality of courses taken are assessed. Schools want students who challenge themselves and do the most with the options made available. AP, honors, and advanced courses are recommended. The International Baccalaureate diploma is also respected. Many schools indicate that they would like to see 4 years of mathematics courses, 2+ years of laboratory science courses, 4 years of a foreign language, and significant courses in writing, history, and literature completed successfully in high school. Successful candidates take the most academically challenging and rigorous courses their schools have to offer. It is especially important to keep up your rigor and stamina during the final two years of high school. Leadership, motivation, ambition, extracurricular activities, and passion are additional common assessments considered for admission to college. Each candidate is also assessed in the context of his/her school and district, and the class offerings, experiences, and opportunities available. The good news is that if you do not shine in one area, say you suffer from test anxiety, for instance, and your SAT scores reveal this, you can make up for it in the other sections of the application. You do need to be a standout applicant in the other sections though. 
Many of the schools also look at each candidate’s transcript in relation to their district and what offerings are available. Some districts do not offer AP classes, or offer very few, while others offer many. Admissions officers will assess each district to determine what is normal or average for any given district. They will then strive to select students who are exceptional in terms of the district norm and who possess intellectual curiosity. The admissions teams want applicants who have done their best to make the most with the hands they’ve been dealt. They look for students who take the most challenging courses available at their prospective schools and who really push themselves to be the best and do the most with what they’ve got. Admissions teams are looking for the level of rigor and ambition each candidate exhibits.
Most schools indicate that, like the GPA, there is no cut-off score or golden score for the SAT or ACT. Harvard reported that SAT/ACT scores vary; some students with scores in the 500 range on the SAT are admitted because they excel elsewhere while many students with scores of 800 are not accepted due to limited space or other various factors. Each school does list the median score for last year’s entering freshman class. This score indicates the middle 50 percent, with 25 percent of admitted students scoring above the median and 25 percent scoring below. These median scores can be viewed in the chart above.  Again, the prestigious schools of the East Coast take a holistic approach to their admissions process so there is no formula or guarantee based on scores. One should remember, however, that these are highly competitive, sought after schools looking for exceptional students. Therefore, students should strive to do their very best on the SAT or ACT. Each school also takes the highest score from different sittings. 

The essay is also an important aspect of the application process. Time and time again we were told that students must be honest in the essay. You are enough. If you are not funny, don’t try to be funny. Choose a topic that you are passionate about and that gives the readers a sense of who you are as a person. Your essay should provide information about you that is not provided elsewhere in the application. Dartmouth says that your essay should sound like a conversation on a third date, after the introductions and niceties have been accomplished, and the conversation becomes more meaningful and real. The essay should be simple; it is the message that matters. It is true that the schools we visited are looking for exceptional students, but above all else they are looking for honest students who are able to write well and give accurate self-portrayals. You may want to research the school you are applying to in order to present your best qualities in alignment with the school’s vision and mission. For example, Wellesley is an all-girls college, so applicants may want to speak about the effectiveness of single-sex classrooms. Brandeis has a tradition of activism and scholarship. Therefore, if you are an activist, you may want to highlight this when applying to Brandeis. Know your audience.
Most schools ask for supplemental materials in addition to the common app. The supplemental materials often ask for biographical information as well as learning and college objectives. There are often additional short answer questions as well, such as: “Why do you want to attend said school?” or “What attributes will you bring to our diverse learning environment?” Some schools also allow art or athletic supplements. Such supplements should only be submitted by prospective students who excel in the given field and who would like to pursue the arts or athletics while attending college.
Interviews are not required at all schools, but they may be a good idea if not too cumbersome for the admissions officers and alumnae to conduct. Essays, transcripts, resumes, and application materials can only provide the readers with so much. A personal interview gives students the opportunity to express themselves in person. It allows the applicant to become more than just a name on a paper and more than the sum of the application. An interview may be an especially good idea for sociable, charismatic students who shine in personal interview scenarios.
Letters of recommendation are required for all of the schools we visited. The letters must come from core academic classes taught by teachers you have had. The teacher writing your recommendation should, ideally, know you well. The teacher also needs to be able to write about you in a positive manner; several admissions officers I spoke with mentioned reading letters of recommendation from teachers who clearly did not get along well with or have anything nice to say about the student under consideration.  It is best if you are able to find teachers who like you and can speak of you in the best possible light.  This is why it is important to pay attention, be courteous, and be well-behaved during class!  Many schools also ask for letters from guidance counselors or other secondary school personnel.  Get to know your teachers and administrators well and try to make a positive impression, so when the time comes, they will be able to write glowing and personal letters of recommendation for you.

1 comment:

  1. This post is really informative! I also love the pictures you have included in this blog. Many people will surely be informed as well.

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