Assuming that your daughter has both test scores and GPA in the competitive range for her top choice schools, what else makes her stand out in a positive way? In my five years of reviewing undergraduate applications for admission to the University of Michigan, I considered a number of additional factors in determining overall fit: the rigor of the curriculum at the high school, extracurricular involvement, demonstrated leadership, and special circumstances (particular challenges or accomplishments) all played a role.
1. Quality of the curriculum
I evaluated the rigor of the curriculum within the context of available rigor at the applicants’ high schools. Did they challenge themselves with honors and advanced placement courses and still do well? Did they seek additional online or community college coursework to fill gaps in areas where their high school was deficient? Did they take all regular level courses when many honors and advance placement courses were available? What were the trends in grades and challenge from year to year?
2. Extracurricular activities
What does your child do when not in class? It’s not just a matter of having an abundance of extracurricular activities, the quality of engagement is also important. A smattering of clubs and organizations with limited long-term involvement or leadership roles is not as helpful as fewer activities with ongoing commitment, increased levels of responsibilities, and demonstrated leadership. By the same token, if a student worked to help support their family financially, I would take this personal circumstance into account. I looked at the overall pattern of activities and involvement.
3. Letters of recommendation
These are a great way to convey how others perceive the student. The strongest recommendations speak to the student’s character as well as academic accomplishments. Certainly supportive written reviews of your child’s performance and abilities contribute positively to the strength of their application. However, as you can see, they are only a part of many factors under consideration.
It really all comes together in the essay responses. This is the best way to provide insights about who your child is as an individual. This is where they can integrate information about special circumstances, challenges and accomplishments. I looked at the essays as the student’s opportunity to communicate what made them a good match for the school and vice versa. While keeping the essay prompt in mind, I wanted to see the student reflect on what they learned from specific experiences and explain the impact on their views/values/perceptions. The best responses were thoughtful, well-articulated, and revealed something meaningful in the student’s life.
There are many aspects of a student’s application and just as many ways to make a positive impact. Keep all the factors in mind because each contributes to the overall strength of your child’s college application in an increasingly competitive atmosphere.
By Marie Todd, Accepted’s college admissions specialist. Marie has worked in college admissions for over twenty years. She has both counseled applicants and evaluated applications. Most recently she evaluated 5000+ applications for the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts; College of Engineering; School of Kinesiology. Marie is available to assist you (or your child) with your applications. Click here to get in touch!
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