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    #246720 - 02/02/20 07:51 AM College admissions over - Ask me anything
    mithawk Offline
    Member

    Registered: 11/25/11
    Posts: 243
    Hi,

    It's been a few years since I have been active on this site, but I wanted to stop back in and see if this topic is of interest to the community.

    Both my kids applied to and were accepted by elite colleges. If anyone has questions about the process, please let me know and I will share what I have learned.

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    #246721 - 02/02/20 08:30 AM Re: College admissions over - Ask me anything [Re: mithawk]
    llg12j Offline
    Junior Member

    Registered: 11/15/14
    Posts: 17
    Thanks for offering to share your experience. Do you have any insight as to why you think your kids were accepted to these particular schools? I've heard many parents describe the process as a lottery outside of having a "hook". I know of some very good students accepted to outstanding schools while seemingly even more qualified students (at least academically) are passed over without a second glance.

    My family will be embarking on this journey in the not too distant future so I'm hoping to learn what I can from those that went before us!

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    #246722 - 02/02/20 09:45 AM Re: College admissions over - Ask me anything [Re: mithawk]
    mithawk Offline
    Member

    Registered: 11/25/11
    Posts: 243
    When it comes to unhooked kids, I think of elite college admissions not as a lottery, but as weighted dice. The right set of accomplishments and recommendations can make your odds much better, but there are no guarantees for any particular place. My son applied to Princeton Early Action this last October and was deferred in December. But last month he received a "likely letter" from Yale which, all things being equal, should have been more difficult to get than admission with Princeton during Early Action. This uncertainty is part of the reason for the increased number of applications.

    It's useful to think of elite colleges as really having the following different tiers, and admission becomes significantly easier as you go down a tier.

    1. Elite Early Action: This is Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, and MIT (HYPSM). They are confident enough in their status that students can apply to them early, get admission, but are not required to attend. Caltech is also an early action school, but it's tiny and always in the shadow of MIT.
    2. Elite Early Decision: This consists of the remaining Ivy league schools, plus schools like UChicago, Duke, Hopkins, and Northwestern. UChicago also has Early Action, but the admit rate is pathetically low and the only people getting in that way are those who would qualify for one of the HYPSM schools.
    3: Highly selective: This category is roughly the remaining top 25 schools. It includes very solid schools like Rice and Vanderbilt, and the strong publics like Berkeley, Michigan, and UCLA. The private schools tend to be ED with only a couple of exceptions.
    4. Selective: This is roughly #26-50 in USNWR. Every one will provide a solid education but admission is considerably easier than in tiers 1-3.

    An important thing to know about the Ivies is that less than 1/2 the student body is selected based upon merit. There are a number of preference groups that have an easier time in terms of admissions, and the most common preference groups are Legacy, Race, Athletes, and Children of Faculty. It's not that the kids who get admitted under these preference groups are weak, but that the ones without preferences have to be superlative by comparison.

    Second, for tiers 2-4, there is a significant advantage to using Early Decision relative to Regular Decision. Your application will get read more carefully, and there are fewer of what I call "filled quotas". By this I mean that every college has target numbers for various groups, whether that be geographical distribution, race, SES category, choice of major, etc. By the time RD gets to your application saying you want to be a CS major, they will look at many how many CS majors they have already admitted and think "we really don't have space for another one" and move on.

    Next, we should talk about stats. The most important thing to understand is that when it comes to tiers #1 and #2, stats won't get you in, but will keep you out. Solid stats are expected, and unhooked kids should be at/above the 75th percentile on the SAT or ACT. If you are not, then barring something else really desirable about your application, your chances are slim. Likewise, excellent grades are also expected.

    What is often given little attention is the high importance given to recommendations. You want your kids' junior year teachers to love them. That means they pay attention in class and are active in class discussions.

    What you really need for tiers 1 and 2 are extracurricular activities that makes the admission committee take notice of you. It could being nationally ranked in your activity, excelling in very hard tests like USAMO, being a truly outstanding musician, published research, etc.

    The key thing about the extracurricular activity is that it had better be something your child enjoys, because they will be working on it for a long time. For one of my children, that was art, and for the other, research. A really good book that explains how to do this part well is Cal Newport's book "How to be a high school superstar".


    Edited by mithawk (02/02/20 09:48 AM)

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    #246723 - 02/02/20 10:58 AM Re: College admissions over - Ask me anything [Re: mithawk]
    llg12j Offline
    Junior Member

    Registered: 11/15/14
    Posts: 17
    Congratulations on your son's acceptance to Yale. We have a local friend who was accepted EA and plans to attend this fall as well. My own DYS attends a high school where students matriculate to that university in above average numbers (lots of students are children of faculty and/or alumni). So I can attest that your son will be in good company and I wish him lots of luck there.

    Many thanks for your detailed response. I have tried to emphasize the importance of EC's to my DYS and he is just now starting to get it. I'm sure your book recommendation will be very useful to him!

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    #246724 - 02/02/20 01:46 PM Re: College admissions over - Ask me anything [Re: mithawk]
    mithawk Offline
    Member

    Registered: 11/25/11
    Posts: 243
    Thank you, he is thrilled about Yale.

    Another thing I wanted to mention is that I think that everyone applying for the elites should have some non-holistic schools they can apply to. Anyone applying to top 25 US schools should also apply to schools like McGill or U of Toronto which admit based purely on merit. If you are top-10 material and are willing to go overseas, there's also Oxford and Cambridge.

    The closest thing to a merit-based top 25 school in the US is Vanderbilt. At least a few years ago, there were very clear demarcation lines in terms of SAT and GPA as to who was admitted and who wasn't.

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    #246725 - 02/02/20 01:47 PM Re: College admissions over - Ask me anything [Re: mithawk]
    Portia Offline
    Member

    Registered: 03/17/13
    Posts: 1786
    Thank you so much for your generous offer. Congratulations on your son's acceptance. DS has his heart on a Tier 1. He is on track for the SAT scores and grades. The big question I have at the moment is the balance between APs, college courses, and just educating at large without the credit (ex; MOOCs, self studies of select theories, etc). To be honest, the better educational opportunities are those that do not give credit. The challenge is that when we try to take something interesting at the university, they want the credit history. We can spend a year getting the credits without really learning anything or we can go in a different direction in which no credit will be given, but the depth of education would be more intense. I guess the question is - how important is the credit to Tier 1?

    ETA: DS has seen the admissions rates of DreamyU and has a backup plan in place.

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    #246726 - 02/02/20 02:33 PM Re: College admissions over - Ask me anything [Re: mithawk]
    mithawk Offline
    Member

    Registered: 11/25/11
    Posts: 243
    The elites want to see a certain number of APs, but after that number, they don't care. My D (now at UChicago) had 7 upon graduation, and my S will have 8. School systems that don't offer very many are not penalized as long as the student can show that they are ready for the rigor of college. The exception are places like Georgia Tech, which I consider elite for engineering, which care a lot more about the number of APs. But let's leave that aside for now.

    I fully understand your concern re undergraduate credit vs learning opportunities. But IMO college admissions staff really don't know how to evaluate these learning opportunities, unless they are already well known, and therefore won't give it much "credit".

    The way to get around that is to take these learning opportunities and then have your child put that learning to demonstrated use. For example, if it's a science course, follow that up with a research project in the same field.

    It's been a number of years since I read Cal Newport's book, but one of the key points is that you want your child to build up a talent that is extraordinary for a high school student and that makes the admissions committee say "Wow!". This is why it's so important for the activity to be enjoyable.

    I would also caution against applying for Tier 1 as an unhooked student unless you really know you are at the very top of your game. One of my son's friends this year is a 2xUSAMO qualifier and a Physics Olympaid Bronze medalist and attending one of nation's elite prep schools. He was deferred from MIT. It is brutally tough in Tier 1 in terms of pure merit.

    That was the reason why we went with Tier 2 for my D. She had the grades and test scores, is a very talented artist and had multiple years of research as a lab assistant. But she never got a publishable result out of the research (in large part because it is a multi-year research project). Without that tangible thing that the admissions staff can point at, it was too big of a risk. Now, it turns out that she really did love UChicago, and by the time of her applications, it was her #1 choice so she went in for ED without hesitation.

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    #246727 - 02/02/20 03:06 PM Re: College admissions over - Ask me anything [Re: mithawk]
    Portia Offline
    Member

    Registered: 03/17/13
    Posts: 1786
    Thank you very much for your insight.

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    #246728 - 02/03/20 04:24 AM Re: College admissions over - Ask me anything [Re: mithawk]
    mithawk Offline
    Member

    Registered: 11/25/11
    Posts: 243
    One clarification. I meant to say:

    Quote:
    I would also caution against applying for Tier 1 EARLY as an unhooked student ...

    Applying for Tier 1 for RD is fine of course.

    Another way of saying this is that it is very important to judge correctly what tier a student is, and apply to that tier for the early application(s).

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    #246729 - 02/03/20 04:22 PM Re: College admissions over - Ask me anything [Re: mithawk]
    Wren Offline
    Member

    Registered: 01/14/08
    Posts: 1553
    thanks.Very useful. But a technical question. I thought the Early Action were single choice? so did you DS apply EA to Princeton and then got a likely letter to Yale based on his RD app? Just trying to understand how that worked. I know you can get likely letters for athletics. But that is usually before EA.

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