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The pressure of searching for the perfect college can be a daunting and stressful journey for any high school student; but it helps to know exactly what colleges are looking for in their future students. South Jersey Magazine caught up with the admissions departments at four close-to-home universities to get their input on what they’d like to see on prospective applications.
Academic standing is always a colossal factor admission officers have to consider. Dr. David Fedorchak, director of university admissions for Towson University in Maryland, says students’ cumulative GPA and test scores are their primary factors when looking at applications.
“This is the driving force in our decisions because academic preparation is the No. 1 priority and greatest indicator of success at the college level,” Fedorchak says. “We also look for rigor of courses and [see if] the student [is] appropriately challenging themselves with AP, IB, Honors [and other] courses.”
But when reviewing applications, Fedorchak says looking at prospective students’ writing skills via their submission essays and the number of hours of community service they have performed says a lot, too.
“Find something extraordinary in your ordinary,” Fedorchak instructs future applicants. “In other words, find something unique about yourself that no other student in your high school can say about themselves. … There is your essay topic.”
Fedorchak also urges applicants to follow Towson on social media. “You would be surprised at the information you gain about the application process, the college itself and your admissions counselors simply by ‘liking’ us,” he explains.
And while academics are the driving force to your acceptance, there are other factors of your application that are just as important. Dr. Douglas Zander, executive director of admissions for the University of Delaware, agrees with Fedorchak’s sentiment, but says their university looks for other ways applicants show they are interested in being a scholar.
“We want to see that they are open to new experiences and that they are open to being positive community members because we are a community,” Zander explains. “We are looking for evidence of good citizenship, evidence of a strong interest in being a scholar (their academic interests) and those kinds of things.”
Zander also adds that students need not worry about not knowing what they want to do in their professional lives—especially if that is holding back their applications. “It’s less important early on that a student know exactly what they want to major in and do with their life professionally because we expect they are going to develop some of that vision by virtue of coming in contact with different disciplines and different professionals and that sort of thing,” Zander says.
But the applicants who stand out from the crowd are usually those who are going above and beyond to give back to their communities.
“For traditional students, we look at the scope of their activities and their essays for examples of increasing responsibility. What was the impact of their participation?” asks Phyllis Micketti, director of applicant services at Rutgers University–New Brunswick. “Many students annually volunteer at a fundraiser walk or help at a soup kitchen [during] Thanksgiving, and those are positive activities. The student who rises above is the one who is at the soup kitchen weekly, or spends several months on the planning committee and is in charge of promotion or registration for the fundraiser.”
Academics are a strong suit and so is community service when it comes to your application, but the responsibilities in your personal life don’t go unnoticed by these admission officers.
“The level of commitment and responsibility, and how they meet challenges and overcome obstacles really differentiates students,” says Micketti. “We have applicants who are working full time to help support their families and amazingly also achieve strong grades and have leadership roles in other areas.”
Dr. Al Betts, director of admissions for Rowan University, says what is going to help applicants stand out is their leadership initiatives. “Outside of the classroom, we like to see indications of meaningful involvement and successful leadership experience,” says Betts. “It’s not so much how many clubs and organizations you have joined, but rather whether you have taken on a role that had some impact on an organization or team’s success in achieving its goals.”
But specifically, Betts says Rowan is looking for students who are going to benefit from all that the university has to offer while contributing to their student life community.
“Most importantly, we seek a diverse group of students who display the qualities and motivation, both in and out of the classroom, that are likely to lead to success at Rowan and eventual graduation,” explains Betts. “It’s not just challenging courses, good grades and high SATs. It’s also meaningful involvement outside the classroom, demonstrated leadership traits, defined personal goals and a realistic understanding of one’s own strengths and weaknesses.”
And another thing to remember, colleges want to hear from you—not mom and dad.
“The college application process is in many ways the first step toward becoming a young adult,” Betts explains. “Students need to take ownership of this process as much as possible. Your parents aren’t applying to a college, you are. It is always much more impressive to a college admissions counselor when an applicant has the maturity and confidence to handle asking and answering questions about admissions, scholarships, student life, etc. themselves.”
Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 6 (September, 2017).
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