Common College Admissions Questions: Common College Questions

Common College Questions from Applicants

What are some of the most common questions you receive from applicants/parents — and what are your answers to them?

We asked our panel to discuss common questions they receive from both parents and applicants — and how they respond to those questions.

Here are the answers to this question from each member of our panel:

Susan E. Donovan, Syracuse University

What SAT/ACT scores are required for admission? The answer to this question, of course, varies by college. At Syracuse University, we consider many factors in the admissions process. Criteria include the strength of the secondary school curriculum, performance, standardized tests, and preparation of the application, recommendations, talent and good citizenship. There are no specific scores required.

Is it easier or harder to be admitted through Early Decision? At Syracuse University, we use the same criteria for admission under Early Decision and Regular Decision.

Will applying for financial aid have impact on the admissions decision? Syracuse University is need-blind, which means that a student’s ability to pay for college is not considered at the point of admission.

Paul Thiboutot, Carleton College

How can I maximize my chances for admission? I have no good answer for this question. This is because all one needs to do is present oneself in a straightforward manner covering the material we request in our applications. There is no magic formula, nor a single item that will make or break a decision for admission. It is the consistent development of a curious mind over many years of secondary education, a willingness to challenge oneself in new endeavors both in academics and activities, and demonstration of some achievement in academic and non-academic pursuits that will be evaluated. Taking up the bagpipes in senior year or becoming a whirling dervish, while fascinating, would not guarantee admission or necessarily improve the chance for admission.

I scored about average on my SATs or ACTs, should I take them again to improve? Only if you like testing and wish to subsidize the growth of testing corporations. Testing is only one component among many that forms the evaluation of an applicant for admission. It is a far better use of time to read a good book, watch a good movie, or perfect that three point shot, then labor to improve your ability at filling in those little boxes on a Saturday morning if you did well already, even if not superbly.

Gary L. Ross, Colgate University

How can I best represent myself in the application process? One of the most important things to remember when filling out a college application is to remain genuine. Students who write about their interests and passions and speak about what most compels them come off as authentic and refreshing rather than artificial. Students who are honest about and yet proud of their accomplishments ultimately represent themselves well in an applicant pool. However, perhaps the most important piece of advice any college bound senior will receive is to make sure an application is complete. Different colleges often have slightly different requirements, so making sure that each application at each college is complete is crucial. Despite the best intentions of everyone involved, items get misplaced, lost, or overlooked. At some point, the responsibility is on the student to call or email the admission office and check to see if their application is complete — preferably before the application deadline! Many schools cannot make a decision on a student until an application is complete, and waiting until after the deadline to send in necessary materials will often put a student at a disadvantage.

What is the difference between Early Decision and Early Action or Early Admission, and what are the benefits of Early Decision? Early Decision and Early Action or Early Admission are all application options that provide a student early notification on an admission decision. Early Decision, however, as opposed to Early Action or Early Admission, is a binding commitment. If a student chooses to apply to a college Early Decision, they are signing a contract to withdraw applications from all other schools should they be accepted. Students cannot have more than one Early Decision application pending at any given time. Early Action or Early Admission is an option which offers early notification, but does not require any sort of commitment — it is offered by an assortment of schools across the country.

Early Decision’s primary benefit is the assurance of where one will enter in the fall early on in the college process. Students should not apply Early Decision to any school simply to play a numbers or admission game, but if they really feel comfortable at a particular school, and are happy there, Early Decision can remove a great deal of stress associated with multiple college applications. Further, colleges always enjoy seeing that they are the first choice for a particular applicant — and may take this into consideration throughout the Early Decision process.

Alicia Ortega, Oregon State University

Since I currently work for my alma mater, many parents and students ask me what my favorite thing is about my campus and why I chose to go there. I share that I created a list of what mattered most to me. I wanted a campus that was big but not too big, reasonably close to home, offered a variety of majors in areas that were interesting to me, was located in a smaller town where students had school spirit (I love college sports) and that the people be friendly. Sounds simple, but for me those qualities were important. OSU was a good fit for me but may not be what other students are looking for.

Other FAQs (frequently asked questions) depend quite a bit on the student I am working with. For many first generation college students, the questions tend to center around issues of cost, availability of support services and transition programs to help their family make the adjustment to the idea of college life. With high achieving students, I am asked more often about the level of challenge and rigor they will find in the classroom, as well as opportunities for research and scholarships. All students ask about the social life, especially important since my campus is located in a small college town! To answer these questions I am open and honest about what my campus may or may not offer and try to be knowledgeable on other colleges programs to make referrals when appropriate.

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