A Summer Timeline for Starting Your College Applications

You’re about to finish a hectic junior year of working hard at school and participating in extracurricular activities—not to mention going on college visits, taking standardized tests, and possibly learning to drive! As your summer stretches before you, here are some ways to consider getting a jump start on your college applications so that you are in great shape for early and regular admission deadlines in the fall and winter.

June, July, and August

  • Continue to visit colleges. For an in-depth look at how to make the most out of your summer college visits, read our blog. Take copious notes and research your programs of interest. These noted details will come in handy when writing an academic “match” essay, which will be your persuasive argument about why you are a great “fit” for this school and academic program.
  • Prepare for standardized tests. If you plan on taking the ACT or SAT in the summer or fall to raise your scores, continue your test prep.
  • Research national and local scholarships. Create a list of deadlines and required materials, such as essays or recommendations. See our blog about the benefits of seeking local scholarships.
June 
  • Set up a Common Application account. Even though colleges do not release their supplemental questions until August 1, it is a good idea to set up your account in advance and familiarize yourself with the Common App platform. You can fill out your personal information and begin to create a college list. This information will be saved when account rollover occurs on August 1. Do not begin to answer any supplemental questions specific to a college, as this information will not be saved during account rollover.
  • Draft a College Resume. Not all colleges accept a resume on the Common Application, but it is still a great tool to have for college interviews and for applying to jobs and internships. Additionally, having a resume will also make it easier to complete the Common App Activity Sheet. In your resume, be sure to include high school honors and awards, as well as any summer courses that you have taken for credit or enrichment.
July 
  • Begin to brainstorm your Personal Essay topic and create an outline. Look at the personal essay prompts from the 2018-19 application cycle. These prompts tend to remain the same from year-to-year, with minor changes. You will use your personal essay for every application that you submit, so spend some time thinking about topics that really speak to how you would like to best present yourself.
  • Look at the supplemental essays previously required for your top schools. Check the Common App or a college’s website to see which supplemental essays were required by your top schools for early and regular admission during the previous application cycle. This will give you an idea of how to prepare for the types of essays that you will be asked to write. For example, the University of Michigan has previously required a supplemental match essay, activity essay, and community essay. Occasionally, colleges do change their essay requirements from year to year. Washington University in St. Louis has not required any supplemental essays in the past. However, beginning in the fall of 2019, WashU will now require a supplemental essay about an academic area of your choice. This essay will be used in considering all applicants for merit scholarships.
  • Begin to brainstorm your Activity Essay for use in a supplement. Narrow down which of your activities is most meaningful to you and create an outline with specific accomplishments and leadership moments. Describe why you love the activity and how it has impacted you.
  • Begin to brainstorm your College Match Essay for use in a supplement. One of the most common supplemental essays is the “match” essay, which asks why you want to attend the particular college; in other words, why is the college a good match, or fit, for you? Check the Common App to see if your top schools for early or regular admission had an academic “match” essay for the previous application cycle. If the college has had this type of essay in the past, outline a “match” essay for this school. Think about what you will bring to this institution and what this college will offer you in terms of academics, culture, and activities. Identify the specific features of this school (for example, urban setting, Greek life, strong athletic program/school spirit, or religious affiliation) and discuss why these factors appeal to you.

Research your field of academic interest at the school and mention specifics like courses offered, professors, research, and relate this to your plan for a major/minor and future career goals. Mention activities that you are involved in now, which you would like to continue, as well as new activities offered by the school that you would like to try. The more specific details that you use, the better! You are demonstrating your high level of interest by showing how much you have researched a particular school.

August 
  • Begin to fill out the Common Application. On August 1, the Common App “goes live,” which means that all information, including essays, is ready to be input. If you have not already done so, fill out your personal information and activity list. Complete the Common Application form by September 1.
  • Finalize your College Resume. Ask at least one person to look over your resume.
  • Complete your “core” essays. Draft, create multiple edits, and finalize your Personal Essay, Activity Essay, Community Essay, and College Match Essay (for a favorite college). Many of these core supplemental essays can be tweaked for various colleges.

Enjoy your summer! Completing your college applications in a timely manner can alleviate much of the stress caused by the college application process. Here at Collegiate Gateway, we are always happy to help!

Early Admissions Trends for the Class of 2023

As the pool of applicants increases and schools continue to expand admissions options, applying early has become a game of strategic calculations and daunting choices for students. This year alone, many schools saw sharp increases in early applications and most schools experienced a drop in admit rates.

By now, students have received their early admissions decisions and are either overjoyed by acceptance, disappointed with rejection, or stuck waiting with a deferral. Whatever your early admissions outcomes, it is important to have an open mind and to maintain faith in the process of finding your best-fit school. In this blog, we have put together an in-depth analysis of this year’s trends and statistics.

Overall Early Application Trends

It was another record-breaking year, as many schools, including Brown, Columbia, Dartmouth, Duke, Johns Hopkins, MITPennUVA, and Yale, received their highest number of early applications yet. This trend points to the pressure placed on students to demonstrate interest by applying early and hopefully benefit from slightly higher early admit rates (compared to regular admit rates).

Schools that saw a double-digit bump in early apps this year include Barnard (24%), Washington University in St. Louis (70%) Boston College (54%), Brown (21%), Connecticut College (25%-EDI), Duke (19%), Notre Dame (17%), NYU (41%-EDI) and UVA (17%). Rising applications have also led to dipping acceptance rates. Many schools accepted record-low rates of early applicants, including Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Penn, Princeton, and Yale.

WashingtonU’s dramatic 70% increase in early apps this year includes applications from both both ED1 and ED2 and the school filled 60% of the incoming class through early admissions. This was likely due to the fact that this was the first year that they offered an ED2 option.

Boston College’s exceptional increase of 54% early applications was likely due to a change in admissions policy whereby students could apply early action to BC, as well as early decision elsewhere. In the past, applicants applying early decision, could not apply early action to BC. Interestingly, Boston College recently announced that it is switching its early admissions program for the Class of 2024 from early action to early decision.

John Mahoney, BC’s vice provost for enrollment management, explained that the ease of applying to many colleges through the Common Application creates issues for admissions offices at highly-selective colleges where it becomes more difficult to evaluate the growing number of applications. According to Grant Gosselin, director of undergraduate admissions, “While the change will likely suppress overall application volume, it will help to improve selectivity and yield by enabling students to commit to BC through the two rounds of binding Early Decision.” Early Decision 1 will have an application deadline of November 1, with decision notification by December 15. Early Decision 2 will have a January 1 application deadline and February 15 notification date. These dates are consistent with most Early Decision and Early Action rounds.

On the other hand, Georgetown experienced a 7% decrease in early applications. The Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Charles Deacon says, “Fewer students applied to Georgetown this cycle due in part to pressures from peer schools to apply through binding early admission programs. These binding early admission programs, which stipulate that students must attend if admitted, benefit universities more than students.”

Georgetown will continue to stand by its nonbinding early action program. “It is reasonable for students with outstanding records to be able to get an early answer, but we also believe that a lot happens during the course of their senior year of high school, so our motto has been we want you to be as sure in May as you were in November,” Deacon said.

Many schools with Early Decision programs also continue to fill almost half or more of their incoming class from the early applicant pool, including Boston University (40%), Bowdoin (nearly 50%) Dartmouth (47.8%), Duke (51%), Middlebury (41%), Northwestern (53%), and Penn (53%). The binding Early Decisions admissions plan benefits accepted students, who know where they will attend by December; and benefits the colleges in terms of controlling their yield (number of admitted students who choose to enroll).

Public universities do not typically release their early application data, but US News notes that in general applications at top public universities are on the rise and, therefore, their acceptance rates are dropping. Affordability and quality may be attracting more and more students, and public institutions are marketing to high-performing applicants.

Overall Early Application Numbers

The following chart compares early admissions application numbers and acceptance rates for the class of 2023, 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, and 2018. As a refresher, early decision (ED) is binding and mandates enrollment, single choice early action (SCEA) is restrictive but allows the student to wait until May 1st to decide, and early action (EA) is unrestrictive and non-binding. Early decision is typically associated with higher acceptance rates because the school is guaranteed enrollment, which increases the yield factor, and results in a class comprised of students who have demonstrated a high degree of interest.

 

Early Admissions Statistics for a Sampling of Selective Colleges

 

School

Early Apps

Class of 2023

Early Apps

Class of 2022

Early Apps

Class of 2021

Early Apps

Class of 2020

Early Apps

Class of 2019

Early Apps

Class of 2018

% Increase in EA/ED Apps 2018-2023
Brown University (ED) 4,230 3,502 3,186 3,030 3,043 3,088 37%
Cornell University (ED) 6,159 6,319 5,384 4,882 4,560 4,775 29%
Dartmouth College (ED) 2,474 2,270 1,999 1,927 1,859 1,678 47.4%
Duke University (ED) 4,852 4,090 3,516 3,455 3,180 3,180 52.6%
Georgetown University (REA) 7,802 8,387 7,822 7,027 6,840 6,749 15.6%
Harvard University (SCEA) 6,958 6,630 6,473 6,173 5,919 4,692 48.3%
Johns Hopkins University (ED) 2,068 2,037 1,934 1,929 1,865 1,595 29.6%
Middlebury College (ED) 654 650 673 636 667 686 -4.6%
MIT (EA) 9,600 9,557 8,394 7,767 6,519 6,820 40.8%
Northwestern University (ED) 4,399 4,058 3,736 3,022 2,793 2,863 53.6%
Princeton University (SCEA) 5,335 5,402 5,003 4,229 3,850 3,854 38.4%
Stanford University (REA) n/a n/a n/a 7,822 7,297 6,948 12.5% since 2016
University of Notre Dame (REA) 7,334 6,598 6,020 5,321 4,700* 6,551 56% since REA began in 2015
University of Pennsylvania (ED) 7,110 7,074 6,147 5,762 5,489 5,149 38.1%
Williams College (ED) n/a n/a 728 585 593 554 31.4% since 2017
Yale University (SCEA) 6,016 5,733 5,086 4,662 4,693 4,750 26.6%

*Notre Dame changed its early admissions program from Early Action to Restrictive Early Action in 2015.

*Stanford last released early admissions stats in 2016. As of the fall 2018, Stanford will no longer publish any admissions data.

*As of 2017, Williams ceased releasing their early decision stats.

 

School Acceptance Rate, Class of 2023 Acceptance Rate, Class of 2022 Acceptance Rate, Class of 2021 Acceptance Rate, Class of 2020 Acceptance Rate, Class of 2019 Acceptance Rate, Class of 2018

Percent Point (PP) Difference in EA/ED Acceptance Rate

2018-2023

Brown University (ED) 18.2% 21.1% 21.9% 22% 20.3% 18.8% -0.6 pp
Cornell University (ED) 22.6% 24.4% 25.8% 27.4% 26.1% 27.7% -5.1 pp
Dartmouth College (ED) 23.2% 24.9% 27.8% 26% 26% 27.9% -4.7 pp
Duke University (ED) 18% 21.4% 24.5% 23.5% 26% 25% -7 pp
Georgetown University (REA) 11.8% 11.9% 11.9% 13% 13% 14% -2.2 pp
Harvard University (SCEA) 13.4% 14.5% 14.5% 14.8% 16.5% 21.1% -7.7 pp
Johns Hopkins University (ED) 31% 29.9% 30.5% 30.3% 28.9% 33% -2 pp
Middlebury College (ED) 45.4% 50.1% 51% 53.1% 42% 41.8% 3.6 pp
MIT (EA) 7.4% 6.9% 7.8% 8.4% 9.6% 9% -1.6 pp
Northwestern University (ED) 25% 26.5% 26% 35% 36.2% 32.3% -7.3 pp
Princeton University (SCEA) 13.9% 14.7% 15.4% 18.5% 19.9% 18.5% -4.6 pp
Stanford University (REA) n/a n/a n/a 9.5% 10.2% 10.8%

-1.3 pp

since 2016

University of Notre Dame (REA) 20.1% 24.8% 24.4% 30.2% 29.8%* 29.9% -9.7 pp since REA began in 2015
University of Pennsylvania (ED) 18% 18.5% 22% 23.2% 24% 25.2% -7.2 pp
Williams College (ED) n/a n/a 35% 42% 41% 42.8% -7.8 pp since 2017
Yale University (SCEA) 13.2% 14.7% 17.1% 17% 16% 15.5% -2.3 pp

*Notre Dame changed its early admissions program from Early Action to Restrictive Early Action in 2015.

*Stanford last released early admissions stats in 2016. As of the fall 2018, Stanford will no longer publish any admissions data.

*As of 2017, Williams ceased releasing their early decision stats.

Deferral Stats

Deferral rates are not as widely published as acceptance rates. However, available information shows that many schools defer more than half of their early applicant pool to the regular admissions round.

Notable exceptions include Duke, Middlebury, Northwestern, Notre Dame, and Stanford, who deny most applicants who are not accepted in the early round. For these schools, deferral is used to indicate that your application is competitive and will be given serious consideration in the regular admissions process.

Some schools, like the University of Michigan, use large numbers of deferrals to control class size as they have continued to receive increasingly large early applicant pools. Some colleges defer especially strong candidates who may view the college as a “safe” school, wait to see if the student withdraws the application based on acceptance by more selective colleges, and then may accept the student late-January through March.

For deferred students, there are several steps you can take to increase your chances of admission in Regular Decision, including re-visiting, arranging for an additional letter of recommendation from a 12th grade teacher, and sending a follow-up letter with updates. Above all, stay positive, and continue to do your best academically.

Percent of Early Apps Deferred for Recent Classes

School Early Apps Deferred for Class of 2023 Early Apps Deferred for Class of 2022 Early Apps Deferred for Class of 2021 Early Apps Deferred for Class of 2020 Early Apps Deferred for Class of 2019 Early Apps Deferred for Class of 2018
Brown University (ED) n/a n/a 60% 63% 65% n/a
Cornell University (ED) 24.3% n/a 20.9% 23.6% 20% n/a
Duke University (ED) 18.6% 21.5% 20% 19% 19% 22%
Georgetown University (REA) 88.2%* 88.1%* 88.1%* 87% 87% 86%
Harvard University (SCEA) n/a 72.7% n/a 75.7% 72.5% 68%
Middlebury College (ED) 12.4% 6% 9% 11.6% 12% 14%
MIT (EA) 64.4% 65% 69.7% 61.5% 68.4% 66.5%
Princeton University (SCEA) n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a 78.9%
Stanford University (REA) n/a n/a n/a 9% 7.7% 8.5%
University of Notre Dame (REA) 19% n/a 14.8% 15.4% 17% 13.7%
Yale University (SCEA) 56% 55% 53% 53% 57% 58%

*Georgetown defers all students who are not accepted early action.

*Stanford last released early admissions stats in 2016. As of the fall 2018, Stanford will no longer publish any admissions data.

Testing

There is a trend towards more standardized testing flexibility in college admissions. More small liberal arts colleges have become test-optional, and more schools, such as Penn, now super-score the ACT/SAT. Additionally, fewer colleges are requiring Subject Tests. Over 1,000 colleges and universities have decided that standardized test scores are not as predictive of academic success in college as the day-to-day academic performance reflected by a high school GPA. Current test-optional colleges include Wake ForestSmith, and Bowdoin.

Several others, including NYUMiddlebury, and Hamilton fall under the category of “test-flexible,” meaning that applicants have the option to submit alternative college entrance examinations, such as SAT Subject, Advanced Placement, and International Baccalaureate examinations in place of SAT and ACT scores.

On June 14, 2018, the University of Chicago launched its UChicago Empower Initiative, which included a test-optional policy in the hopes of increasing accessibility for first-generation and low-income applicants. The University of Chicago joins a small group of highly-selective national universities, with test-optional or test-flexible policies, which includes Wake Forest, University of Rochester, Brandeis, and NYU.

Finally, more colleges are allowing students to self-report testing, only requiring them to send their testing to the school they commit to. For more information about current trends in test-optional and test-flexible policies, read our blog.

Increased Diversity Continues to be a Priority

Many of the most selective colleges continue to use early admissions for the big “hooks”:  underrepresented minorities, lower socioeconomic, first-generation, and international students, as well as recruited athletes, and legacies. Schools with a high percentage of students who self-identify as students of color include Brown (44%), Cornell (39.8%), Dartmouth (33%), Duke (46%), Harvard (50%), Princeton (50%), and Penn (48%). 54% of Northwestern’s early admits are underrepresented minorities or international students.

Legacy is another major factor, and schools accepting large numbers of early applicants with a family history of attending the school include Cornell (21.1%), Dartmouth (20%), Princeton (15%), and Penn (23%). In the Ivy League, Penn has the highest rate of legacy acceptances, and recently the Daily Pennsylvanian wrote an article exploring the benefits and drawbacks of this policy.

International early admits continues to grow, despite the political climate in the United States. Universities with high international early acceptances include Cornell (12.3%), Dartmouth (11%), Harvard (11%), Princeton (10%), and Penn (13%).

Harvard admitted more women this year through early admissions (51.3%) versus last year (47.2%). Of these female admits, high percentages indicated interest in majoring in computer science or physical sciences.

If you applied early to a highly selective college and do not fall into one of these categories, consider the even higher odds that you are up against in seeking early admission.

Notable Moments in Early Admissions for the Class of 2023

  • Harvard has been in the news for a lawsuit which alleges that it unfairly discriminates against Asian-American applications and sets racial caps.
  • Alumnus Michael Bloomberg donated $1.8 billion to Johns Hopkins University, which is the largest gift ever given to a U.S. college or university. This fall, Johns Hopkins announced that it will use the gift to provide more comprehensive financial aid packages for undergraduates, including eliminating loans for domestic students.
  • In the fall of 2018, Stanford announced that itwill no longer publish any admissions data, in an effort to de-emphasize admissions rates at U.S. colleges and universities. In the fall of 2016, Stanford filled 35% of the class of 2021 from the early applicant pool.

Deciding whether and where to apply early can be daunting, but here at Collegiate Gateway we are happy to help you decipher your options and understand the changing landscape of early admissions. Please feel free to contact us!

 

Who Benefits From Early Decision?

Early Decision is a relatively new phenomenon in the college admissions landscape. But in the few decades since its inception, it’s become such a prominent feature of college admissions that many colleges fill up to half their freshman class through Early Decision applications. There is much controversy surrounding its impact on students and families because it tends to advantage affluent students who attend top secondary schools. This blog explores who stands to benefit from Early Decision, and how it affects the constituent groups of students, families, high schools, and colleges.

Historical Background

In the early centuries of college admissions, say from 1636 through the 1950s, all students applied through a Regular Admissions process, in which the deadline typically was January 1, and students received notification decisions by mid-April. But that all changed in the 1950s when a group of five smaller colleges that dubbed themselves the “Pentagonals” – Amherst, Bowdoin, Dartmouth, Wesleyan, and Williams – decided to offer a binding Early Decision option in order to grab top students before they applied to Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.

As Early Decision became an increasingly popular option—and admissions became increasingly competitive—students felt increasing pressure to apply early, in order to maximize their chances of admission. In 2004, Yale and Stanford switched from ED to SCEA in order to decrease the stress on students. The non-binding option, they argued, would alleviate the additional pressure students face in having to commit before they’re fully ready.

Objections to Early Admissions, however, soon took on an additional dimension. In 2006, Harvard, Princeton, and UVA made the bold move to no longer offer any kind of early admissions program because of research suggesting that such programs disadvantage students from lower socioeconomic groups for a variety of reasons. These families needed to compare financial aid offers from more than one college, and often students in under-resourced high schools were not made aware of early admissions options, often missing out altogether.

Harvard, Princeton, and UVA hoped to serve as role models, and expected that other colleges would follow suit. While other colleges, such as Stanford, publicly supported their new policy, no colleges followed. This strategically disadvantaged Harvard, Princeton, and UVA, since other colleges could now grab top students through binding early programs, and within several years, all three resumed an early admissions program, with Harvard and Princeton offering SCEA, and UVA offering EA.

In fact, more and more colleges are now offering binding ED plans. In 2016, University of Chicago, Haverford, Wake Forest, and Wellesley added ED plans; and Tulane replaced its SCEA with ED. Very few of the most selective private colleges in the country now offer a non-restrictive early admissions option; these include Georgetown and MIT.

Impact of Early Decisions on Regular Decisions

37 colleges are now filling at least 40% of their incoming freshman class through Early Decision, as we discuss in our blog on trends in the Early Admissions process. This leaves significantly fewer spots for the vastly greater numbers of students who apply through Regular Decision. For example, at the University of Pennsylvania, 7,110 ED applications were submitted for the Class of 2023, and 18% were accepted, filling about 53% of Penn’s incoming freshman class. That means that the significantly larger regular pool must compete for the remaining spots. For the Class of 2022, 44,482 students applied in Regular Decision, and only 8.4% were admitted.

These numbers can affect the quality of review of an applicant’s file. On the one hand, admissions officers have about twice as much time to review applications in the Regular Round, as they typically have three months for RD applications, from January 1 through April 1, and 1 ½ months for ED applications, from November 1 – December 15. But if the admissions staff receive a whopping 5x as many RD applications, as in Penn’s case, the review process will be much more compressed, and students who have a unique story to tell may not receive the same quality of consideration.

Who Benefits from Early Decision?

Students

  • Students from families who do not need to compare financial aid packages
  • Strong academic students who have sufficiently compelling GPAs by the end of junior year and test scores by October of senior year, and who do not need further testing or 1stsemester grades to bolster their candidacy
  • Students from top high schools with sufficient resources to provide individualized guidance in educating students about the benefits of early decision
  • Students from educated parents who are familiar with early decision options
  • Students who have private test prep tutors who advise them to take standardized tests in junior year so that they will have scores in time to submit for early deadlines

High Schools

  • Top high schools whose students take advantage of early decision to selective colleges; and who consequently are admitted at higher rates. High schools publicize their college acceptance and matriculation outcomes, and successful outcomes makes the school district more desirable for families who value education, increases property values, and draws new residents.

Colleges

  • Colleges who value students’ demonstrated interest. ED is often used by small to medium sized colleges who want to build a tight-knit community of students who are especially loyal to the school.

How Do Students Benefit?

  • Great acceptance rate. Simply put, students are more likely to be accepted. Typically the acceptance rate is higher for students who apply through a restrictive early program, such as ED or SCEA, because the applicants are demonstrating a strong degree of interest in attending the college. A landmark study conducted in 2001 by Christopher Avery, of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, along with colleagues, found that applying ED provided the advantage of an additional 100 points on the SAT.
  • A more relaxed senior year. Students know where they will be attending by December 15. This eliminates the stress of waiting to find out where they have been accepted, enables the seniors to have a relaxed second semester, and provides them with a longer time in which to plan for the start of college.
  • Access to scholarships. Many merit scholarships are open only to students who apply by fall deadlines.
  • Access to interviews. Some colleges, such as MIT, only offer interviews to students who apply by fall deadlines.

How Do Colleges Benefit?

Early Decision plans benefit the college in numerous ways:

  • The accepted students are more devoted and loyal to the college; they will be stronger spokespeople for the college, and their positive feelings will affect other students
  • As alums, the graduates will likely donate more money because the college was a top choice, and that college accepted them in the early round
  • The colleges’ “yield” (the percentage of accepted students who choose to attend) will increase, which increases predictability in calculating the freshman year
  • With increased yield, US News & World Report’s rankings increase

Who is Disadvantaged by Early Decision?

Students

  • Students from families who need to compare financial aid packages
  • Students from large public high schools with over-burdened guidance counselors who do not have the resources to educate students about the benefits of early decision
  • First-generation students whose parents may not speak English, may not be as actively involved in the high school, and may not be as aware of all the options of admissions plans
  • Students who do not have the financial resources for private test preparation, and are not knowledgeable about the timeline required to obtain scores in time for early deadlines

High Schools

  • Under-resourced high schools whose students do not take advantage of ED options, and have a lower chance of acceptance through RD

Colleges

  • Colleges who philosophically oppose ED, such as Catholic colleges, and may lose out on top students who would rather have the certainty of an ED acceptance.

Solutions

White House Report in 2014 cited that “While half of all people from high-income families have a bachelor’s degree by age 25, just 1 in 10 people from low-income families do,” concluding that “college access and attainment remains unequal.” It is widely acknowledged that early admissions policies reward the affluent and penalize the poor. Yet it is strategically challenging to address this issue at the level of college institutions, due to the zero- sum-game element in which a small number of colleges with a steady number of slots compete for an ever-growing number of talented applicants.

The issue may be most effectively addressed by individuals and organizations that provide outreach to lower-income students. Former NYC Schools Chancellor Harold O. Levy is now Executive Director of the Cooke Foundation, whose mission is to award scholarships to high-potential students with financial need. He is an ardent advocate for the end of early admissions, and argues that not only do such policies disadvantage low-income students, but that “our nation is being deprived of the talents of young people who could go on to become doctors, scientists, entrepreneurs, teachers and government leaders — and who could fill many other vital jobs if only they had the chance to get a college education.”

For guidance on the college admissions process, contact Collegiate Gateway. As always, we’re happy to help!

The Role of Grades in College Admissions

Your grades throughout high school remain the most important factor in college admissions.  While colleges also look carefully at your standardized test scores, essays, recommendations, and other personal factors, they view your grades as the strongest predictor of your academic success in college. This blog explains how colleges view your grades and curriculum in the overall admissions process.

Grades are #1

81% of colleges surveyed by NACAC (National Association of College Admissions Counselors) give considerable importance to both grades in college prep courses and grades in all your courses. The chart below shows the percentage of colleges attributing different levels of importance to various admissions factors:

 Why Do Grades Matter?

 Admissions officers consistently say that your day-in-day-out grades are the best predictor of your academic performance in college.  Research shows a strong correlation between high school grades and not only academic performance in college, but retention and graduate rates as well.

While standardized test scores still play an important role, admissions staff recognize that your one-day test score may be impacted by a variety of factors such as test anxiety, inadequate sleep, lack of exposure to test-taking strategies, and test center distractions. But your grades show whether you have demonstrated persistence and focus on academic performance throughout your high school years.

Which Grades Matter?

The trend in your grades is important as well.  Often students take time to adjust to the greater freedom and responsibility of high school, and this is reflected in weaker grades during freshman year. Some colleges, such as Stanford University, explicitly state that they do not place importance on 9th grade grades. “We will focus our evaluation on your coursework and performance in 10th, 11th and 12th grades, primarily in the core academic subjects of English, mathematics, science, foreign language and history/social studies.”

All colleges place more emphasis on your grades in junior and senior year.  Your junior year grades are included on your official transcript, and colleges see your first-semester senior year grades in the Mid-Year Report (which is required by all colleges). And colleges also require your final report card for senior year, and occasionally rescind their acceptance offer if your grades significantly drop.

In addition, if you are applying to a specialized field, your grades in certain courses will receive more attention.  For example, for business or engineering programs, your math grades are particularly important.  For nursing, your science grades will be looked at closely.

How Important is the Rigor of Your Curriculum?

The strength of your curriculum plays an equally important role. Rigorous courses include accelerated, honors, AP (Advanced Placement), IB (International Baccalaureate), and dual-enrollment courses (in which you receive college credit as well). Admissions officers encourage students to take the most challenging curriculum that they can reasonably manage. Williams College advises, “Applicants to Williams should pursue the strongest program of study offered by their secondary schools.”

Students who are especially ambitious and talented sometimes choose to take courses beyond what is offered at their high school at local colleges or online; one of the most common is Multi-Variable Calculus, which is the next course in the math sequence after AP Calculus BC, and rarely offered in secondary schools. So if you are planning to major in a math-based field, such as engineering or physics, and you complete AP Calculus in junior year, your candidacy would be enhanced by taking Multi-Variable Calculus in senior year, in a local college or an online course.  Similarly, students interested in pursuing art in college often take specialized art courses in their community if their high school has a limited selection.

For admission to the most selective colleges in the US, competitive students typically take courses to the end of the sequence in four or five of the core curriculum subjects of English, history, language, math, and science.  The “end of the sequence” would be defined as an AP-level course or a High-Level IB course.

If a student has a particular interest in one of the core subjects and is planning to major in that area, a competitive curriculum might include high-level courses in four of the five core areas, with a doubling-up in the student’s area of interest. For example, a future history major might take AP Government, AP Economics, AP Calculus (AB or BC), and AP science, and not take a high-level language course.

Trends in Admissions Factors

Over the past decade, grades in college prep courses has remained the top factor, and over the past few years, grades in all courses has become an equally important factor.  The next most important factor is the strength of the curriculum.This year, strength of curriculum is viewed as more important than standardized testing. The chart below shows trends over the past decade.

How Do Admissions Officers View Your Transcript?

 Admissions staff always view your transcript within the context of your high school. Colleges recognize that schools vary greatly. As Northwestern states, “Every secondary school is different in its level of competitiveness and in the range of courses offered. These factors are also considered when admission decisions are rendered.”

In addition to evaluating your school’s transcript, colleges typically recalculate your GPA using a standard formula, so that they can compare students from different schools with different GPA scales.  Usually, colleges will use a 4.0 scale, where A+ and A = 4.0, B+ = 3.7, B- = 3.3, B = 3.0, and so on.

Action Plan

We recommend that you develop a preliminary plan of courses when you begin high school as a freshman. You can then re-evaluate your plan each year, based on your academic performance, your interests, your college goals, and your commitments to extracurricular activities. Your coursework should be your top priority in high school, and at the same time try to live a balanced life with sufficient time for activities, family, friends, and sleep!

There are many ways that you can reach your potential with your academic performance.  Most importantly, engage in your courses. Keep up with homework, try to review your notes regularly, and don’t wait until the last minute to study for tests or write your papers.  If you need help, see your teacher, work with other students, and use review books.

The college admissions process is complex, and success requires thoughtful planning from the start of high school. Feel free to contact us at www.collegiategateway.com. As always, we’re happy to help!

The Clinical Years of Med School: What to Expect

Once medical students complete their time in the classroom, they move on to what many consider to be the real reason they went to med school in the first place: treating patients. This transition usually occurs during the second or third year depending on the length of a school’s pre-clinical curriculum, and is comprised of clerkships, selectives, electives, sub-internships, away rotations, and various other scholarly pursuits. If you are considering medical school, here is an overview of the opportunities and experiences during these clinical years.

Clerkships, Selectives and Electives

The core clerkships beginning in the second or third year of medical school are mandatory for all students. They typically include rotations through some variation of the following: neurology, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, psychiatry and surgery. Each core clerkship lasts several weeks, with many schools also mandating a certain number of selectives interspersed throughout.

A selective will be in a more specialized area as compared to the more general core clerkships. Georgetown University School of Medicine offers a multitude of selectives ranging from anesthesia to child psychiatry. Schools also require a certain amount of elective time, which can span a variety of areas. Thus, even in the universal core clerkships, there is still substantial room for personalization during the clinical years.

Sub-Internships

During a sub-internship, the medical student assumes even more responsibility than he or she would during a clerkship or elective. According to Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine, the level of clinical responsibility expected during a sub-internship is comparable to that of an intern (someone who already graduated medical school). Students typically choose their sub-internship in an area that they are considering applying to for residency.

Away Rotations

Away rotations provide a unique opportunity for fourth year medical students to explore residency opportunities at other institutions. To streamline the process of applying, there is a universal application through the AAMC, known as VSAS. However, policies vary by school so it is important to carefully research the specific program you are planning on applying to. Pritzker School of Medicine explains that some specialties, such as dermatology and emergency medicine, essentially require students to complete away rotations before applying for residency.

Other Opportunities

There are a number of additional opportunities available to medical students during their clinical years. Many schools offer a focused, in-depth experience in a specific area of interest. Several medical programs, such as Weill Cornell Medical College, Alpert Medical School, and Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons offer a scholarly concentration program, which allows students to participate in an in-depth study of a particular area of medical practice or research under the mentorship of faculty. Certain schools, such as Duke University School of Medicine, dedicate an entire year to scholarly research.

Another important element of these years is dedicating sufficient time to prepare for the United States Medical Licensing Examinations (USMLE) Step 1 and Step 2. However, it should be noted that the timing of these exams varies widely among different medical schools.

The clinical years of medical school are fundamental in shaping students’ future paths. During this time, students gain in-depth clinical experience while pursuing scholarly endeavors and delving deeper into their individual interests. It is essential to carefully compare the curricula of various medical schools so that you ultimately attend one that is compatible with your future goals.

For guidance on navigating the medical school application process, feel free to contact us. As always at Collegiate Gateway, we’re happy to help!

Applying to Med School: The Importance of Secondary Applications

If you are applying to medical school for the Class of 2023, chances are you have completed your AMCAS Personal Statement, and are in the final stages of perfecting a powerful discussion of why you want to become a physician.

Take a breath… and then begin to prepare for individual medical school’s secondary applications! The purpose of secondary (or supplemental) applications is to further differentiate among candidates, and to determine whether you’d be a good fit for the particular medical school.

Who Receives Secondaries

Most schools, such as Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, Yale School of Medicine and the University of Michigan Medical School, send all of their applicants a secondary. Some schools, such as Harvard Medical School and the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, send all “verified” applicants a secondary, meaning that they wait until AMCAS verifies the student’s transcript.

Others review the primary AMCAS application holistically, and are selective in determining who receives supplemental applications, such as Emory School of Medicine. For example, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine has three independent evaluators review the AMCAS application for academic accomplishment, motivation, personal qualities, leadership skills and educational background, and offers secondaries to only about one-third of its applicants.

A few others have no secondaries, such as University of Rochester.

The Timing of Secondaries

Try to submit your primary AMCAS application as close as possible to the first week in June, which is when the AMCAS application submission typically begins, and certainly by the end of June. The sooner you submit, the sooner your application will be reviewed.

You can expect to receive secondaries from late June through December. You may even receive secondaries before your AMCAS application is verified. If you submit your primary AMCAS application in June, you will likely be completing your secondaries in July and August. Secondary applications are time sensitive, in that the faster you return them to the institution, the more strongly you convey your enthusiasm for that school. A quality secondary application submitted within one to two weeks will increase your likelihood of getting an interview.

Secondary Essay Prompts

Once you submit your primary AMCAS, you can begin preparing for secondaries, which typically include a variety of essays on assigned topics, such as the following:

  • Define a physician.
  • Tell us about your diverse talents, experiences, opinions, and backgrounds. What would you bring to the medical school community?
  • Why do you feel that you are a good fit for our particular medical school?
  • Are you expecting to go on to medical school directly after completing your undergraduate degree? If no, explain.
  • Describe the personal accomplishment that makes you most proud. Why is this important to you?
  • Where do you see your future medical career (academic medicine, research, public health, primary care, business/law, etc.) and why?
  • Please describe a challenge you faced and how you addressed it.
Unusual prompts

While there is great overlap among many of the secondary prompts, some medical schools offer unusual prompts such as those below:

  • What challenges do you expect to arise from living and working in a complex urban environment? How will you meet them?
  • Are there any areas of medicine that are of particular interest to you? If so, please comment.
  • Write a sentence that is not true, then tell us why you wish it were.
  • What is the most fun you’ve had lately?

Secondary Application Tips

Start brainstorming, outlining and drafting the above essays so that you can respond quickly. Here are some tips for writing the most effective secondaries:

  • Provide new information. Remember that the admissions committees have already seen your transcript, primary AMCAS personal statement and activity essays.
  • Show your fit with the program. Make a compelling case for why you are a good fit for each medical school. Research the school’s academic programs and approach to clinical practice. Follow them on social media to learn more. Does the school require research or a thesis? Be specific about the resources at the medical school that you will take advantage of, and the unique strengths you will bring.
  • Answer the prompt. Though it is sometimes effective to recycle other essays (see below), always make sure you’re answering the question fully and directly.
  • Connect your past, present and future. How have your past experiences influenced the person you are today? How do your future goals link with your talents, accomplishments and values?
  • Proofread and edit. Carve out enough time in your schedule to edit several drafts for each essay. It takes time to ensure that your essays are well-written and represent you both strongly and authentically.
  • Stay organized. Create a spreadsheet listing your medical schools, dates that you received and submitted secondaries, secondary essay topics, and dates of interviews.
  • Take advantage of overlaps. Evaluate the various secondary essay prompts of your medical schools to see if there are any commonalities. Adapt essays for additional medical schools, but only if appropriate.

Applying to medical school is a challenging process, and the secondaries are no exception. For more information and guidance, contact Collegiate Gateway – we’re always happy to help.

The MCAT: An Overview

In April 2015, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) officially launched a new version of the MCAT, the MCAT15. According to the AAMC, the test was changed “to help better prepare tomorrow’s doctors for the rapidly advancing and transforming health care system.” The MCAT is now double in length, includes a fourth section on the social sciences, and has a revamped scoring system. Medical schools vary in their policy about whether they will still accept the old MCAT for the 2019 application cycle.

Before we provide you with a detailed look at the test, it’s important to keep in mind that the MCAT is just one of various factors used by medical schools. The evaluation process also reviews college grades, trends in grades, extracurricular activities, and medically-related experiences such as research, shadowing, and clinical work.

Test Structure 

The current MCAT consists of 230 questions over 6 hours and 15 minutes—double the length of the previous version of the test.

The first three sections of the MCAT are organized around “big ideas” in the sciences. According to the AAMC, these sections “reflect current research about the most effective ways for students to learn and use science, emphasizing deep knowledge of the most important scientific concepts over knowledge simply of many discrete facts.”

The MCAT will also test additional skills, including research design, graphical analysis and data interpretation. Kaplan claims that the “passages will be restructured to test all of the natural sciences within biological systems,” giving the test a more medical focus by showing the application of the sciences to medicine.

The newest section, added during the 2015 revamp, is “Psychological, Social, and Behavioral Foundations of Behavior,” which comprises 25% of the test and recognizes the role of social science in treating patients effectively. Catherine Lucey, a member of the MCAT review committee and vice dean of the UC San Francisco School of Medicine, observed:

“One hundred years ago, all you really needed to know was the science. We were all looking for the magic bullet that would cure disease. Now we have problems like obesity and diabetes that require doctors to form therapeutic alliances with patients and convince them to change their lifestyle.”

Ripal Shah, an MCAT test prep tutor for Advantage Testing, agrees that training in the social sciences is beneficial for a career in medicine, because “many studies have shown that communication skills are often the most indicative of patient satisfaction and medication compliance.”

The US News blog, “Medical School Admissions Doctor,” estimates that the vast amount of information covered on the MCAT requires significantly more than standard medical school prerequisites:

  • One year of biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics
  • One semester of biochemistry, psychology, and sociology
  • A year of humanities (recommended)

MCAT Test Dates and Centers

The MCAT is offered 30 times throughout the year, from January through September, with scores released five weeks after administration. You can find a local test center here.

MCAT Score Scale

Each of the four sections will be scored individually, from 118 to 132, with a midpoint of 125. Scores are combined to create a total score ranging from 472 to 528, with a midpoint of 500. The test is not graded on a curve, and there is no penalty for wrong answers.

Below is the expected distribution of total scores for the MCAT taken between May 1, 2018 and April 30, 2019.

The score reports provide details on your test performance, and combines MCAT scores, percentile ranks, confidence bands, and score profiles. See the sample score report below.

 

What Are Percentile Ranks?

Percentile ranks are included so examinees can compare their performance to others who took the new exam. Percentile ranks are updated May 1 of every year. This info has been particularly useful to med schools in the first 3 years after the new MCAT was implemented, before sufficient historical data was available to evaluate applicant’s scores.

Importantly, on May 1, 2019, the percentile ranks will be based on the MCATs from the entire four preceding years; having this history will provide much more useful information to both students and med schools.

Below is a chart outlining the percentile ranks in effect from May 1, 2018 to April 30, 2019:

What Are Confidence Bands?

Confidence bands show the ranges of scores an examinee could expect on another MCAT attempt. Score profiles provide information about applicants’ strengths and weaknesses across the four sections of the exam. According to the AAMC, “non-overlapping confidence bands show a test taker’s likely strengths and weaknesses. Overlapping confidence bands suggest that there are not meaningful differences in performance between sections.” For instance, in the example above, the student would have strengths in the BBFL and PSBB areas, and relative weaknesses in the CPBS and CARS areas, but would have comparable strengths between BBFL and PSBB; and between CPBS and CARS.

Note that the confidence bands for each of the four section scores are two points, whereas the confidence band for the overall total is four points. So if your total score is 501, and you retake the MCAT, you have a reasonable chance of scoring anywhere from 499 – 503.

Average MCAT Scores for Selected Medical Schools

Below are the median new MCAT scores and GPAs for accepted students at a variety of medical schools.

Medical School US News Rank MEDIAN
GPA
MEDIAN NEW MCAT SCORE
Columbia 6 3.87 519
Drexel 83 3.73 511
Emory 23 3.79 515
Georgetown 45 3.74 512
Harvard 1 3.92 518
NYU 12 3.9 520
Stanford 2 3.89 518
Temple 55 3.79 512
Washington Univ 7 3.89 521
Univ of Miami 48 3.8 513

Applying to medical school is a long and challenging process. For more information or guidance regarding the MCAT, or any other aspect of the admissions process, contact Collegiate Gateway – we’re always happy to help.

Summer Activities for Pre-Med Students

You’ve decided you want to go into medicine, and to embark upon the arduous path to becoming a physician. You’re busy studying for biology exams, conducting experiments in chemistry lab, trying to squeeze in some volunteering and (if you’re really ambitious) conducting a bit of research. Now, January rolls around and it’s time to start thinking about the summer. Regardless of how far along you are in your undergraduate pre-med training, carefully choosing your summer plans is essential.

Summer provides an excellent time to further explore the areas of clinical medicine, research, or global health, while also enhancing your medical school application. In fact, according to Liza Thompson, a medical school admissions consultant, “pre-med students who are productively engaged during the summer months have an advantage during the medical school application process.”

It is essential to dedicate sufficient time, often during the summer, to study for the MCAT, take classes if needed, and prepare your medical school application by writing your personal statement and brainstorming for secondary applications. However, many experts including the Princeton Review stress the importance of expanding your learning beyond the classroom setting.

Clinical Experience

Clinical experience will enable you to directly observe the patient-physician relationship. The importance of clinical experience cannot be stressed enough; in fact, Emory University School of Medicine lists “exposure to patients in a clinical setting” as one of its application requirements. This can take a variety of forms, including shadowing a family member or friend who is in the medical profession or participating in a more formalized summer program.

Some of the more structured programs can be very demanding, but the rewards are quite evident. For example, Project Healthcare created by the Bellevue Hospital Center Emergency Department is an immersive program involving participation in clinical rotations, research and informational lectures, as well as extensive engagement with the community. If you’re hoping to make money while gaining clinical experience, certain jobs, such as a hospital scribe, may be of particular interest.

Research

Doing research is another ideal summer activity, as pre-med students can often continue research already started during the school-year or pursue an entirely new area of interest. There are a multitude of structured summer research programs at various institutions across the nation. A comprehensive list by the AAMC can be found here.

Similar to clinical experience, research experience is yet another critical element of the typical medical school application. Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine reports that 92% of their entering class of 2022 engaged in research at the undergraduate or graduate level.

Volunteer Work

Summer volunteering can allow you to continue pursuing an existent volunteer placement from the school-year or an entirely new volunteering experience. US News stresses the importance of carefully considering the nature of the volunteering, as well as how long you’re doing it. It may be most beneficial to volunteer in a medical setting, such as a nursing home, where you can continue to gain relevant experience.

Any sort of volunteering is certainly valuable as it reflects an innate desire to help others: a trait that every pre-med student should possess. Some students choose to engage in more extensive types of volunteering, such as obtaining an EMT certification or volunteering overseas. Volunteering internationally can be particularly valuable for pre-med students, as many are not able to study abroad during the school-year due to course requirements.

With any volunteering experience, you must carefully assess how meaningful your actual involvement in the activity will be. To start, it can be helpful to explore global health organizations that may have chapters at your university, such as GlobeMed or Medical Brigades.

Additional Options

Although these ideas provide a starting point, they do not provide a comprehensive list of all available opportunities for pre-med students. If you have more specialized interests in the area of public health for example, you may want to explore internships through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, your undergraduate institution may be a valuable resource for identifying summer opportunities. For example, Swarthmore provides a comprehensive list of summer options for pre-meds that can be found here.

The summer provides an ideal time for pre-med students to further clarify their interest in medicine and explore the various facets of a profession in healthcare. For guidance on pursuing a pre-med track and applying to medical school, feel free to contact Collegiate Gateway. As always, we’re happy to help!

The Impact of Superscoring the SAT and ACT

What Does “Superscore” Mean?

When a college “superscores” your SAT or ACT test scores, it takes the best sections of the test from your various test dates, and combines them to form a new total.  For the SAT, that means taking your best scores from the two sections of Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math, and adding them together for a new total score. For the ACT, this means taking your best subscores for the four sections of English, Reading, Math, and Science, and averaging them to form a new Composite score.

Here is an example of SAT superscoring:

Test Date Evidence-Based Reading & Writing Math Total
March 2019 640 720 1360
May 2019 680 660 1340
Superscore 680 720 1400

 

Here is an example of ACT superscoring:

 

Test Date English Reading Math Science Composite
April 2019 30 28 34 32 31
June 2019 32 32 34 28 32
Superscore 32 32 34 32 33

 

Which Colleges Superscore?

Most colleges superscore the SAT. Many of the colleges that do not are public universities, such as Penn State, University of Arizona, and University of California.

Unlike the SAT, the ACT is only superscored by a few colleges. Some private colleges that superscore the ACT include Amherst College, Boston College, and Johns Hopkins. A few public colleges that superscore the ACT include Indiana University and University of Colorado.

Some colleges have an intermediate approach; for example, Duke considers the highest composite score, and highest section scores, but does not recalculate a new composite.

In general, colleges look more closely at the test sections that correspond to your intended major. For students planning to major in business or engineering, the math sections are very important. For students with interests in the humanities, the verbal sections carry more weight.

How are SAT and ACT Test Scores Reported to Colleges?

 Typically students send scores directly to colleges through the College Board or ACT websites; and scores must be sent by entire test date, not individual section. A recent trend is for some colleges to not require that students release their scores from the College Board or ACT, but instead send them only if they matriculate; the motive is to increase access for students who cannot afford the fees of sending scores. The Common Application does not require students to report test scores but instead gives students the opportunity to report their highest score per section, If they so choose. 

So What Should I Do?

Evaluate your college list and the individual policies of your colleges. Make a chart to organize the information about which colleges superscore the SAT and/or ACT; this may well impact your college list as well as your consideration of where to apply early in making “reach” colleges more attainable. For information on whether to retake the SAT or ACT, read our blog.