The Best Course On Elite Admissions

Want to know how elite colleges will review your Common App? Erinn Andrews, former Stanford Admissions Officer, has reviewed 1,000s of apps from 70+ countries!

Your Personal Statement Vs. Your Teacher’s Recommendation

In almost all cases, the benefit of the doubt will go to the student if they already have an outstanding application as letters of recommendation are outside of the student’s control. There can be cases where if both letters from teachers are bad, or if we find out the student asked for the letters at the last minute, where these factors may reflect poorly on the student, but usually if a student just has one letter that is not what would be expected with the application, it won’t sink the student’s chances of admittance. Assuming the student did everything right and just picked the wrong teacher to write a recommendation, this is something that is not going to hurt the student.

On the contrary the personal statement and the essays are vital to the application as they show the student’s voice, they allow the student to highlight the things that are important to him or her, and they show the true theme of the application. So these things are weighted as being much more important than teacher recommendations. If the teacher recommendations back up what the student is saying, then this is even better for that particular student’s chance of admittance.

The Role of the Interview in the Admissions Process

The interview is a pretty small portion of the entire application process. It will usually not be the reason why a student is denied and it is also not the reason a student may be admitted.

The main purpose of an interview is to help an admissions officer confirm something that they are already seeing in that particular file. It is basically just a final check to verify that the application matches the student in person. It is important to be prepared, share the things you are interested in and also have in mind why you want to attend the university and what you are interested in majoring in.

These are likely things you have already thought about in depth and so it shouldn’t be a high stress situation. Think of it simply as a family friend you are sitting down with and discussing what you are thinking about going into college. Try to be warm, enthusiastic, and outgoing and let your personality shine through and just stay consistent with what you have been saying in your application.

Uses Of The Mid-Year Report

The mid-year report is simply a gut check to see if a student is still getting the grades that they have been getting previously. This should usually just serve as a confirmation of what the admission officer already knows about a student. If a student’s grades stay at the level they have been before, they shouldn’t be worried much about the mid-year report. However, if a student was getting all A’s and now they are getting all B’s, this can be a reason not to admit them.

If a student simply slipped up and got a B in one class, this shouldn’t affect their chances of admittance.

Simply put, the best way to make sure you have a good mid-year reports is by getting good grades and showing that you have not slacked off in you senior year as this is mostly just a gauge for the student’s continued academic performance.


GPA and class rank are, without question, the most important quantitative measures in a student’s application. These aspects are weighted much heavier than SAT or ACT scores. This is because what a student must do to achieve a high GPA or class rank requires competence every day, 5 days a week for 4 years as opposed to an SAT or ACT where you might spend 4 hours once or twice a year. This makes the standardized tests much harder to control for students, while the GPA and class rank are something which the student can reasonably control on a daily basis.

Because of this disparity, the GPA and class rank are weighted much heavier as they are a better measure of the student’s work ethic and accountability.

To truly be competitive in applying for the best schools in the country, a student must be in the top 10% of their class and to be rock solid students need to be in the top 1-2% in their class rank. This doesn’t mean that students can’t get a B here and there, or even a couple. However, in the core classes, students should maintain a high GPA if their expectation is to be considered by top universities.

A common question we get is from students wondering if they should take an AP class, where they may potentially get a B, or take a regular class where they are confident that they will receive an A. This is a tough question to answer, however the most common response would be to take the best class that you can do well in. Clearly getting an A in the AP class is the best possible scenario.

Strategies for doing well in AP classes depend largely on the student. Some students do very well and have no trouble learning the material. For others, tutoring and extra help may be necessary for students to do their very best in these classes. There is nothing wrong with getting extra help. Also, utilizing general study skills will go a long way in helping students do their best in these courses. Manage your time well, do homework and complete essays ahead of schedule so that you can get feedback and improve and revise your work before turning in the final copy. These are all basic steps one can take to do well in these more difficult courses.

Students handle the added stress of these courses in different ways. Learning which way you best handle stress and creating a solid balance to release this stress is vital.

College admissions today are more competitive then they have ever been. Stanford’s acceptance rate was 10% only a few years ago and it is already down to just 7%. This had created an environment where students are not just admitted because of strong academics. Strong academics are a prerequisite for admission, but beyond that students must also demonstrate why they are interesting or outstanding to separate themselves from the other applicants.


One mistake that I think that most students make when applying to college is that they try to do everything instead of trying to focus on doing one thing and doing it the best. Students try to do every sport, community service event or other extracurricular activity but fail to really become an expert in any one of these things.

My advice would be for students to instead choose 2 to 3 activities from 10th through 12th grades to really focus on and become the absolute best at those activities.

Becoming a leader, creating clubs and starting new activities, and finding a way to make a major impact is of key importance. Too many students instead spread themselves to thin throughout too many different activities.

Secondly, many students tend to write over-dramatically. Often times their essays are laden with clichés, which is a huge pet peeve of mine. This is also a very common mistake as students try to pad their resumes including every possible activity they have ever done, not figuring out how to prioritize the most important key points and focusing on those.

The applications that stood out in the area of extracurricular activities seemed to be the ones from students who prioritized their activities by importance. Admissions officers simply do not have the time to go through and reorder the list of activities in order of importance. Those students who completed the applications and prioritized their activities in this way stood out among the others.

One example that stands out in my mind would be, perhaps, a writer who has a published book and might list their primary extracurricular activity as writing. We’ve had published writers apply before and by listing this activity it can pique interest as it is not necessarily a common activity we see on this list. However, in then digging deeper and finding that the student has a published book, there is a distinction which sets their application apart from the others.

Another example might be an athlete who is an Olympic level swimmer. They might include that they competed all four years in high school and may have been the captain of the team. This would be an important distinction as well and one that should be listed above others on the applicant’s extracurricular activities list.

In short, pick the activities that you identify most with and that you have done for the longest period of time and in the most depth and list them first.

Instead of worrying about simply filling in every line on the list, which is not necessary, simply list the most important distinctions or accolades from the top activities you are involved in.

Certainly listing just three things may look a little funny on the application, however it is not essential to fill in all ten lines in this section as the top items are the most important to the admissions officer.


Managing Your Teacher Relationships For The Best Recommendation Letters

Admissions officers read recommendations letters grouped by high school, so when reading these letters it is easy to see if teachers are talking about students in an honest way and not inflating their remarks. The best letters come from discerning teachers, who do not simply say every student is the best they have ever taught, [...]

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Advantages Of The SAT and SAT II Versus The ACT

The SAT is an important part of admissions; however it is not as important as GPA. Also to note is that there is no preference for the SAT over the ACT, or vice versa– both are looked at equally. To be considered as a serious candidate, students will need to have at a minimum a [...]

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Create A College Admissions Essay That Stands Above The Rest

The types of essays that really seem to stand out are those that are incredibly specific and genuine. In these essays, you can tell that the person is writing about something that is truly profound and important to them. An example is one student who wrote about a musical event he was attending and describing [...]

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Can I Do Anything To Get Off The Waitlist?

There is very little a student can do to get off of a waitlist. Simply sending in final transcripts and test scores is really all you can do. If a student has won a national award of some type, that could help. However, if they were nominated for school athlete of the year or some [...]

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On The Reputations Of Ivy League Schools

In considering the stereotypes of various schools, such as Stanford being well known for producing entrepreneurs, it can be said that there is some truth to them. Still, not all students who attend Stanford are entrepreneurs and the most important thing to consider when selecting a school is whether that school is a good fit [...]

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What You Need To Know When Considering Early Action & Early Decision

If you are looking to go this route, you should check the website of the university you are applying to, to determine if the school is an early decision or early action school. Early Decision For example, Duke is an early decision school, which means if you apply by their early deadline of November 1st [...]

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The Best Summer Activities To Take Part In

When deciding which summer activities to participate in, it is important to think about the theme of your college application. If you are an artist who is the president of the art club or has submitted work to publications, then that is a theme you would want to consider continuing in your summer endeavors. By [...]

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