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Beat the competition, show ‘who you really are’ on college applications

Gerald Bradshaw

Gerald Bradshaw

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Updated: April 9, 2013 11:05AM



Dear Mr. Bradshaw: I am a junior in high school and I am concerned about ethnic “quotas” for admissions at top colleges. I am an Asian American, and my Asian friends tell me that many top colleges have quotas. Several of them who were rejected had nearly perfect test scores and grades. How can I escape the same fate when I apply in August?

Student

Dear Student: It has been said that ethnicity-based admission standards — implicit or explicit — exist at many top colleges. The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has examined complaints that Ivy League schools have discriminated against Asian-American undergraduate applicants. Both Harvard and Princeton have rejected any bias.

In a New York Times article a Harvard official was quoted as saying that their applicant file reviews are “highly individualized and holistic” and that they “give serious consideration to all of the information they receive and all of the ways in which the candidate might contribute to our vibrant educational environment and community.”

The official went on to cite the fact that “Harvard admitted only 6.3 percent of applicants for the class of 2015” as a possible reason why many top candidates on paper were rejected.

Princeton University officials said that they “make admissions decisions on a case-by-case basis in our efforts to build a well-rounded, diverse class. Princeton University treats each application individually and we don’t discriminate on the basis of race or national origin.”

That said, many parents still worry their children might not be able to stand out amongst a group of highly-qualified students.

While there will always be disparities in college admissions standards, my job as a college counselor is to help students feel comfortable when talking about themselves so that they stand out when their applications are considered.

A great many admissions rejection letters come because brilliant students who have won all kinds of academic accolades rehash their accomplishments over and over again in boring essays. I ask that my clients open up and talk honestly about themselves. An applicant’s personality needs to jump off the page. The only way to beat the competition is to show them who you are as an individual.

Top students today often have terrific test scores, top grades and a list of extracurricular activities that would shame a Harvard graduate from 50 years ago. But it is more often the intangibles that “sell” an applicant — like evidence of leadership potential.

My advice is to take advantage of the extracurricular opportunities your high school has to offer, especially if those activities suit your career aspirations. And, when you write your personal essays, tell them who you really are.



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