Columbia University

Student: Eric

Admitted school: Columbia University

We worked together beginning late in Eric’s sophomore year. Our time together was via electronic communications and Skype.

Eric attended a private independent high school in Silicon Valley where there was no class ranking. The school has an academically rigorous reputation and 100% of their graduates attend 4-year colleges. His parents are college graduates. Finances were not an issue for his family. The school offered 18 AP courses that colleges would be aware of and measure his initiative in tackling the most rigorous curriculum available to him.

Eric maintained a 3.9 unweighted GPA average throughout his sophomore, junior and senior years. Based on his freshman and sophomore academic performance, we encouraged him to take 4 AP courses his junior year and 3 AP courses his senior year. His interests and strengths were in the sciences and less so in English and History. We encouraged him to pursue AP courses in the sciences and Honors courses in the humanities.

While he was a well-rounded student academically, his standardized test scores for the SAT were stronger in Math (800) than in Critical Reading (760) and Writing (760). His ACT Composite was 34. He took 7 AP courses:

  1. AP Biology (5)
  2. AP Chemistry (5)
  3. AP Calculus AB (5)
  4. AP Spanish (5)
  5. AP Statistics (4)
  6. AP Environmental Sciences (5)
  7. AP Language and English Composition (4)

Eric and our counselor spent time getting to know each other. We met with his parents and then Eric and our counselor took it the rest of the way. We would touch base with Eric’s parents on an as needed/requested basis. Eric and our counselor talked frequently, discussing the selectivity of schools and the major difference between statistical possibilities and admissibility. These are very different considerations and one that needs to be folded into creating the college list. Eric was fairly sure but not certain that he wanted to pursue medicine. He had a cousin who had died young of cancer and was interested in research and finding a cure for the disease.

He completed career interest, personality assessments, and surveys with us, which helped us to best understand his growth and to set a road map for his academic and professional discovery. The tests validated an aptitude for medicine and the sciences. This information was extremely helpful to us as his essays evolved. They were able to incorporate this substantive information to build the case for schools on his list. His preferred style of learning was more listening based; he preferred lectures to discussion-oriented classes. Eric wanted enough offerings beyond medicine and the sciences so that if he changed his mind, there were other great roadmaps for him to explore.

When Eric completed the college match survey, his interest in an urban setting and mid- to large-sized school emerged. We focused his list toward these types of schools ranging from highly selective to very selective. With only a couple of exceptions, we focused on medium and large schools based in urban settings. It also directed him to urban types of activities for the summers before his junior and senior years.

The plan for Eric included:

Sophomore year, Spring and Rising Junior Summer year

  • Scheduled and planned for standardized tests in fall of Junior Year.
  • We recommended an online standardized test tutorial in order to accommodate his very busy schedule.
  • Planned a volunteer summer internship with area physician; we helped identify several appropriate individuals and helped to craft the email for sending.
  • We supported and helped to set a plan to shadow different medical specialists and professions in the medical and related fields with a goal of 6-9 visits or interviews throughout the summer and fall of junior year; it was an opportunity to identify mentors and advisors in the field.
  • We encouraged him to read as much as he could.
  • We encouraged him to visit an area large urban, small urban, large suburban, small suburban, and a rural campus when he could. It served as a baseline for size and type of campus that we would use as he further developed his list in junior year.
  • We began to compile college list incorporating Naviance information from high school.

Junior Year


  • Took SAT in fall of junior year and retook in the winter, leaving spring available for AP testing.
  • Continued preparation for testing.
  • Ongoing college list development.
  • Helped established an extracurricular that was a significant project in the community that required (40 + hours/month). Note: If both substantive, area focused, and time intensive, the value of the extracurricular carries higher weighting in the application process.
  • Was a leader – Vice President of the STEM Club (entire year).


  • Continued to build good relationships with teachers and share important information about activities interests and planning.
  • Built an initial student resume formatted to add additional information when appropriate.
  • Visited many, but not all college campuses on the list during spring break.
  • Worked on quality, demonstrated interest in top schools via visits, emails, etc.


  • Subject Tests (3).
  • As early as possible asked recommenders if they are willing to write letter of recommendation.
  • Assisted in email communications that requested letter of recommendation.

Rising Senior Summer

  • Final list by July.
  • Attended summer internship/summer college course on campus of first choice.
  • On family vacation to Europe, he researched medical facilities and planned a visit to area hospitals or health care non-profits. His traveling became pertinent and contributed to exploring and articulating his professional/career interests.
  • His schedule was hectic but there was consistency with how we met. The Personal Essay was a priority in the summer. It was important to inform the event that triggered his interest but the point was not belabored, it was the starting point for what triggered his intellectual curiosity.

Senior Year

Fall Senior

  • Personal essay was near final by start of senior year.
  • Each week was devoted to supplemental essays with deliverables and timed feedback from his counselor.
  • Of priority in supplemental essays were substantive reasons for wanting to attend a specific university (more than just feeding back information from school website).
  • The essays he wrote covered his experiences in school, in the community, and in his initiatives to pursue his well thought out career interests and exploration. Essays were more than descriptive; they were thoughtful and evolved.
  • Compiled information to provide to recommenders in organized informed format.
  • Was a leader – Co-president of the STEM Club (entire year).
  • Continued project from previous year, reporting same time commitment in senior year on application.

His final list included 13 colleges:


Statistical Reach

  1. Harvard (applied early and was denied)
  2. Columbia
  3. University of Pennsylvania



  1. Johns Hopkins
  2. University of Southern California
  3. UCLA
  4. Northwestern
  5. Rice



  1. Washington University in St. Louis
  2. Haverford
  3. Carnegie Mellon



  1. George Washington
  2. Occidental
  3. Boston University


Eric was admitted to 7 colleges. He ultimately decided to attend Columbia.

Case Highlights:

  • Eric is a local American student.
  • Eric had a strong academic background.
  • Our counselor carefully planned each steps with Eric to ensure the application stay on the right track.
  • Eric received multiple offers to top universes and ultimately selected Columbia University.