Brown University

Student: Jessica

Admitted school: Brown University

Jessica is a high achieving student at a rural public high school. In the early years of high school, to meet this student’s academic needs, our counselor guided her and her parents to advocate for accommodations at her school in terms of her coursework, including acceleration and independent studies. She took the most rigorous level of courses available at her high school in every subject. She was a straight A student and very motivated and goal oriented. Further, she was the valedictorian of her class at her school. However, her school sent very few students to elite colleges each year.

Our counselor truly did not have to encourage this student in terms of her extracurricular endeavors as she was extremely involved in a myriad of them that she had been doing for years. She was dedicated to these activities and achieved at a high level in them. Had the student not already been so passionate and involved in her activities outside the classroom, however, our counselor would have delved into her interests and suggested activities she might get involved in. Our counselors don’t want students to do activities to “look good” for college admissions, but rather choose to participate in endeavors they truly enjoy for their own sake. Colleges honestly want to see that too. Our counselors are also important to be involved in these activities over a period of time, and not start new ones in the latter high school years. This student studied two instruments privately, played in the school concert band, select wind ensemble, and school jazz band, took dance classes in a few disciplines at a private studio, participated in musical theater outside of school, was on three varsity sports teams at school (soccer, ski racing, and tennis), was in a private ski racing club and competitions, and participated in student government, as well as community service. While our counselor did not suggest the following to this student, she also initiated developing new policies at her school that eventually were passed by the School Board. But this is an example of a student who took on leadership without a named position and effected change in her school community. Colleges look kindly on students who take initiative and who lead.

Early in high school, this student discussed with our counselor an overall plan for how she wanted to spend her four summers during high school. She spent her summers attending a performing arts sleep away camp for 6 weeks for several summers, another summer traveling the US with a travel program for teens, and another summer traveling through Europe with a program where she also played competitive tennis, along with a short internship in an architect’s office in her hometown.

In tenth grade, our counselor had this student begin to explore colleges by reading about them and coming up with about 30 schools that interested her. The counselor had her take notes on them on a spreadsheet that the counselor instructed her to make so that she could compare and contrast them with one another but also with her own college selection criteria.  In her junior year, she visited the 10 schools that interested her the most. The counselor guided them with suggestions of how to make the most of college visits. They not only did the official campus tours and information sessions, but lined up visits with professors in her academic interest area, met with coaches or other leaders of her extracurricular interests, talked with current students, sometimes attended classes, visited inside the dorms and ate in the cafeterias, and explored the area surrounding the school.

In this student’s case, she was interested in architecture, but wasn’t certain if she was going to major in it.  It was not a subject she had in her high school. With architecture, a student applicant needs to decide if they want to enter a five year professional Bachelor of Architecture degree program (which requires a commitment at the time of application, as well as a portfolio) which leads to becoming an architect or to do a BA in Architecture which is not a professional degree and would require going to graduate school to get a Masters in Architecture to become an architect.  This student, in the early phase of visiting colleges, visited schools with both kinds of programs. She decided she was not ready to commit to a professional BArch degree program, but chose to apply to BA degree schools that at least offered a major in Architectural Studies in case she did end up wanting to pursue that field (and she did end up doing that!).

In junior year, our counselor discussed plans with this student in terms of testing, with the goal of trying to be done all her standardized testing by the end of junior year, if possible.  This not only gets testing out of the way so that senior year can focus on the applications, but it also is helpful to have test scores in hand when finalizing the college list which should be done by early summer after junior year.  She took the SATs twice (which our counselor thinks is the ideal amount) in junior year.  To prepare of the SATs, she took timed practice tests and reviewed her answers. This is truly the best kind of preparation. The family hired a tutor to prep for the tests and the student met with her about 8 times. This resulted in an increase of 200 points on the reading/math SAT on the second sitting.  She had reached a reasonable goal and so did not take it again after that.  She took a few SAT Subject Tests in June of junior year and chose to retake a couple of those in October of senior year.

Our counselor gathered a great deal of information on this student in all areas: academic, personal, and her activities and interests, along with her college selection criteria which had developed over time. The counselor evaluated the list of colleges she was already interested in and her chances of admission to those schools, and suggested several additional ones to consider.  Our counselor checked her list to make sure it was appropriate to her and was well balanced. Importantly, our counselor made sure the student selected two safety schools that she truly liked enough to attend. We discussed her list back and forth until it was finalized by the end of her junior year. Her list had 8 schools on it: 4 Reach schools, 2 Match schools, and 2 Safeties.  All students need a balance of this type. Her Reach schools, due to very low acceptance rates would be considered a “reach” in terms of odds for any student.  This student was realistic about the odds.  She made sure to find 8 schools she truly liked and did not lust after one favorite (this can be a recipe for disappointment), but liked them all.  Her list was: Yale, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, Brown, Tufts, Smith, Connecticut College and Lehigh. If she were to apply today, the counselor thinks her list would have to be possibly 10 to 12 schools.

Our counselor developed an individualized time line for this student for 10th, 11th, and 12th grades, so she could see the various steps we would be doing and when.  However, as we got to each step, the counselor instructed her how to go about that step and we discussed it.

A student needs a “message” that they want colleges to know about them as a person, beyond the basic black and white stats. For competitive colleges, a student needs to show what sets them apart, as most applicants have the requisite academic stats to be considered for admission. Our counselor guided the student in coming up with specific things about herself that would guide all the pieces of her application process.

Our counselor helped this student to create an annotated Activity Resume, which went through many drafts, with counselor’s feedback between every draft.  This resume revealed a great deal about this student’s activities, interests, and achievements.  She included it with every application.  She also used it to give to people who interviewed her for admissions. As well, she gave this to every person who wrote a recommendation for her to assist them.

Our counselor then guided the student with specific directions of how to set up a Record Keeping Spreadsheet where she would record completion of tasks/dates after receiving directions from me for each college and to keep track of deadlines, requirements, etc.

Before senior year, we discussed the options for her recommendation writers and chose two academic teachers and two non-required supplemental recommendation writers who knew her in a capacity outside the classroom. These recommendation writers can reflect upon the student in a different way than their academic classroom teachers.  This student chose her coach for the high school ski and tennis teams (same coach) whom she had for four years and the architect with whom she had interned the summer before her senior year.  For each writer, our counselor instructed the student how to go about writing them each an individualized letter sharing very specific things about her time with that person, providing highlights of those experiences and achievements, and sharing qualities about herself that she hoped these people would convey about her to her colleges. She gave them specific examples and anecdotes to help guide them in writing effective recommendations that also would share a similar message about her that she hoped to convey on her own application.

This student did not opt to apply Early Decision at any college. She wasn’t ready to commit to one particular school.  However, she decided to apply Early Action to Yale, which was one of a few favorites on her list, in order to hear from one school earlier.

Then, our counselor had the student compile a list of all the required essay prompts from all of her applications and send it to me, along with a partially filled out Record Keeping Spreadsheet that had the due dates and so forth listed on it for each school on her list. Using this information, our counselor created an individualized plan of attack for the order in which we would tackle her applications. Our counselor also created an individualized Essay Master Plan by listing the fewest number of essays she would need to write after determining where there were overlaps in her specific schools’ requirements, and our counselor presented these documents to her as our guide.

Then, step by step, we tackled each essay on her list, whereby our counselor first gave her directions for that essay, along with samples from previous students, and discussed how she was going to go about that essay and the topic for it. We didn’t focus so much on the topic, but rather what she wanted the admissions officers to learn about her, and then picked vignettes she could share that demonstrated those attributes about her. Each essay we worked on, and there were many, went through several drafts where the counselor provided feedback and revision suggestions until the student reached final draft.  She worked on the applications and essays from September through December of senior year. She did not wait for the outcome of the Early Action decision from Yale to complete all her applications, and our counselors would advise this to students who were even doing Early Decision. In her case, even if she got into Yale early, she would have wanted to apply to other favorite schools on her list as she had no one single favorite at that point.

Before her interviews, our counselor gave the student a list of interview tips, along with a list of sample questions often asked in college admissions interviews. Our counselor did a mock interview with this student too. She was someone who could come across well in an interview and this likely helped a bit.

In the Early Action round, this student got deferred at Yale to the regular admissions round. This was rather positive after we read the statistics of what percentage were admitted in that round, or deferred or outright denied. Due to being deferred, she submitted a letter of updates of her activities and accomplishments during January of senior year, along with an additional recommendation to Yale. At this point, while she liked every school on her list, she said she had 4 favorites: Yale, Brown, Princeton, and Tufts.

In January, this student sent an update letter to all of her colleges that included new developments in her academics and activities, along with recent achievements and awards.

This student’s results were:

Accepted: Brown, University of Pennsylvania (Scholar selection), Tufts, Smith (scholarship and scholar selection), Connecticut College, Lehigh (scholarship)

Waitlisted: Princeton

Deferred, then Denied: Yale

This was a very positive result that aligned with the evaluation of her college list in terms of Reaches, Matches, and Safeties. Further, her Reach schools had such low acceptance rates that they could not be counted upon. She was the only student in her high school to attend an Ivy League school that year.  However, this student was not stuck at all on the Ivy League. In fact, once her acceptances rolled in and she had her results, she narrowed her acceptances down to her three favorites to revisit. These were Brown, Tufts, and Smith. While Penn is an Ivy League school and she was selected as one of 100 Ben Franklin Scholars there, she did not like it as much as Tufts and Smith. She truly centered her focus on best fit colleges and not college rankings. This is crucial to do because there are many top notch colleges in the US and it is most important to be at a school that fits you best where you can thrive and be happy.

In April of senior year, this student arranged to attend the Accepted Student events at Brown, Tufts, and Smith, even though she had been to those schools before. These visits really helped this student to make her final decision. She then narrowed it down to Brown or Tufts, but immediately following the events on campus at those two schools, she realized that Brown fit her perfectly. Brown is where she matriculated.

Case Highlights:

  • Jessica is a high achieving student.
  • Our counselor carefully planned each steps with Jessica to ensure the application stay on the right track.
  • Jessica received multiple offers to top universes and ultimately selected Brown University.