Admissions Officer Insight: What We Look for in Your Application


Admissions Officer Corner is a series of posts written by college admissions officers at QuestBridge partner colleges

As a brand-new Assistant Dean of Admission here at Wes, I’m looking forward to my first “reading season.” Our admission process emphasizes a holistic review of the application, which means that we truly consider every piece of the application. By offering several optional application components, including a writing supplement, an arts supplement, and an interview, we give students the opportunity to craft an application that will best reflect their strengths and accomplishments. We consider each applicant in the context of his or her high school and community, so our admission process is thorough, thoughtful, and not all about numbers.

This year, Wesleyan has made an exciting change – our application is now entirely score-optional. If you feel that your scores reflect your accomplishments and potential and you’d like to submit them, you’re welcome to do so, but we do not require students to report any scores. There are several more useful indicators of an applicant’s potential contributions to the Wesleyan community, which we glean from transcripts, teacher recommendations, extracurricular activities, and the personal statement. Here’s what we’re looking for:

  • Academic excellence: Wesleyan is, of course, an academically rigorous institution, and we look for students who will thrive in our classrooms. To evaluate students’ academic credentials, we look closely at the high school transcript. GPA alone does not provide nearly enough information for us – instead, we carefully examine the program of study that a student has chosen within the confines of his or her high school curriculum. We’re looking to see that students have opted to take the most challenging and rigorous academic program available, and, of course, we’re looking for exemplary grades in each course. We look beyond the GPA because “most rigorous” means something different at every high school. Most (but certainly not all – about 80%) of our admitted students have taken Math through Calculus, three years of lab science (Biology, Chemistry and Physics), and foreign language through the fourth year. For some schools, AP or IB programs will be considered the most rigorous; at others, the most rigorous programs are made up of Honors or Advanced courses.
  • Engagement and Leadership: Students at Wesleyan are notoriously busy and exceptionally passionate, so we look for applicants who are likely to get involved in our hundreds of student organizations, athletic teams, performance ensembles, and activist groups. We look carefully to see how each applicant has been involved in extracurricular activities during high school, and we evaluate both the intensity of the commitment (How long have you been involved? How many weeks out of the year and hours out of each week are you committing?) and the role that the student has taken in each activity. Students should also be sure to include job experience in the application; we know that jobs might impact students’ ability to be involved in other activities and we certainly recognize the value of students’ work experience. There’s no hierarchy in the value of extracurricular activities – writing for your school newspaper is just as awesome as being a varsity soccer player or working as a lifeguard – but we are looking for leadership qualities and ability. We hope that students have chosen to devote a significant amount of time to pursuits outside of the classroom and have assumed some leadership responsibilities. We think in terms of “building a class” and identifying the new interests, talents and strengths that each applicant might bring to campus as a member of the next freshman class.
  • Intellectual curiosity: When we review applications, we also look for indicators of independent intellectual thought and an authentic zest for learning. Wesleyan is a uniquely intellectual place, perhaps because we have an open curriculum that allows students to choose all of their own courses without the constraints of a core curriculum or required classes. With the help of an advisor, each student selects about four classes each semester out of the over 900 that Wesleyan offers. During the admission process, we try to imagine how applicants might utilize Wesleyan’s flexible curriculum and diverse academic offerings. The strongest applicants are those who clearly are excited about and invested in learning, and often they’ve taken their schoolwork to the next level in the form of research projects, independent studies, or other work outside of the traditional classroom. They are open-minded, inquisitive, and interested in exploring new and unfamiliar topics and disciplines. Often, we use the personal statement and teacher recommendations to get a strong sense of a student’s level of intellectual curiosity. When considering which teachers to ask for recommendations, think about selecting a teacher who can describe not only your performance, work ethic and participation in classes, but also how you work to overcome academic challenges. Be sure that your personal statement reflects excellent writing skills and your own distinctive writing style, but also use it to let your own voice be heard. Authenticity is key – don’t try to blow our minds, just be yourself.

Remember, you are so much more than just a number, which is why we look way beyond GPAs and standardized test scores to really get to know the amazing students whose applications we read. We’re looking for academic prowess, intellectualism, and engagement, but we’re really trying to get a sense of how you think, how you challenge yourself, how you choose to spend your time, and how you can uniquely contribute to our campus community. With that sentiment – be yourself! – I wish you all the best of luck in the next few months!

Sydney Lewis, Assistant Dean of Admission, Wesleyan University