Admissions Officer Insight: Answers to Your Frequently Asked Questions!

Last month, we asked College Prep Scholars which questions you have for admissions officers. Out of the hundreds of responses, three questions appeared over and over again. Check out the answers below, provided by admissions officers at a few of our college partners!

Question 1: How would being a National College Match Finalist be viewed by an admissions officer, and how does it benefit the student?

patricia-grinnellPatricia Amador-Lacson, Grinnell College, Senior Assistant Director of Admission

“Involvement with QuestBridge in any way shows your commitment to being part of a highly selective and diverse college or university. Additionally, it signals a commitment to responsible financing of a college education, which will open up post-graduation options. My colleagues and I enjoy reading the applications of National College Match Finalists during any admission round. We recognize that achieving the National College Match Finalist designation is an involved process that takes time, dedication, and organization. Finalists are impressive scholars and citizens who have demonstrated success both inside and outside the classroom. So, when we see that a student is a National College Match Finalist, we know we’re looking at someone who will impress us and shine—not just on paper, but also as part of any campus community.”


Paul Compton, Northwestern University, Senior Assistant Director of Admission

“As a National College Match Finalist, you’ll submit a QuestBridge application along with your Common Application or Coalition Application [depending on which schools you’re interested in], which means you’ll answer a number of QuestBridge-specific questions. We love getting to read student responses to these many different questions. Through our holistic review process, the additional insight into your journey and story really helps to give admissions officers a better understanding of how you view the world and might thrive within our communities. Even if you don’t end up matching with a school, your recognition as a National College Match Finalist shows that you have already been distinguished from a wider pool of applicants.”

Question 2: What are common things you see in applications that you wish students would avoid?

sean-ashburn-tuftsSean Ashburn, Tufts University, Assistant Director of Admissions

“As you work through your applications, I encourage you to make the most of each and every essay. When admissions officers read several pieces of your writing and only learn one thing about who you are, you’ve missed out on an opportunity to share multiple dimensions of your voice. Don’t make the mistake of repeating similar topics or themes across multiple essays. Instead, aim to maximize every aspect of the application by highlighting the full assortment of ideas, interests, and experiences that inspire you. That also means that every essay should tell us something you feel is important about you. Topics that are dramatic or traumatic are absolutely not a requirement, but in the limited amount of space you have to give us insight into your life, you likely want to be sure that the most significant stories get included somewhere. The topics and writing style you choose can certainly be fun, funny, witty, and whimsical, but please don’t give me an essay about your golden retriever unless there is a clear message in mind. Know what your purpose is when you’re writing. That way, each of the pieces of your application can come together into an interesting, multidimensional, authentic picture of who you are.”

patricia-grinnellPatricia Amador-Lacson, Grinnell College, Senior Assistant Director of Admission

“As an admission officer, it is an honor and a privilege to read college applications. Admission folks know that the job is more than being a “gate-keeper” and is instead about building communities. Given the care with which we read each piece of your application, we would love it if students considered the following: As an admission officer, it is an honor and a privilege to read college applications. Admission folks know that the job is more than being a “gate-keeper” and is instead about building communities. Given the care with which we read each piece of your application, we would love it if students considered the following:

a. Avoid typos, misspellings, and grammatical errors: Your application is a representation of you as a student and a person, so take time and care with your documents. Ask at least two people to proofread all of your work, as they will zoom in on different things.  And let folks read all pieces of your work, from the basic application to your essays and short answers. Simple typos, misspellings and grammar errors can be distracting and indicate carelessness or disorganization. Multiple proofreaders help you put your best foot forward.

b. A robust extra-curricular activities list: Your activities are a reflection of what you value and how you spend your time away from your studies. We define “extra-curricular” activities broadly, so please include information about jobs (paid or not), family obligations (cooking, cleaning, caring for siblings), volunteer/service commitments, in-school clubs/activities/sports, and out of school clubs/activities/sports. Be sure to use full names and NOT acronyms – just because you know what the “S.T.A.R.” Club is doesn’t mean anyone outside your school does. Keep in mind that a great high school GPA is even more impressive when put in the context of time spent doing things beyond studying. Your activities evidence your ability to multi-task and to make good decisions about your time. If you can juggle more than one thing in high school, then you will certainly be able to manage a busy college schedule.

c. Choosing people to write about: Finally, if you are asked a question about a famous person you’d like to meet and converse with, make sure to pick someone who is near-universally admired. It’s disconcerting to read anything remotely positive about someone like Hitler. Remember, your words make a serious impression on the person who reads them.  We hope that each of you has a successful college application season, and that you find a wonderful place to call home.”

Question 3: How big of a role does my SAT/ACT score play when I’m applying to highly selective colleges and universities?

william-tuftsWilliam Rison, Tufts University, Assistant Director of Admissions

“The SAT and/or ACT are one of many components of your application. We do use these standardized tests to give us some information using the same uniform material across our applicant pool. However, even within standardized tests, there can be a lot of variance in scores based on socio-economic factors and access to test prep. Depending on the opportunities in your community, these can lead to different test results despite similar intellectual strengths to more affluent or resourced communities. We take all of this into consideration when looking at your test scores, and that is a big reason why we have a wide variance for our middle 50% for SAT and ACT averages. The majority of our applicant pool is determined to be academically competitive in our process and we will lean on other components of your application to best find the students who are the best ‘Tufts fit.'”

paul-compton-northwesternPaul Compton, Northwestern University, Senior Assistant Director of Admission

“For most highly selective colleges and universities, academics play a fundamental role in the admissions review process. Schools will likely provide a “middle 50%” range of test scores for enrolled students; this can be a helpful indicator to gauge how you might fare among other applicants. But keep in mind, “middle 50%” means that 25% of enrolled students received scores above the upper end of the range, and 25% received scores below the lower end, so the range is not a rule—it’s just a gauge. After all, test scores are only one factor of your academic profile, in addition to your grades, rigor of your classes, class rank (if available), and any other academic honors you may have received. And of course, this is to say nothing of the many other important extracurricular and personal factors we consider in a holistic evaluation!”