Admissions Officer Insight: Answers to Your Frequently Asked Questions!

Here at QuestBridge, we constantly seek ways to help students on their journey through college admissions, so we asked College Prep Scholars what they wanted to know from admissions officers. Four similar themes surfaced from more than a thousand responses. Take a look at the answers from admissions officers who represent some of our college partners!

Question 1: What can I do to stand out among other applicants?

UChicagoRebecca Kahn-Witman, University of Chicago, Senior Assistant Director of Admission

“Be yourself! I know that sounds cliché, but if every student put together the same application, our jobs as Admissions Counselors would be quite boring. I also always encourage students to figure out what they want while applying to colleges and universities. Being able to identify something (whether big or small) that is important to them, will help the applicant “stand out”. Never do anything because of how it will look on the application; do things because you are excited and passionate about them and it will shine through in the application. Standing out doesn’t mean being the most unique person the admissions committee has seen. The passion, genuine nature, and thoughtful reflection of the application and essays are most important, as we will see the care that you put forth and ultimately, that’s how you’ll stand out.”


Rhemi Abrams-Fuller, Carleton College, Associate Dean of Admissions and Director of Diversity Outreach & Access

“It sounds obvious, but be yourself! That is, quite literally, the single most unique feature of every applicant we see. Students sometimes don’t fully understand the scope of our applicant pools; they think that their stellar grades alone are enough to make them stand out. The grades are impressive, certainly, but actually quite common for applicants to QuestBridge partner schools. What really makes you stand out is your personality, your passions, your perseverance, and your potential fit for our institutions. That casual interest you have in beekeeping, or the Harlem Renaissance, or aquaponics — tell us about it! The fact that you’re low-income or first-generation to college — talk to us about that too! The rush of emotion you feel because you have finally found the college of your dreams — yes, there’s a place in the application to talk about that as well. We want to know the real you; not just what makes you capable of surviving at our institutions, but what characteristics will help you to thrive on our campuses. Put as much of yourself as you possibly can into your application.”


Meghan Grandolfo, Colby College, Assistant Dean and Director of Enrollment Management

“Through our holistic review process, we consider the many aspects of achievement, involvement, and personal context, and we seek students who will contribute to our vibrant and collaborative community. We recommend students take full advantage of the opportunities offered to them and challenge themselves academically. For example, pursuing a robust schedule of rigorous academic courses, including those at an advanced level if your school offers them, shows admissions officers you are serious about learning and enjoy challenging yourself in the classroom. Letters of recommendation from teachers and mentors who can attest to both your academic accomplishments and personal qualities offer an important lens into how you may help shape our community as a student and person. Getting involved in extracurricular activities you’re passionate about will allow you to delve deeply and take on leadership roles when possible, though your work or family responsibilities can show us just as meaningfully the ways you make an impact outside the classroom. And giving us insight through your essays into the things that matter most to you, your academic and personal journey, and how you view the world can help us understand how your unique perspective will contribute to our community.”

Question 2: Which section of a college application is most significant when considering acceptance into a university?

CarletonRhemi Abrams-Fuller, Carleton College, Associate Dean of Admissions and Director of Diversity Outreach & Access

“It’s important to realize that there is a big difference between being admissible and being admitted. Many of the students applying to QuestBridge partner institutions are admissible (that is, we believe that based on the entirety of their application, they could succeed at our institutions — thus we give ourselves the option of considering them for admission). However, when deciding which students to actually admit (because the pool of admissible students is much larger than the number of spots we have for incoming freshmen), individuality reigns supreme. There’s no single section of the application that demonstrates your fit factor for our campus; rather, the way a student tells their story through the entirety of an application gives us this information. We could learn about your academic passions from your transcript, or your personal statement, or from your teachers in their letters of recommendation. Similarly, we can see how you spend your free time by looking at your activities list, or reading about an extracurricular activity in your short answer essays. We get a real sense of your personality by reading every bit of what you write, so put as much of yourself into your application as you possibly can. Don’t be afraid to let your personality shine — that is, in fact, what helps to separate you from the thousands of other admissible applicants hoping to be accepted to our institutions!”


Rebecca Kahn-Witman, University of Chicago, Senior Assistant Director of Admission

“To be honest, the entire application is important! We review applications holistically – meaning we look at you as a whole person. We take into context every aspect of the application – what state you are coming from, the classes offered at your high school, commitments outside of school, etc. Specifically at UChicago, we take a lot of time reading our student essays. Students who enjoy writing these essays seem to shine in the applicant pool and do a great job showcasing their interest in the university as well as their future contributions to our community; however, the most significant section is you! We want to learn about you and see why you would be happy at UChicago!”

Question 3: How do I know if a college is right for me?

CMCOmar Zazueta, Claremont McKenna College, Director of Admission

“Students will approach this question from many different perspectives. You may think of academic perspective or social environment. On the surface, a student might look at potential majors, student to teacher ratios, average class size. All of those are important but going a bit deeper can also help with understanding more about the academic environment. You may want to know a bit more about the faculty in your academic area of interest. Learning more about the faculty and their areas of expertise can help you think about the type of learning you will be doing in the classroom. You may want to learn more about research opportunities, academic support programs, and career services. Understanding how a college supports students through their college experience and how they prepare them for life after graduation is very important in helping you realize if a college is right for you.

The social environment is also very important. Learning more about the students who attend can help you visualize yourself on that college’s campus. Remember, college is at least a four-year commitment. If you are from a city, can you live in a small town for four years? If you are from a warm weather state, can you live in a cold weather state for four years? Once you start answering some of these questions for yourself, you might get excited about the changes, about the opportunities, about the experience. Then you will know if a college is right for you.”


Pedro Ramirez, Colorado College, Associate Director for Access and Outreach

“There is no ‘perfect fit’ college for any student. There are likely many ‘strong fit” colleges for you! However, you want to make sure a college checks off many of the characteristics that are important to you! Size and location are popular ones; however what about campus setting? Access to research? Clubs? Learning environment? Make a list and check it twice!”


Meghan Grandolfo, Colby College, Assistant Dean and Director of Enrollment Management

“It’s important to consider how your goals, interests, and passions align with what a specific college can offer. Beyond seeking institutions that offer the academic programs you are most excited about — while understanding your educational or career passions could still change — you should consider whether you will be most successful in small discussion-based classes or large lectures, whether you want to have close relationships with your faculty, and whether you want to be in an academic environment that actively builds and celebrates collaboration and shared success. It’s equally important to consider the academic, personal, emotional, financial, and career resources the school offers. Is there funding beyond financial aid for internships and research experiences, and are there mentoring opportunities or other programs to support you through and beyond college? It can be most helpful whenever possible to meet or speak with current students, faculty, and staff members. This will give you the opportunity to ask about the campus culture, academics, and what it’s like to be a student on that particular campus. Ultimately it’s important to remember the college you choose will not only offer you an academic experience, but it will also serve as the place you’ll call home for four years and the professional and personal network you’ll be a part of for the rest of your life after graduation.”

Question 4: What do admissions officers look for when looking at extracurricular activities?

ColoradoPedro Ramirez, Colorado College, Associate Director for Access and Outreach

“We like to see the depth in which you engage in your co-curricular and extracurricular activities; how long and what you actually do in each activity. Also, don’t be afraid to list your accomplishments and leadership along the way. There is no magic number of activities one should do, it’s all contextual to what is available to you.”


Omar Zazueta, Claremont McKenna College, Director of Admission

“Each application is going to tell a story about that particular applicant. We will learn about their academic history, their family, and the things that excite them about learning. Activities help an admissions officer understand more about the things that keep students engaged and motivated. Some students spend long hours doing research, others spend their time outside of school playing sports. Other students help take care of their younger siblings or work to help pay bills at home. Whether a student is doing speech and debate or working at Target, we want to ensure that they are staying active in their various communities and that they are having an impact on those around them.”