Varsity Tutors brings you insider tips and advice straight from nationally recognized admissions experts. Bev Taylor is the president and founder of The Ivy Coach. Before starting The Ivy Coach, she served as a high school college counselor in Long Island, New York. She has also presented seminars to admissions officers and guidance counselors. The Ivy Coach provides guidance from Ivy League-educated consultants for each step of the admissions process.
VT: How far ahead of time should a student begin working on his or her college application?
Bev: A student should begin – and finish – working on their actual applications (and the many supplemental essays that go along with these applications) during their junior summer. Do many students procrastinate and come to us after their junior summers? Yes. And we can take them on because our first batch of students are done before school starts. Students should not have to juggle working on these intense applications and all the many admissions essays with demanding school work. Students need to maintain great grades during their senior year of high school in the most rigorous curriculum possible (and then some) to stand out in highly selective college admissions.
VT: What is the biggest mistake a student can make on a college application?
Bev: There are so many mistakes students not only can but do make on college applications. Is there a single biggest mistake? No. There are so many traps, so much quicksand.
VT: What is the typical process an admissions officer goes through to evaluate applications?
Bev: They go through the student’s transcript, testing, the Common Application, the supplemental essays, the letters of recommendation, the alumni interview evaluation, etc. It’s nothing entirely surprising. It’s a holistic process. Students with perfect grades and perfect test scores are denied admission at the top colleges every year. But it’s not random. There is reasoning behind it. And that reasoning is indeed a science.
VT: What do you think is the single most important thing a student should make sure they present in the best possible way on their application?
Bev: Their story.
VT: How should students go about determining the culture of a university, and whether they would be a good fit?
Bev: Visit the colleges! Smile at students. See if they smile back. It’s a good indication of whether or not they’re happy at the school. See if they have purple hair. Maybe you don’t want to go to a school where the students have purple hair.
VT: Early-action, early-decision, binding/non-binding, regular decisions... With so many choices when applying, what do you recommend to students?
Bev: To not apply Early Decision or Early Action is to waste one of the few valuable cards that each student has in his or her back pocket. You’re going to have to commit to a school in the end anyway. You might as well commit early when the odds are in your favor.
VT: How important are grades and standardized test scores when admissions decisions are being made?
Bev: Very important!
VT: What tips do you have for students asking their teachers for letters of recommendation?
Bev: Help your teachers write their letters. Teachers are not paid to write letters of recommendation on your behalf. They do so out of the goodness of their hearts and you should thus show your appreciation to them. The time they spend writing these letters is time away from their families, often over the summer months. So save your teachers some time and give them the information that you want in that letter. But what so many students think should be in those letters is the exact opposite of what actually should be.
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The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.