Varsity Tutors brings you insider tips and advice straight from nationally recognized admissions experts. Dr. Lucia Tyler has worked in admissions at Cornell University providing counseling for applicants, giving admissions presentations, and eventually wrote a faculty admissions handbook. Additionally, she has held various professional roles in several areas of higher education at Cornell for over 15 years. Dr. Tyler is now the leader of her own college admissions consulting firm and has tutored, mentored, and advised numerous students over time.
VT: How far ahead of time should a student begin working on his or her college application?
Lucia: Ideally a student should begin working on their application in August because there is a lot of information to assemble on extracurricular activities etc.
VT: What is the typical process an admissions officer goes through to evaluate applications?
Lucia: It is hard to generalize since colleges do differ significantly. Colleges and universities must be sure initially that the applications they are processing are complete. Larger universities usually use some kind of mathematical formula involving grades and test scores to cut down on the number of applications requiring more personal attention. Applications to be read are then divided up among admissions personnel and sometimes faculty. The readers make recommendations to the admissions committee or director. The number of times an application is read varies. Many colleges have an admissions committee that meets to discuss and act on applications that are borderline admits. If the college does not make their admissions deposit target by May 1, they must go to their waitlist which involves a re- reading of applications.
VT: What are the best ways to go about selecting a terrific essay topic?
Lucia: Students should think about meaningful moments in their lives that changed their outlook, inspired them, made them stronger.
VT: Are there any essay topics you get tired of seeing or would warn students to stay away from?
Lucia: Students need to be careful about sports injury stories because they are very common. I would also avoid topics that are depressing throughout unless there are glimmers of light in the piece.
VT: How important are grades and standardized test scores when admissions decisions are being made?
Lucia: Good grades are important to all colleges. Standardized test scores are not considered at test optional colleges which number in the hundreds now. However, standardized test scores are very important at large universities that have to sift through tens of thousands of applications.
VT: What is the biggest mistake a student can make on a college application?
Lucia: One of the biggest mistakes a student can make is exaggerating or misrepresenting one of their activities or honors that will be reported by the school. Colleges want authentic applications from students.
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?
Lucia: The most important thing to present is their intellectual curiosity or strong academic interest.
VT: Early-action, early-decision, binding/non-binding, regular decisions...With so many choices when applying, what do you recommend to students?
Lucia: I always recommend applying to at least one early action school because there is no down side for the student. They get their application organized earlier, they hear back from the college earlier and it takes the pressure off of them if they are admitted to at least one college before New Years.
VT: How should students go about determining the culture of a university, and whether they would be a good fit?
Lucia: Students should visit the college when it is in session. There really is no other good way.
VT: What tips do you have for students asking their teachers for letters of recommendation?
Lucia: Students should think about classes they have done well in from their sophomore and junior year. They should choose two teachers from core subjects including math, science, English, social studies, and foreign language. Students should ask the teacher if they would give them a good recommendation. If the teacher agrees to recommend them, they should hand the teacher a written reminder of past projects, tutoring, extra credit work etc. Students who are applying for entrance to a conservatory or art school should ask for a recommendation in that discipline.
Go to the Tyler Admissions Consulting website to look into all of the services Dr. Tyler has to offer.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.