American Admissions Myths Debunked – Part Five

As the rush to submit university applications intensifies, we start to hear more rumors and whispers about the process that in some cases are misleading, and in other cases simply not true.  Here we debunk several of things that we have been hearing of late…..

Myth: “My advisor said that he/she knew the admissions representative at university XXX and said he/she could put in a good word and get me in.”

Fact: No one can pick up the phone or write an email and ensure that a student will be accepted into one of the more competitive universities.  The application process is hard to understand, but all efforts are taken to ensure that students are considered on their own merit in an objective fashion.

Myth: “The university will only accept my most recent SAT score.”

Fact: Universities receive all of your SAT scores and in general will consider the highest combination or set of scores on record.  Most students take the SATs a few times and it is perfectly OK to take the test again.

Myth: “I want my child to go to an ‘Ivy League’ school like Stanford, UC Berkeley, or MIT.”

Fact: None of those schools are in the Ivy League!  The Ivy League is nothing more than an athletic conference of eight schools that play sports against each other.  All the schools are on the East Coast and have been around for a long time.  As such, they are blessed with strong financial resources and are academically excellent.  However, being a member of this club really just means that they play baseball, basketball, soccer and other sports primarily against other teams in the conference.  For the record, the eight Ivy League schools are: Dartmouth, Brown, Harvard, Cornell, Yale, Columbia, Princeton, and University of Pennsylvania. 

Myth: “Only the Ivy League schools are good.”

Fact: No no no no!  Sure the Ivys are all good, but for engineering you may be better off at the schools that specialize in engineering.  Moreover, the Ivys are mainly large research institutions and smaller liberal arts colleges often offer a more personal undergraduate educational experience.

Myth: “I need a minimum score of XXXX on the SAT to get into that school.”

Fact: No, you don’t.  The SAT is one of many things that are considered in the application process and no school that we have heard of has a “minimum” score.  Now, you do need to score well on the SAT to get into a competitive school but a perfect score of 2,400 wouldn’t guarantee you entrance to any of them if you aren’t strong in other areas as well.  A good rule of thumb is to look at the median 50% SAT score range for the admitted students and compare that with your score.

Myth: “That school only accepts X students from Singapore per year.”

Fact: Schools can’t accept 200 students from Singapore in a given year; however, we have not heard of any formal quota system.  One problem students here face is that many excellent students apply to the same small batch of schools – effectively making it that much harder to get in.  Simply put: applying to the same schools that all your friends and classmates are applying to isn’t the best idea.

Myth: “Universities are better than Colleges.”

Fact: Colleges in America generally only award Bachelor degrees while universities generally offer post graduate degrees all the way up to a Doctorate.  Many colleges are excellent choices as the focus is on undergraduates.  Williams College was good enough for Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, after all…

American Admissions: Assumptions and Gaffes

We field many questions from anxious students and parents regarding the American university admissions system and the SAT.  We noticed that many questions asked and decisions made were founded on assumptions that are not only wrong but also may severely worsen one’s chances of getting into a quality school.  Here are some examples, with many more to come:

I’m a shoo-in for the Ivy League:

Columbia last year admitted only 9% of all applicants, and only 6% of those applying from Singapore.  Almost all of these applicants are talented, have strong test scores and good grades and are active in their respective communities.  Given the hyper-competition for places in top schools, no one applicant is a shoo-in for any top school.

I’m applying to MIT, Cornell, UC Berkeley, Stanford, Michigan…

…and so is everyone else in Singapore.  Since nearly every selective school want to ensure diversity among their student body, they will admit only a certain number of students from Singapore or any other specific location regardless of the quality of the applicant pool.  You will have a better chance of admission if you apply to schools that are not on the traditional and popular Singaporean destination list.

No backup:

See above.  If you are determined to study in America, but apply only to the most competitive schools, there is a good chance you will not get in anywhere.  Do an honest assessment and, as a backup, apply to two or more schools that offer quality yet don’t get 150 applicants from Singapore.

I can’t apply until I get my A/O level results:

Most good American universities are aware of the Singaporean education system and know that students do not get their final exam results until well after the university admissions deadlines.  Therefore, they will accept prelims and will admit students provided their final results are not significantly worse.  Don’t slack off after applying though as schools have been known to rescind admissions offers to students who get sloppy!

Good SAT, bad A’ levels? No problem!

Actually, there could be a problem.  The SAT is not the equivalent of the A’ levels in America; it is one of several admissions criteria that universities consider.   There are many students that do well on the SAT and the A’ levels and, all things being equal, they will have a better chance of admission than those with good SATs and bad A’ levels.

I need a 2250 on the SAT in order to get into Stanford:

SAT scores posted on school websites serve only to indicate what the average admitted student scored on the test.  It does not serve as a minimum accepted score.  Admissions officers look at the SAT score in addition to all the other components required in the application.  That being said, since the SAT is not the only thing schools look at when deciding to admit a student, we have seen cases in which students with an SAT score below the median or average - but with excellent qualities in other areas - get into top schools, while some students with perfect SAT scores and straight A’s get rejected because they were not active in other activities and interviewed poorly.

I wrote 800 words for my 500-word university application essay:

Word limits exist for a reason: to help the extremely busy admissions officer assess applicants in a timely manner.  Most essays are at most 500 words so that it can fit on one page and be read easily.  If the admissions officer comes across and essay that significantly exceeds the asked-for length, your application will be viewed negatively.  In fact, they may discard your application and move on to the next applicant.

Answer the freakin’ question!

If you are writing an essay in response to a question asked, be it in the SAT Writing section or in a university application, make sure you follow the prompts, understand the details completely and respond directly to any questions asked.  You may have in the past written a kick-butt essay about your championship win in a televised science competition, and want to use it as one of your essays, but don’t make the mistake of making only a few superficial changes and attempting to use it as your admissions essay response to a question about the importance of diversity in a university environment.  If the essay question asks you whether or not tragedy can serve as a motivator, make sure you do not refer to the time your maid went on vacation and you had to cook and clean on your own (we’ve seen this!).

If you are guilty of any of these, you are in need of guidance.  Be sure to contact the United States Education Information Center (USEIC) who will put you on track to achieving admissions success.