A: High quality educational programs in the U.S. are the most competitive in the world — and they are getting more competitive every year. Twenty years ago, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and Stanford received about 12,000 applications each, and their acceptance rates were as high as 18%. In 2016, the number of applicants to each of these schools exceeded 30,000 and the acceptance rate has gone down to approximately 5%. While the acceptance rates of different schools may vary, getting into a good university in the US remains very competitive overall.In addition to being highly selective, admissions processes in the US are complex. Most undergraduate programs have a “holistic” admissions process, meaning that the totality of a student’s academic and extracurricular credentials during his or her high school years are evaluated by the admissions officers. Although standardized testing scores and grades are quite important, admissions decisions depend just as much on the personal narrative you present through your personal statement, letters of recommendation, summer activities and extracurricular activities, to name a few (for instance, Stanford did not offer admission to 69% of its applicants with perfect SAT scores between 2008 and 2013).
Going to a good school that is the right fit for a student can be a hugely transformative experience. Because it is such an important decision in one’s life, and because the process has become so competitive and complex, it has become increasingly common even for US families who are familiar with the admissions process to seek expert counseling. Professional counseling can make an enormous difference in the admissions results.
Q: If my son or daughter already has a college counselor at school, why would I need an external counselor?
A: Every year top schools in the US receive applications from tens of thousands of students from all over the world (for example, 52,532 students applied to Boston University’s Class of 2017; a total of 101,655 prospective freshmen and transfer students applied for admission to UC Berkeley for 2016-17). They are, for the most part, academically qualified individuals, with strong grades, and excellent – sometimes perfect – standardized test scores. And that definitely improves anyone’s prospects of success. However, most schools have a “holistic” approach to their admissions decisions. This means that universities are not only looking for smart, disciplined students; they are also just as interested in finding engaged and enthusiastic individuals who will contribute to a diverse, dynamic, and stimulating learning environment specific to their campus community. In other words, being academically strong is necessary, but not enough to be admitted to top schools — and different schools are looking for different “soft” qualities.Many people think that schools are looking for a “perfect” student who checks a number of predictable boxes, and they set out to adjust their activities and interests to try to fit that perceived model. But the reality is far more complex. Every school has a different approach to education and a distinctive set of values that it wants to preserve and foster in its academic community. As a result, schools are attracted to applicants who prove to be good fits for them, in particular. The school-student fit assessment is a subtle but crucial one. It can be so important that a student may well be admitted to one highly selective school and not others, or even be rejected from less competitive ones simply because he or she is not the right fit, in the college’s eyes.
A good counselor will help students develop an optimal profile in light of what each school is actually looking for. Our counselors at Expert Admissions bring their insider perspective on the admissions process to the table in order to help present the most compelling personal narrative for each applicant at each school while fully understanding the school-student fit.
A: 99% of our students are accepted to at least one of their top 3 choices.
Q: My son/daughter has a GPA of X, an SAT score of Y, and a TOEFL score of Z, what schools can you help him/her get into? Top 10? Top 30? Top 50?
A: It is critical to understand that grades and standardized test scores are only one of many critical components of a successful college application. While most colleges and universities want to admit applicants with strong academic credentials, the “holistic” admissions process involves much more than just looking at a student’s numbers. A perfect GPA and flawless standardized test scores, while helpful, are not guarantees of admission at the most selective institutions (for instance, Stanford did not offer admission to 69% of its applicants with perfect SAT scores between 2008 and 2013). The decision to accept a student is not based on some simple algorithm or score, but follows a careful and qualitatively detailed discussion within the admissions office.Having said that, most programs expect a TOEFL score of at least 80 (usually over 100 for the most competitive schools). For purposes of illustration, this is a rough sense of the GPA distribution of the incoming freshman class at some U.S. universities (notice how academically competitive some very prestigious schools are, which most international students have never even heard of):
Source: The College Board (bigfuture.collegeboard.org). The data presented here does not reflect the official requirements of any particular program or school. Please be sure to check each institution’s website for specific requirements for admission.
Q: I see that you have counselors from Columbia and NYU. Do a lot of your students get accepted to Columbia and NYU? Do you help students get into other schools?
A: It’s never too early to start! We can begin to work with a student at almost any point before applications are due, and as late as the autumn of the application year. However, the earlier we begin to work with a student, the more our counselors will be able to help strengthen a student’s profile.In the case of undergraduate or college admissions, because universities look at everything you’ve done (and haven’t done) throughout high school, it is common for families to start working with us as early as 9th grade.
For transfer students, we usually begin to work around one year before the application for transfer is due. This is important because applications for transfer depend heavily on your curricular and extracurricular choices (and performance) at the institution where you want to transfer from.
In the case of graduate degree programs, we often advise our clients to begin working on applications at least one year in advance. Doing so makes the process more comfortable, maximizes standardized test performance, and allows more time for in-depth research on each program and institution of interest.
Q. I’ve seen tons of agents who guarantee admission and even write a student’s essay. How is Expert Admissions different from those agents?
A. Expert Admissions is an independent admissions consulting firm. Agents typically take commission by sending students to schools that tend to be less selective or where the applicant already has a high chance of admission to begin with. Unlike agents, Expert Admissions has no financial ties with colleges or universities and our counseling team helps students improve their chances of admission into more competitive institutions. We only work in the best interests of our students and their families. As a result, whenever we recommend a school, we do so only on the basis of our professional assessment of a student’s fit for that particular institution, never on the basis of economic incentives provided by the school.Secondly, we don’t make false promises so we cannot guarantee admissions results. Our expertise and experience are the best guarantees of good results, as reflected in our track record over the past 12 years.
Finally, it is the policy of U.S. admissions committees for a student’s personal essay and supplements to be his or her own work. While we spend a lot of time helping our students brainstorm, draft, and revise their essays, the end-product always reflects the authentic voice that admissions counselors are seeking. We are always mindful that a good essay needs to match the student’s academic profile and retain the voice of a 17-year-old when applying to college (or the appropriate age when applying to boarding school or graduate school). Our credibility and good standing with admissions offices is the direct result of the high ethical and professional standards we apply to our work with each and every student, and the many students we send them every year.