Career & Education

College admissions success: Lessons from 2017 results


Sunday, June 25, 2017

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While I'm not sure I can call them “trends” until more data is analysed and released globally, I will share our team's initial insights from the results of our most recent class of 2017.

1) More scholarships, if you start early

This is excellent news! More scholarship opportunities exist, but they are available and open to students who plan ahead. This gives the time to explore a given college's website and ask about scholarships that may not be listed, and applications submitted earlier have a better chance because more money is available earlier in the admissions cycle. One of our students got an additional grant for submitting his poetry — an opportunity he discovered because of the time he took to do the homework. The truth is that colleges add and take away scholarship opportunities each year, and with over 3,200 colleges and universities in the US alone, staying on top of each one is difficult, but once we identify those are the best fit, we encourage our students to research because it pays off. Many colleges also admit and award students on a rolling, “first come, first served” basis, so the early bird does get the veritable worm. We had an upward trend in our scholarship numbers this year due in part to this fact. Last but not least, check your email! Colleges announce scholarships or invite students to apply via email after applications have been submitted, so failure to check one's email can [and has] result[ed] in lost money.

2) Demonstrated interest counts

Demonstrated interest in the form of a college visit and/or contact via email to the admissions officer responsible for your region, asking a well thought-out question or two (not those you could get an answer to on the school's website), applying under an early plan, advocacy from a counsellor and strong WHY essays, can and did make a difference in admissions this year.

In making an admissions decision, many colleges want to know that the applicant is genuinely interested and has done his/her homework, as opposed to merely adding the college or university to the common app blindly. Colleges want students who want them, because spots are limited and so are funds. The ratio of admissions offers made to those accepted is called yield, and colleges take this very seriously because it affects their ranking on popular lists, including US News and World Report. Yield as a measure of student desirability also affects how well a school can market itself going forward. We saw our students singled out for features on college's websites and special scholarships because of the WHY question and how clearly the answer was articulated. Beyond the writing, if you really are interested in a particular school, visit if possible and reach out via e-mail with serious and robust questions. Spend the time! Do your homework!

3) At highly competitive universities admit rates fell and HOOKS hooked

How low can you go? Well, we aren't sure, but admissions rates for already uber competitive universities dipped even lower this year. Although final aggregate numbers aren't yet in, preliminary numbers suggest that students have applied to more universities than usual, which may push the average to between nine and 11 applications per student. Our students were successful at many of these universities because of a defined angle or hook to their application, in addition to the grades and high test scores, awesome teacher recommendations, etc. Students must work on building a record of initiative, commitment and achievement in an area they are interested in and may be passionate about. Colleges look to build communities of people who are specialists in particular areas in order to build a generalist class, as opposed to seeking students who have dabbled in different areas but are probably not deeply committed or haven't developed skill in any one thing.

4 ) Holistic is still KING

Colleges in the US still consider the entire student, but SAT/ACT scores and academic records still lead the way!

5) More global opportunity, but only for the prepared!

We see more and more opportunities for students; however, some students are unable to take advantage of them because:

• They haven't selected the US college prep curriculum CORE5 areas (English language and literature, maths (+add maths), science (all three if possible), social science (preferably history) and a foriegn language.

• They haven't selected the correct subjects for what ends up being their core interest area (which is why choosing the CORE5 makes the most sense. Technical drawing, computer science, principles of business or principles of accounts are elective subjects and will never be prerequisites for any major).

• They consider the SAT/ACT too late and do not give themselves sufficient time or do enough work to prepare properly and sit multiple sittings to maximise their score. Students should start revising material in fourth form and start formal prep classes in the summer after fifth form.

We recommend that parents use the summer to research carefully — fortune favours the prepared!

Nicole McLaren Campbell is the founder and CEO of Aim Educational Services, an independent college admissions counsellor, and public speaker. Contact her at




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