This fall I was invited to attend an information session for high school principals and counsellors who assist students applying to Ivy League universities and I thought I might share some of my notes with you. Of course, as you know, Canada offers some of the best universities in the world for undergraduate studies, and there is no need to go abroad, but for those students who are contemplating American schools, I think you’ll find that what I learned confirmed that we’re on the right track here at Abelard in terms of preparing our students to be able to apply with confidence.
Mr. Blair remains our university admissions counsellor, and please don’t hesitate to contact him should you have any questions.
I hope that you find the following of interest,
The term now being employed by admissions officers at the Ivy Leagues is “holistic admissions.” This means that students are being evaluated on a variety of criteria, not simply on marks and test scores.
Students should demonstrate well rounded rigour across a variety of disciplines, in addition to demonstrating a focus and passion in one area.
This diversity is valued over AP, SAT and ACT scores. AP scores or courses are not required, and they might provide beneficial supplementary information, but if a student appears to be taking AP courses simply to look good on paper, that will work against them. The context for the AP should be that the student is so interested in the subject that they want to challenge themselves to learn more and at a higher level. If a student has taken too many AP’s that raises a red flag as well.
They want to see students challenge themselves in context of their own school. Students who have financial resources to do extras such as taking private classes, travel abroad, etc. shouldn’t be advantaged.
They encourage students to aim for the highest marks in the hardest courses their school offers, BUT they want a healthy programme for the students. They are concerned about rising levels of anxiety, depression and mental health issues amongst university students, and an applicant who looks as though they might be in danger of burning out because they’ve been overextending themselves isn’t an attractive one.
It’s extremely important that applicants should demonstrate enjoyment, passion, etc. not just academic ambition and accomplishment.
The admissions officers look at the transcripts very closely, and pay attention not only to the grades, but also to how they might have changed over the years, how much breadth a student demonstrates, the level of difficulty of the courses.
Four years of English language and literature (including continued practice in writing)
Four years of mathematics
Four years of one foreign language
At least two years of laboratory science
At least two years of history
They don’t compare marks from school to school because each school differs in terms of difficulty, but in context of the school itself and its programmes. They compare SAT and ACT and AP scores to the school’s scores as well, which gives them an indication of the level of difficulty of the school’s programme.
Students shouldn’t take SAT tests more than twice. Then they should focus on the rest of their application.
Perfect test scores will never get a student into these schools. The student and counsellor narratives are the most important elements in the decision making process.