Issue 25: Answers from Stanford, Boston College, and WUSTL admissions, plus how to explain gaps in high school transcripts

Exclusive Insider Interview: Admissions Officer, Soka University

The latest exclusive insider interview is the final installment of our 4-part in-depth interview series with Soka University admissions officer Aaron Perry. Last week, based on a reader suggestion, we profiled the surrounding campus area and offered readers a peek into what it’s like to be in Aliso Viejo. To catch up from last week, click here.

This week, we delve deep into dealing with gaps in high school transcripts, the separate standards international students have to adhere to, the biggest surprises Soka applicants have about admissions, and Aaron’s take on the “secret back door” to getting into college. We finish off with this selective liberal arts college admissions officer’s very best piece of advice for our subscribers.

Mercy at SocratesPost: Some readers wrote in and asked how do colleges look at leaves of absences during high school? How should they approach that so they don’t jeopardize their chances of getting into their dream colleges?

Aaron at Soka: That’s becoming more and more common. I think we’ve seen more parents find alternative ways of education for their students. They are leaving their second, third year in and then coming back and graduating or leaving and then just getting their GED.

Mercy at SocratesPost: It looks like they are leaving with the intention of going back to high school if they can. Maybe it’s a medical leave and they have to resolve some issues and then kind of go back.

Aaron at Soka: A student like that really isn’t too bad a shape at Soka, or at least in our process because we’re taking that time to go through it with the intent to finding every sort of nuance and detail to really point to the right student for us.

At a larger institution, that’s a tough thing to navigate. Really the personal statement would be a time to just put it all out there in a succinct way. Not just kind of a “woe is me,” but rather “look, here’s what happened. Here’s what I’ve learned. I have grown from it and here’s what I still plan to do regardless of my setbacks.” As long as you come out of it with more of a sense of not just pride but “I feel like I’m going to be an asset to your institution,” that’s super helpful.

I would never recommend using it as an excuse to bring to committees. Definitely grow from it. And if you’re flat out bed-ridden for a year, that’s just tough. Someone’s going to have to see that and hopefully there’s enough humanism within them to take that at face value and bring that into consideration. If you had to leave school for mental health cases or issues and you haven’t been able to study per se, but you volunteered your time to a worthy cause or helped counsel other youth going through something similar, that’s valuable. At least for us, and for me personally, as long as you’re not just spinning our wheels and taking your time to reflect, that’s helpful.

Mercy at SocratesPost: Do you have a separate set of standards that you put upon international students?

Aaron at Soka: They have separate requirements. The biggest thing is going to be language. Some international students are fortunate to attend U.S. accredited schools where they’re getting 50% or more of their instruction in English. Other students have taken it upon themselves to learn English and will come across the world to then study. So there is a slight difference in what we hold our international students to when looking to admit them, but it’s not substantial. It’s pretty minute.

Mercy at SocratesPost: Would you say that for an international student who has pretty much the same qualifications as a domestic student – their language skills are good, they’ve got the grades and everything else – is there a preference for domestic students?

Aaron at Soka: No. We’re still split 60/40, 60% domestic, 40% international.

Mercy at SocratesPost: That’s a high number of international students, actually.

Aaron at Soka: Yeah. But there’s no preference for domestic or for international. A lot of other colleges want international because they’re more often than not full pay students. We don’t take any of that into account. We are admitting the student first and then working through finances once we’ve already let them know that we want them. So that’s never coming into question for us and there isn’t much of a preference at all. We’re always wanting to see diversity, in every aspect. And that could be through where you come from. It could be through interests. We’ve got international applicants that are super tech-oriented. We’re a liberal arts college; I don’t have coding. You’re not going to write Python or any of that stuff. So in that case, you’ve got two of the same students more or less, but one just makes more sense.

Mercy at SocratesPost: If I were an applicant, what would I be most surprised to learn about how the Soka admissions works?

Subscribe to read if admissions officers like Aaron want to be surprised or just want you to follow directions! Plus how impressive research on a school might trump lower GPAs → 
Here’s a preview of the rest of our conversation! Subscribe to read the rest and support our ad-free newsletter.
Mercy at SocratesPost: When you have 450 undergrads, everybody knows each other.
Mercy at SocratesPost: People think that there is a secret back door to getting into college. So what are the secrets?

Mercy at SocratesPost: In some schools, if you’re a celebrity’s, president’s, or a donor’s kid —

Mercy at SocratesPost: What is your best piece of advice for someone trying to get into Soka?

Stay tuned for a brand new exclusive insider interview with a new admissions officer next week!

Dear Socrates Q&A

This week, we selected a question from Amara, a student in Brooklyn, NY:

“How likely is it to be accepted into a college after you’ve been deferred in Early Decision/Early Action?”

This all depends on the school you applied to. Let’s look at MIT, for example. For the most recent Class of 2020, MIT’s overall first-year admission rate was 6.7% (1,464 accepted out of 21,706 applications). However, only 3.9% of those who were deferred from Early Action got in during the Regular round.

Since we don’t know which schools you’ve been deferred to, we talked to insider sources from a variety of schools across America: one East Coast school, one Midwest school, and one West Coast school.

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  • What can we learn from Stanford freshmen who recently obtained their application records from the admissions office?
  • Why did a liberal arts college in Maryland cut their Music, French, German, Art History, and Religious Studies majors and what does that mean?
  • International student enrollment has declined in the U.S….but has it risen in Canada?

Get answers below.

Feb. 24, 2019 — Stanford freshmen access their successful applications and try to demystify the process.

  • What? A group of Stanford frosh recently gained access to comments on their Stanford applications.
  • Why? Under the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), students are able to see records related to their education. Though typically Stanford destroys application records, these students were able to access them due to a delay in destroying admissions-related records.
  • What this means: One student found a sibling report in his file, where admissions officers printed out and saved academic documents related to his older brother and compared the two. Some students suspect that a “2” mark in the ethnicity category suggest an Asian American ethnicity. Another student noticed she scored only 3 out of 5 in the personality category despite a strong recommendation from her interviewer. As college applicants and students push for more transparency in the college admissions process (kicked off by Harvard’s Oct. 2018 trial), these stories are ever more important and telling of what truly happens beyond the gates. Though admissions offices still remain tight lipped, students are free to share their experience once they’ve accessed these comments. What does this mean for you? Once you’re accepted to college, don’t wait to request to view your application. You’ll gain even greater transparency into how college works — and maybe even help your younger peers.