Issue 40: How this senior decided between McGill and USC, plus the inner workings of calculating class rigor among high schools

When Krishna, one of SocratesPost’s first readers, emailed me saying he had gotten into USC and decided to go, I knew I had to learn his story. During our interview, he shared his writing process, biggest difficulties, most helpful resources, and best advice for other applicants. He’s honest, humble, and grateful: his journey can give any USC-hopeful a sharp perspective on what it takes. This week, we wrap up our exclusive interview with this new USC-admit. To catch up from part one of our interview, click here.

Exclusive Insider Interview: USC admit from Zambia

Mercy at SocratesPost: Applying for colleges while studying as a senior in high school is a lot of work. How did you manage doing that while keeping up with your schoolwork?

Krishna at USC: Honestly, I did have issues in the beginning. I did have a little bit of time management problems, so that’s why I started pretty early in August. I braced myself and started really early. I made sure to get the bulk of the stuff done by November ish. And in December, it was time for reading everything again and refining whatever I had done.

Mercy at SocratesPost: In the beginning, it sounds like you had some difficulties with time management. How did you learn strategies to manage your time better?

Krishna at USC: Honestly, I don’t know if I did. I sort of prioritized things in my head and had an idea in my mind of how much of the writing is left and how much work I had to do. I set little goals in my mind of what to do today and what to do tomorrow.

Mercy at SocratesPost: Alright. So come decision time, what was the first admission decision that you received? And what’s the story behind that?

Krishna at USC: It was an email that I got after I took an exam. It was pretty stressful that day. And there was an email. I got a notification saying, “Here is your admission decision.” And that one was Columbia. I, unfortunately, did not get in, but I was fine with that. I just realized it probably wasn’t meant to be because I probably wasn’t up to standards.

But I can’t really say I was sad or very disappointed. I think I took it pretty well and I moved on because I knew there was a lot more now to come.

Mercy at SocratesPost: Great. What was your first acceptance? And tell me the story behind that.

Krishna at USC: My first acceptance was Case Western Reserve University because I applied early action to them. The reason I applied was that I got a fee waiver in an email, and it seemed like a pretty good school. So I was like, “you know, why not?” And I applied.

And a few months later, I got an email from them saying, “you have incomplete documents.” And I was pretty shocked. But it turns out, what I had to do is submit my SAT score online. And they said that they would get back to me decision time. But they got back to me in like two days. And I was pretty excited about that. Because that was my first acceptance and it got my hopes up.

Mercy at SocratesPost: When you say you got your hopes up, do you mean it helped you feel more positive and more optimistic about the other applications?

Krishna at USC: Yeah, because I felt that maybe good things could happen.

Mercy at SocratesPost: Okay, so tell me about the acceptance that you were the most excited for and why were you the most excited about that one?

Krishna at USC: Definitely USC, which is the school that I chose to attend, because two of my friends from my old school also applied.We were sort of hoping that we would all get in together and the three of us did end up getting in. So I was pretty excited about that. I mean, I did end up taking a gap year. But now that I know that there’s two of my good friends over there, I was pretty excited. I just like the idea of California and the nice weather because up until the end, I was deciding between USC and McGill in Montreal. They have a really nice engineering program, but the negative 30 degrees winter for three months scared me away. And at the end of the day, I chose USC because I thought I’d be happier.

Mercy at SocratesPost: That’s great. Did you apply for mechanical engineering at every school? Or were there some that you just went for general engineering or other sorts of engineering?

Krishna at USC: I applied for mechanical engineering at every school.

Mercy at SocratesPost: Great. How long after your USC acceptance did you decide to commit? It sounds like you were really excited for that one.

Krishna at USC: Actually, a month later, because I was pretty excited about McGill. Two of my friends got in there. I was in a dilemma, because I can’t choose between friends — that’s a pretty horrible thing to do. And at the end of the day, I just did what I thought to be best for me.

Mercy at SocratesPost: What do you think got you into USC?

Here’s a preview of the rest of our conversation! Subscribe to read the rest and support our ad-free newsletter.

Mercy at SocratesPost: I’m understanding that you felt like there were maybe two personas that you were giving off in your application. There’s the stats, where you’re pretty much in line and on par with their expectation. And then there’s also the separate persona that is a little bit different from what someone might consider a typical engineer.

Mercy at SocratesPost: Great point. It’s really helpful to have a secondary or kind of additional peek into who you are as a human as opposed to just your academic interests. Why was college apps a rough process for you?

Mercy at SocratesPost: If you have to say that there is one resource that helped you the most, not the internet, but something more specific — it could be a person or it could just be website — what do you think that would be? And what would your college application process have been like if you hadn’t had that?

Mercy at SocratesPost: And when you look back at your process, do you feel like you would have wanted to redo anything?

Mercy at SocratesPost: Got it. What were some of your extracurricular activities?

Mercy at SocratesPost: Which one you think was the most impactful to you?

Mercy at SocratesPost: I like that. I want to be respectful of your time, so I just want to ask you two more questions. What’s a common misunderstanding people have about applying to college?

Mercy at SocratesPost: How are people forming these expectations?

Mercy at SocratesPost: Krishna, to wrap up, what’s your best piece of advice for someone who’s about to start the application process?

This concludes our interview with Krishna!

Dear Socrates Q&A

This week, we selected a question from a student in Seattle, WA:

“How do colleges calculate the difference in rigor of classes at different schools?”

Earning an A in a class at your school might mean something completely different from an A in the same class at the school across town. We got details from a recent exclusive interview on how application readers take this into consideration.

A former admissions director at Chapman University and University of Richmond and a current admissions officer at Pomona College gave us a peek into how different schools are judged based on their rigor. In a recent interview, he told SocratesPost that admissions officers use a variety of tactics to understand each school’s context. Here’s what he means:

Mercy at SocratesPost: Earlier you said every high school has its own context. What tools do you utilize to judge the context of the applicant’s high school, so as to better understand the implications of the student’s performance there?

Grant at Pomona: There is a variety of tactics that we utilize. Almost all admissions officers are regionally divided. You have a certain region, so you might have the Southwest, you might have certain parts of Texas, you might have certain parts of California. And while there isn’t a general GPA scale for those areas, it basically means that you can get a deeper relationship with counselors and high schools that might have more nuanced ways of grading.

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SocratesPost is always on the frontlines scouring the news for relevant updates in the college admissions landscape. We look for anything that can help shape our understanding of the latest trends in admissions and help our readers see the direction in which we’re moving. Questions we explored this week:

  • True or false? More students are graduating college because standards are falling.
  • Out with the websites and brochures. In with the…. What’s the new, surprisingly effective method that colleges are using to attract students?
  • This top liberal arts college just lost $11 million. Here’s what they did and who they owe.

Get answers below.

June 12, 2019 — Likely true.

A paper published at Brown University shows that since 1990, students have been spending more time working and less time studying, but GPAs and grad rates have been rising. Some people believe colleges are incentivized by funding programs to increase graduation rates and some professors have spoken out about being pressured to pass undeserving students.

What does this mean? Just like how public high schools are pressured to meet state performance benchmarks, colleges can also feel cornered into passing students, regardless of performance. Sometimes to keep the business running, entreprises like colleges have to continue making the customer happy.