Issue 47: Senior admissions counselor’s secret favorite essay topics, plus a loophole to get more financial aid
“I had one student from India write about her parents showing her a video of Britney Spears, which was how her parents introduced her to moving to New York.” Karla Reigosa, senior admissions counselor, continues giving SocratesPost the insider perspective: best essay topics, best piece of advice, biggest misunderstandings, and the most important questions college applicants should be asking themselves. To catch up from last week, click here.
Exclusive Insider Interview: Senior Admissions Counselor
Mercy at SocratesPost: When you’re reading international applications, how do you rank the importance of each aspect of the application? We were just talking about the SAT and ACT which are important, but what about the others?
Karla at Florida Southern: There are different things. We have a couple of different checkpoints that we have to hit. Did the student submit a college essay? What was the writing level? What was the context? Were they able to answer the question and go into further detail? There are some essays that I can’t wait for them to publish their work because they’re a great writer already. So, a review on the essay is one rating.
Mercy at SocratesPost: What are other aspects do you really pay attention to?
Karla at Florida Southern: Letters of recommendation is another. We leave it open where a student can submit more than one letter of recommendation, but we need at least one. If they submitted more, were they diverse or were they all more on the academic side? I know some schools want to have one from a teacher, one from this, one from there, but we allow the student to pick what they want. Because of this, we ask, were they able to select somebody that knew them since they were given this option? And what was the content involved?
Mercy at SocratesPost: Are there questions unique to Florida Southern that you like to ask your candidates?
Karla at Florida Southern: We have a section for special accolades, which includes the organizations that they’re a part of. So, is there anything outside of what a typical student is asked to do? Are they showing any sort of leadership skills or are they part of organizations or anything that they’re currently doing that is extraordinary? So, we look at a couple of things outside from just the academics. We look at the type of school and the opportunities that there may be at the school. There are some schools that don’t offer AP or IB and that’s fine. Some students may not be able to pick where they want to go, which may limit their opportunities at school. But we’re also looking at if there was an opportunity to take a challenge and do something within the school that’s further than normal, did they take it or not? Those are a few little check marks apart from just plugging in the grade point average.
Mercy at SocratesPost: What happens when a candidate doesn’t meet the minimum criteria? Is there any flexibility or leeway, or is it an automatic rejection?
Karla at Florida Southern: Florida Southern truly does take a holistic approach. There have been times where a student may not meet the minimums or we don’t have the test scores but there are certain things that we look at and have a director or somebody above us take a second look. I had the VP of enrollment management come to me yesterday. He was looking at one of my students and saw what I wrote about them and asked if we could chat further, maybe have a meeting with the student.
Mercy at SocratesPost: What’s the result of the VP of enrollment management looking at applications with you?
Karla at Florida Southern: After those discussions, the student was accepted today. The VP of enrollment management is in our admissions office, so you can just go in and out, bother him all the time. And then he comes and bothers you, too, so you have to be ready for that; he has a very open door policy. But he’s another person that also knows the students. So, he’s looking at those students who may not meet all of what we’re looking for on the admissions side, but then the admissions counselor will think that they would be a good fit and then you get to ask why. Sometimes we say no, which is just fine. One of the last denies that I had, that I was really pushing for, we said no to him, but gave him recommendations from our vice president to work on and told him we would love to see his application again. So, it was a soft no. Even though it was deny, we still ended up on a positive note, which was great.
Mercy at SocratesPost: Are your rejections sometimes just a “not now” instead of a “never?”
Karla at Florida Southern: Yeah, and everybody’s situation is different. The students tell me so many things and I understand where they’re coming from. But, we’re also looking at the academic side. Sometimes I don’t know if we’re going to be able to give them any academic scholarships, and lots of students would not be able to attend without some sort of scholarship. Sometimes, I’ll encourage them to work for a semester and finish a couple more courses, then they can reapply if they can reach these goals. And so the students feel like that’s going to be a better option. Not every school can do this, sometimes you get so many applications, I can’t imagine being able to communicate with everybody. But I have the ability to do so, I even do deny calls. It’s great to have the opportunity to have that one-on-one communication.
Mercy at SocratesPost: You were talking about writing notes on the application and using a rating system. It sounds like to me you’re spending a decent amount of time reviewing every applicant. How long do you think it takes for you to evaluate one application?
Karla at Florida Southern: It’s not too long. When you start off reading applications, it can take some time. I can do about 20 to 30 minutes on each one, because everything’s organized a certain way. Essays are not too long, and you start to quickly figure out what the student’s talking about. Sometimes they catch you a little when they write really well, so maybe you take a little bit longer, because you just love it. Sometimes you get these five sentence essays and you think, why? I had one student whose essay took me three minutes because they didn’t say anything, it was just so general.
Mercy at SocratesPost: When are times you need to take extra time to review an app?
Karla at Florida Southern: On the other hand, I’ve gotten 10-page essays and those can take a little bit longer. But I try to read through everything: did the student answer the question of the essay? Were they able to put content and go into further detail? I’ve noticed that within the college essay sometimes students tend to write, “I like to go to the playground,” but they don’t explain what they like about it. And I think it’s standard in school that you learn to go into further details. So, you’re just trying to see if they’re ready for that college level.
Mercy at SocratesPost: So do you have like a paper checklist that you’re referring to when doing this application checklist? Is there a scale that they want you to use?
Mercy at SocratesPost: What usually causes the director’s decision to disagree with the first and second readers’ recommendations?
Mercy at SocratesPost: How do you use your admissions trends to improve processes year to year?
Mercy at SocratesPost: I didn’t realize it was so data-oriented. Can you tell me more about that?
Mercy at SocratesPost: Is that an automatic denial?
Mercy at SocratesPost: How does it make you feel when an applicant tells you how many other schools they’re applying to?
Mercy at SocratesPost: How many applications would you estimate that you’ve reviewed in your whole career so far?
Mercy at SocratesPost: Oh, absolutely. So among the at least 1800 to probably more applications you’ve read, what are some that really stand out to you and why?
Mercy at SocratesPost: Why did this essay stand out to you so much?
Mercy at SocratesPost: What other types of essays do you enjoy reading?
Mercy at SocratesPost: What about essays that aren’t as compelling to you?
Mercy at SocratesPost: What’s another example of a stellar essay topic you still remember today?
Mercy at SocratesPost: Do the students have any idea how their essays impact you?
Mercy at SocratesPost: What do you think is a big misunderstanding that students or their families have about getting into Florida Southern?
Mercy at SocratesPost: So what’s the truth about application fees?
Mercy at SocratesPost: What causes students to have this misunderstanding about getting in?
Mercy at SocratesPost: What else contributes to the misconceptions?
Mercy at SocratesPost: Do you think there’s a clear understanding among your applicants about the academics you offer?
Mercy at SocratesPost: What percentage of the students that you accept actually matriculate? And for those who don’t, what do you think are their main reasons?
Mercy at SocratesPost: Among them, what are some of the most popular academic programs and does their major selection affect their admissions chances?
Mercy at SocratesPost: What are some of the more competitive majors at Florida Southern?
Mercy at SocratesPost: I’ve never heard of faculty advisors being so involved with accepted students who haven’t enrolled. What’s the purpose of that?
Mercy at SocratesPost: How does this faculty advisor engagement affect the whole college’s performance?
Mercy at SocratesPost: Some people wonder if there is a secret to getting into college. What do you think about that?
Mercy at SocratesPost: What’s the best way to find the right school?
Mercy at SocratesPost: What’s a little-known question that you think college applicants should be asking themselves?
Mercy at SocratesPost: That’s a fresh perspective. What’s the secret behind food and college?
Mercy at SocratesPost: What’s another overlooked consideration when choosing a right college?
Mercy at SocratesPost: It’s great you get to live vicariously through these transfers that you work with and understand what didn’t work for them at their old schools.
Last question — what is your best piece of advice who wants to get into Florida Southern?
Mercy at SocratesPost: What a unique and generous incentive for accepted students! I don’t hear about this one a lot.
Mercy at SocratesPost: Why do think this is the most important thing to do?
Mercy at SocratesPost: What’s the significance of seeing your students graduate and make it through the four years?
Mercy at SocratesPost: Thank you so much for your insights today, Karla.
Hey Vy, I helped another parent, Allison from Bellevue, Washington, figure this out awhile back but it’s not a bad idea to go over it again now that application season is restarting.
Most high schoolers take the SAT or ACT in their junior year of high school. Senior year is generally too late because that’s when applications go out. Taking the test in freshman or sophomore years is possible, but many students and parents believe that merely undergoing high school coursework in sophomore and junior years will help them perform better on the test without additional tutoring.
Oftentimes, the works cited in the verbal sections of the ACT and SAT are novels or other texts covered in Honors English, AP Lang, or AP Lit. Likewise, the math sections do cover more advanced topics that many students don’t learn in their high school math classes until at least sophomore — if not junior — year.
As a high schooler, I took the SAT in the fall of my junior year. I would recommend that students take it the August/September before junior year so they can focus on the test without the demands of schoolwork and extracurriculars during the school year. Most students are either still on summer break in late August/early September or have just started their school year. They’re less busy.
If they bomb the August/September tests and wish to retake it, they’ll have multiple chances to register throughout junior year.
But when should you start studying for it and should you pay a tutor to help?
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:
- A top university was removed from the U.S. News & World Report rankings. Which one and why?
- Don’t want to spend your whole fortune on college? Here are four little-known colleges that are tuition free for all students.
- A new legal loophole to get more financial aid has been discovered. What is it and who is doing it?
Get answers below.
July 26, 2019 — UC Berkeley for misreporting stats.
According to a Berkeley insider, Berkeley misrepresented their alumni giving percentage, allegedly since 2014. The popular ranking website removed it from the ranking, leaving the #2 public school spot empty.
What does this mean? Most schools still care about their rankings, though arbitrary, and the ranking publications do not do much fact checking. The often-abused honor system makes the rankings even more unreliable. US News’ removal of Berkeley is a clear lesson to other schools.