Borderline Admission Decisions – UCLA, Vanderbilt, Northwestern, Vassar

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UCLA 18% AR.86k applications, 5.7k enrolled – 1.6k internationals and out of state. 50-50 mix.  Seek low income and 1st generation. No super score.  Self-reporting.  All apps read twice.  NOT LOOKING FOR FIT – TOP ACADEMICS AND LEADERSHIP THE ONLY THINGS THEY’RE LOOKING FOR.

Vanderbilt 13% , 30k applications – 1600 places. 4 colleges – each seeking different kind of student.  Committee process. 4 different processes – depends on the specific school.

Northwestern 13% AR, committee process.

Vassar 22% admit rate. 2.5K, 1.5 hours north of NY.  8K applicants of 650.

Non-academic stuff comes into play where academics are strong across the board. Talent, motivation, engagement, impact.  In a class – balance of interests, talents, backgrounds, perspectives.

  • Meaningful contributions to class?
  • Depth of subject approach?
  • Response to challenges?
  • What would they bring?
  • What would they gain?

Case Study

Francois Yang – male, Asian, Canadian citizenship, born France, English 1st lang, Chinese at home, French – S, R, W.  Parents uni-educated. Goes to a school where most go to university.  AP curriculum.  No rank.  Class size 144. GPA 3.99/4.  All As.  SAT 740 R, MATH 770, Writing 770.  Subject tests Chinese 800, Math 800, History 780.  8 x AP. Student government, community service, athletics, YMCA counselor.  Personal essay.  Recs – foreign lang top 1-5%, AP chem top 1%.  Enthusiastic school counsellor.


Responses from the universities.  Typical involvements, typical essays, good numbers but the rest is « average ».  For UCLA, you only have his essay and you haven’t really got an impression of who he is.

WHAT CAN YOU SAY ABOUT YOURSELF IN 2 MINUTES?  Make sure the 2 sides match up – counsellor and student.

What does it mean for a European to « sell themselves »?  Unis have outside readers, trained as experts for the region they are reading.  They understand cultural context and learn about other systems. 

And what if we change the factors?  E.g. gender, race, parental educational background. Will he be admitted or not?  At Vassar, every application is discussed.  Under-represented students have certainly been prioritised so even sb with great numbers may not be a priority.  UCLA – cannot take race and gender into account.  Citizenship and residency CAN be factored in but doesn’t change selectivity level.  Also lang at home and parental education.

What can the student do?  Be honest and open about who they are.  NO DISCONNECT BETWEEN RECS AND ESSAYS!

  • variation…
  • activities
  • writing
  • recommendations
  • school location and type
  • legacy, institutional ties
  • demonstrated interest
  • major or school interest
  • early or regular
  • financial need

Most essays are fine, don’t stand out.  WHAT MAKES YOU SOUND LIKE A REALLY INTERESTING PERSON?!!  Keep things short and pithy!

Vassar consider legacy but legacy varies by university.  No relevance to UC.  No demonstrated interest relevance at UC.  But Major and School IS taken into account by UC.

Financial need plays.  Vanderbilt – international scholarships, merit-based – need-blind.  UCLA need-blind for all but no scholarships.

ED – Northwestern 2k freshman – 43% was ED – sig chunk international. c100 Varsity athletes in the 2k.

Vanderbilt – 40% ED.