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.

McGill and Bishop’s Visit

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  • Please note that there is an update to IELTS this year with an additional requirement for individual component scores of 6.0 and better.  Additionally, results are now expected to be received electronically, directly from the appropriate IELTS organization.
  • The application deadline for students studying outside Canada is January 15.  The application is found at .
    This is an application-only deadline.  The deadline to receive supporting documents is later (March 15), but students will want to upload their documents as soon as they are available as a program can close before the deadline date if it has reached capacity.
  • Supporting documents are uploaded by the student directly to their file.  More info at
  • Students with high academic achievement and leadership qualities may be interested in submitting an application for a major scholarship. Students requiring some additional financial assistance can apply for the Entrance Bursary program.
    Information regarding Entrance Scholarships and Student Aid can be found at
  • Admitted students are not mailed the letter of offer of admission; they will be able to access (and print it) via Minerva. Important information for admitted students is found at

McGill – founded in 1821 – heart of city.  Very international, very safe.  Montreal very safe city.  2 campuses – downtown.  Started with medical faculty.

Can be very cold but usually doesn’t last (apart from last year! – Jan and Feb).  Varies.

Very green, flanked by the mountain (hill!).  Gated campus.  Older and modern buildings.  McDonald campus – rural.  Montreal is on an island in the St Lawrence river.  School of agriculture, bio-resource engineering programme.  30 minutes on free shuttle bus.  Live in residence there.

20% international students, lots of travel available.  2 campuses, both very green.  Guaranteed housing, costs reasonable in Québec.  Reduced fees if French citizen.  300 programmes, 11 faculties.  ES – arts, management, education.  Major programmes or concentrations (minor needed in another programme).  Major in Econ, minor in International Relations & electives or another minor (e.g. management).

Management would require 15 in Maths (ES).  Can make 2 choices – you will be reviewed for both your choices.  If miss Mgt, can do Econ, Maths or minor in Mgt.  Or can do inter-Faculty transfer.

Exchange programmes – a year can be done somewhere else – Australia, Budapest, Hong Kong etc.  Also internship possibilities available.  Usually paid.  Can increase profile.  Traditional dorms at base of the « mountain ».  Less traditional – converted hotels – double rooms and double beds.  Sharing common spaces.

Applications – you will be reviewed on 1ère and 1st trimestre of Terminale (and maybe 2nd).  Proof of English proficiency.  When you apply, you get a PIN number for Minerva – online docs system.  You can always check via this system – all done via Minerva – must keep checking.

If you are expecting a 17 overall, apply for a Major Scholarship (anticipate 2 letters of recommendation).

English A in IB will satisfy English requirement.

Advanced Standing credit available for IB, Matu and Bac students – EXCEPT IN SCIENCE PROGRAMMES.  30 credits of advanced standing given for French Bac – 3 years instead of 4 years.  Less so for Swiss Matu – arts, education, management can get advanced standing. BA, BComm, BEd.

Agriculture and Environmental Science – 12s, 13s.  14s and 15s in 1ère would be needed for most courses.   For Education – 12s would be ok in 1ère and 1st semestre of Terminale.

Swiss Matu – 4.5 overall or slightly lower sometimes (for Arts).  For Business, probably 4.7, 4.8.  Standard Maths is good but Advanced Maths would be necessary for Engineering. (This should be checked).

For Management, 14.7 was the minimum last year for overall and Maths.

15 in French Bac, 15.5-16 in Engineering, Management 14.5 if S, 15 if ES.

BISHOP’S – see

Sherbrooke – 1 hour from Montréal, 2.4k students, similar to small liberal arts college style.  English borough surrounded by French boroughs.  Small classes – 29 students average, no teaching assistants teaching courses.  Guaranteed room in 1st year.

Weather is cold and can be VERY cold but the winter is dry.

12 minimum in bac, 26 IB points, 4.5 Matu.  If IB 28 points, 3 years not 4 and a scholarship.

Promotional code will give you 50% of price of applying.  IELTS 6.5, CAE C.

If French citizen, $3.5k per year, otherwise $16k-18k.  All -in-costs – international, CHF 23K, French CHF 10K.

2 years before – avoid living in Canada if French citizen.

Bath University Visit

Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 09.50.39IMG_0910University of Bath Oct 2014 (click on this link for the presentation)

Many thanks to Mme Van Wauwe, Head of the Parents’ Association, for organising this meeting.

Here are my notes from the meeting –

Mechanical Engineering best in country. Possible to study Architecture and Engineering together. Psychology,  Health Education , Economics and  Social work.   No 1 Natural Sciences, Management and Business.

60% placement during 3rd year…leading companies. Including abroad. Very employable students. Lots of research. Campus. All very concentrated and convenient.  Olympic pool lots of sports facilities. Students union.

14 15 French Bac.

Brown and UPenn Visit Report

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Brown University, Rhode Island

Distinctives – arts and academic equal interests – focus on undergrads – liberal medical program –

  • 7th oldest uni, est. 1776. Ivy League. Location – Providence, Rhode Island – between Boston and New York. On hill – East side. Residntial college. Advantages of city without distraction.
  • The « Ocean » state – sailing etc.
  • Classes – 6.4k undergrads, 1.6k grads. 17 or fewer students in many classes.
  • Campus – archaeological digs !
  • Open curriculum – 1st year – core curriculum (typical liberal arts approach). All are chosen courses, however. Active understanding and learning – genuine interest encouraged.
  • 4 courses each semester. 2K courses offered each year ! A lot of variety.
  • Guidance is given during the choosing process. End of 2nd year you dcclare a Major. 80 pre-set « concentrations ». 25 % of students « double-concentrate » – doable.
  • Advisors provided for whatever you choose to do – e.g. Sport, thesis etc – Enable you to do what you wish to.
  • Faculty know that students keen to learn. Focus is on the undergraduates.
  • Research is happening in all disciplines.
  • Rhode Island School of Design – can take courses there. Ie Dual Degree Program – 5 year program.
  • Liberal Medical Education – non-accelerated – know they want to be doctors but want to do other things as well – not just hot-housed biomed choices…
  • Division 1 athletic program. 4Th largest in country. New swimming facility.
  • 350 student groups.
  • Study abroad – anywhere allowed. You can create your own programme.
  • Required residence on campus 1st 3 years. 9 dining halls. Loads of restaurants in Providence. Art museums.
  • V international presence.
  • SATs – holistic admissions.
  • Need-blind and all scholarships are need-based. Not just tuition fees – all costs included.
  • 4 year courses

University of Pennsylvania – Philadelphia

Maxine Mendoza

  • Urban school. 5Th largest city in US. Balance of campus and city.
  • Founded 1740 by Benjamin Franklin – his ideas continue to shape the spirit of the uni.
  • His philosophy – focus on one core academic field. But also flexibility – interdisciplinarity. 1St US ambassador to France
  • Founded 1st hospital in the US.
  • « Great end of all learning is service to society » Learning with a purpose !
  • Wide range of backgrounds welcome.
  • For international students, commitment to support.
  • 111 different countries represented.
  • West Philadelphia – v accessible and walkable. No need for public transport – everything on campus. Good sense of community. Over the river and you will be in downtown Philadelphia.
  • 10k undergrads, same number grads.
  • Regular access to faculty members.
  • 11 different college houses. Freshmen arrive 1 week before other students. You can practise languages on corridors in the houses.
  • 4 undergrad schools – College Arts Sciences, Business, Engineering, Nursing. Not separate campuses – but majority of your courses taken within these schools. Majority enter Coll Art Sci. Majors in sciences, humanities, interdisciplinary courses such as Bio-Neuroscience. PPE department.
  • 1.6k combinations ! 70 % of classes have fewer than 25 students.
  • Business – Economics, Applied Econ
  • Lots of interdisciplinarity possible
  • Possible to do 2 undergrad school at same time.
  • Primarily a research university. You can get involved! 4 hospitals on campus.
  • Lifelong access to Penn career services. 93 % of grads employed or in grad school within 6 months after graduation.
  • SATs – seek to view through cultural lens


  • Assessment of applications – holistic.