College Application: Tips on Selecting a Summer Program Meeting Admission Officers’ Standards

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Brett Fuller

About the Author

Brett Fuller

Academic Development Manager | Pioneer Academics
Former Associate Dean of Undergraduate Admissions, Wake Forest University
Former Senior Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions, Columbia University

Brett Fuller is a distinguished academic professional with over ten years of extensive experience in higher education admissions, showcasing expertise in undergraduate admissions processes. As an accomplished leader in prestigious institutions such as Wake Forest University, Columbia University, and Manhattan College, he has excelled in various roles ranging from Senior Admissions Officer to Associate Dean of Undergraduate Admissions.

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As high school students prepare to embark on one of the most significant journeys of their lives, the college application process, they may be left feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about where to begin. With so many factors to consider, including grades, extracurricular activities, standardized test scores, essays, and application deadlines, it can be difficult to know how to stand out in a sea of qualified applicants.

Pioneer Academics provides unparalleled access to the world’s top academic resources, connecting our scholars with unique opportunities to pursue their scholarly interests at an advanced level with unmatched mentorship. We are highlighting one such resource today for you.

We asked a 10-year college admissions expert to give insights into what you should consider when selecting a summer opportunity. Read on to see what they had to say!

First, What is the College Admissions Process?

The process of gaining admission to and enrolling in a college or university, commonly referred to as the college admissions process, can be confusing and demanding. To make the most out of your college search, it is important to have a plan. While the requirements and procedures will differ from one institution to the next, students should be prepared to follow these key steps:

Researching colleges and universities

Long before making an informed decision about which colleges or universities to apply to, students should conduct research based on a variety of factors. It is your decision, and you can prioritize your ideal “fit” accordingly, but some factors to consider include location, academic programs, cost and financial aid support, and campus culture. You may already have a “dream school” in mind – that’s great! Take a step back and ask why you have identified that school as your ideal institution. What characteristics set it apart, and which other schools might share those common denominators? 

Building a strong academic record

Admissions officers place a significant emphasis on a student’s academic performance when evaluating their application. A strong academic record indicates that a student is capable of handling the rigor of college-level coursework and is likely to succeed in a college environment. High school transcripts are not the only measure of academic performance, however. When reviewing a transcript, admissions officers will also be closely considering the courses that a student selected relative to their interests and the curriculum in their high school classes. Taking challenging courses can demonstrate prospective students’ academic strength to college admissions officers while also showing a willingness to be challenged and explore new ideas. Your transcript, including courses completed outside of your high school, can tell a story. While college credit is a valuable addition for you, the rigor, accreditation, and academic orientation of coursework are key considerations for admissions officers. 

Extracurricular activities

Admissions officers know that welcoming students to campus is more than opening the door to the classrooms. Applicants are also evaluated on their perceived contributions to the campus community and the ways in which they have explored their various passions or interests to this point. Every student has interests, hobbies, and pursuits beyond the classroom. Extracurricular activities are one of the best ways to reveal who you are beyond grades and test scores. When choosing extracurricular activities, it is most important to choose something that genuinely interests you. Some examples might include but are certainly not limited to sports, music, academic teams, internships or employment, community service, or independent projects. 

Taking standardized tests

Standardized tests, such as the SAT or ACT, can be a critical part of the process. Many colleges and universities require students to submit their scores as part of the application process, and these scores can have a significant impact on a student’s chances of admission. For this reason, it is important for students to plan ahead and prepare for these tests in advance. However, it has also become more common in recent years for colleges and universities to adopt “test-optional” policies. If an institution you are considering is “test-optional,” it is only recommended to submit test scores that you feel are reflective of your academic preparation.

Writing essays

Many colleges require students to submit essays or a writing sample as part of their application, including those that use popular platforms such as the Common Application or Coalition Application. Students should take the time to craft well-written essays that showcase their personality and interests to the admissions team. When possible, ask a friend, family member, or counselor/teacher to review each essay for mistakes or edits. Proofreading is important!

College Applications

When you have explored your options and created a list of schools that fit your interests, it is time to submit your applications. It can be frustrating that the application process for each college and university can differ in ways, large and small. Before you hit “send,” be sure that you have completed all necessary tasks for an application and included any supporting documents. In addition to the application itself, these documents may include transcripts, supplemental essays, letters of recommendation, resumes, art portfolios, research projects, and more. 

Waiting for admissions decisions

After you submit your application, be sure to keep an eye on your email. Admissions officers will often let you know if your application is missing any items or if there are follow-up steps to be completed. For example, some schools will require an interview after you have submitted your application.

The college admissions process can be complex and time-consuming, but it is an important step for many students in achieving academic and career goals. By staying organized and focused, students can increase their chances of identifying and being admitted to the college of their choice.

Advice from an Admissions Officer

If you’re considering spending some of your hard-earned summer vacations participating in an academic or co-curricular program, you’re going to want to make sure you are choosing the right opportunity. But how do you know which program is the best fit? As a former college admissions officer, I’ve learned about countless summer programs from the students that have participated in them. Some describe their experience as life-changing, while others wonder if their time and energy might have been better spent in another program. Keep in mind that there’s no universal program that’s right for everyone.

Genuine Interest vs. Notoriety

It is far more important to select an experience that explores and enhances a genuine area of interest than it is to select a program based on notoriety.

Colleges and universities are eager to welcome intellectually curious students to their campuses. Diving deeper into a field of interest is a valuable opportunity to pursue an academic path and to demonstrate an enthusiasm for learning, even for students who are not entirely sure what major they’d like to pursue in college. Always avoid choosing a program that is less interesting to you simply because it is more selective or better known.

Avoid the trap of “Resume Building”

Some programs will market themselves as more valuable because they claim to add the most substantive line to your budding resume. Just as perceived notoriety is overvalued, assuming that a program is more valuable because it might boost your CV is a common mistake.  Focus on learning outcomes and takeaways.

It can be a valuable exercise to work backward when considering summer experiences. Ask yourself questions like, “what am I hoping to learn?”, “How will this program add to my academic and social development?” or “what am I hoping to walk away with at the conclusion of this program?”

Some programs will result in a tangible takeaway, such as a project, paper, or certificate. Others may simply offer a new experience or perspective. The value should be based on what you hope to gain.

The value of credibility

Trust and credibility are not easily gained in academia. Pay close attention to affiliated partners or institutions.

Programs associated with colleges or universities are often a good place to start. Colleges are not quick to lend their expertise, resources, or reputations to experiences if they do not meet the standards of the institution. This does not always mean that a program at a highly selective institution should be equated to the experience that the institution offers its undergraduates, but it does mean a certain level of trust can be associated with it.

Lasting benefits

Of course, you will take any knowledge gained with you when a program concludes. But what else?

Some programs pride themselves on the strength of the network that persists beyond the conclusion of the experience itself. This can have tremendous advantages in the form of college search assistance, on-campus support, and peer mentorship.

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