I recently read a post on Quora where a student (it wasn’t clear whether or not he/she was an athlete but it’s still relevant) got accepted to Stanford and Dartmouth, but was afraid of not being able to keep up with classmates since both places are known to be some of the best academic institutions in the country. This insightful response got the most upvotes.
Let’s explore this thought process through different perspectives.
This may not be standard practice, but certain college advisors or recruiting consultants try to get a good reputation by saying that a large percentage of their students get into their top choice school. However, it’s important to remember that there are two main ways to get into your top choice school as a student.
The first way would be to raise your level academically and athletically in order to get accepted by these selective schools. Of course, this takes years. You can’t go into senior year realizing that you’ve been lazy for three years and hope to reach your potential top choice school if it’s a very selective school. Intuitively, this makes sense. Are you really going to win an NCAA title by going through the motions for three years and then deciding to work hard in the last year? Absolutely not. It may be a different story if you’re a truly gifted athlete, but why would you want to roll the genetic dice like that? Assuming you’re on a college wrestling team, you already care more about wrestling than a majority of the population. If you care that much, why would you leave it to chance? As you can see, this is the proper way to get into your top choice school. Set high standards and work your tail off to reach your goals. However, college advisors or recruiting consultants don’t have control over this, so they may look at the second option. So, what’s the other option to get into a top choice school?
You may have guessed it- lower your expectations. “What’s that, Jonny Wrestling? You wanna wrestle at this school? Ha! In your dreams. Let’s go through this list of schools you actually have a chance of getting in.” The issue here is that Jonny Wrestling actually had a shot of getting in that school, but the college advisor or recruiting consultant wanted to look good for his or her business by lowering Jonny’s expectations. This is absurd. It’s the equivalent of a wrestling club telling their wrestlers not to go for state championships so that the club owner can tell parents that 90% of their wrestlers meet their high school wrestling goals. If a kid wants to go for a state title, let them. If a kid wants to apply to a really selective school, then let them at least try.
If you’re reading this as a college advisor or recruiting consultant, then let me give it to you straight- cut the crap. You’re a scum bag for even considering this option, and you need to stop this right now. Are you seriously lowering that kid’s potential and talking them out of a high quality education just so you can look good for your business? Screw that. Getting a college education and a degree from a great academic institution will open many doors and lead to tons of opportunities for students, and lowering their expectations just so you can look good is basically taking advantage of a teenager’s future for the benefit of your business. Find a better indicator of success for your advising or consulting business or get out. Parents, be wary of this. If you so much as get the impression that they see your son or daughter as a dollar sign or statistic on their brochure or annual report, then proceed with caution or find someone else altogether.
The hardest part of a tough academic institution like an Ivy League school is getting admitted. You may certainly face your own challenges after that, but you can expect the college to be much more helpful in your endeavors after you get accepted. Why is this the case? Let’s take a look at it from their point of view. In particular, we’re going to be looking at acceptance rates and retention rates to gain a better understanding.
The lower a school’s acceptance rates, the better and more selective they look. It’s a way or saying, “A lot of people want to come to our school, but we only take in the best of the best.” Fair enough. That’s one way to build a school’s reputation, and this makes sense. The better quality a school is, the more people will know about it, and the more people will apply to it. Colleges can only let so many people in every year, which leads to a lower acceptance rate. It follows that lower acceptance rates are correlated to high quality schools. Of course, that’s not the only indicator of a college’s success.
High retention rates show a college’s ability to keep students at school (as opposed to transferring schools or dropping out). If retention rates are low, that could mean that the college is doing a poor job supporting their students or failing to create an environment in which students can succeed and be happy. Since students aren’t doing well enough or simply aren’t happy (and it can happen for various reasons), they’ll likely transfer. In some cases, students will even drop out, thinking that college isn’t for them.
In short, you want to see low acceptance rates and high retention rates in a top choice school. Of course, you also want to see standardized testing scores and a GPA within your range. There are also some intangibles that go into the decision (how do you quantify a spectacular essay and/or recommendation letter?), so you might as well try.
Don’t Sell Yourself Short
Any good wrestler will go to competitive tournaments to get exposed to the best competition. They’ll go to practices at the better clubs in the area where they know they’ll be pushed. You aren’t doing yourself any favors by ducking the competition. You know what you need to do to be the best that you can be.
Look at academics the same way, and remember the original purpose of going to college in the first place: a degree and an education along with the opportunity to wrestle for four years. Even if you’re on a full scholarship, someone else (a parent, an institution, etc.) is paying for your four or five years of college. Would you ever pay $50,000+ per year just to wrestle? You may as well get your money’s worth and get an education while you’re there too.
Apply to those places. Challenge yourself so that you can push yourself to be the best that you can be. Assuming that those colleges or universities are a good fit for you, enroll in those places. Academics matter.
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Are interviews worth the time? Is it worth missing a day of school or practice?
It depends. How much do you like this school? If it’s your dream school and you’re already being recruited by the wrestling coach, you should definitely schedule an interview if possible. If you’re already thinking about scheduling a tour, see if you can schedule an interview on the same day. This will save you a lot of travel time. Some places even offer Skype interviews, but in-person interviews will be the best possible experience for both you and the admissions officer. Based on admissions office scoring sheets, you’ll be able potentially add some points to your application score if you do an interview. This is because showing up to do an interview and a tour means that you demonstrate more interest in the application process than the typical applicant that sends out their common application to a bunch of different places without doing much more than that. Colleges will have a better idea of who you are as a person too.
Generally speaking, smaller colleges will weigh the interview more heavily than a larger college or university, and some large colleges or universities won’t even offer interviews in the first place as part of the application process. This is because they have too many applicants to sort through and not enough time to give everyone a chance to interview. In this case, the best thing you can do is to see if they offer alumni interviews near you. This is basically when a graduate of that university interviews you for the sake of that university. It’s one potential way to differentiate yourself from the rest of the applicants.
Just like you’d do a warm up before a meet or a tournament, you’ll want to have a practice run before the actual interview. This way, you can be prepared for the type of questions that you would normally expect for an interview. This is also good practice when you’re looking for a job several years down the road. Because of this, you might as well practice doing a mock interview now. You’ll be able to find a list of potential interview questions without much of an issue. Thinking about how you’d best answer those questions in an authentic way will help the interview flow more smoothly.
You might also want to think of questions that you want answered during the interview. For example, this could be about financial aid (in particular, seeing what their options are in terms of merit or need-based scholarships), this could be about certain programs, or just about anything else during the application process. Part of this is to actually get your questions answered, while another part of this is that you demonstrate interest in the college. For example, if you’re very interested in the college, you can then request information about how to apply for early decision or early action.
It’s also good practice to write or email thank you notes to whomever interviewed you during this application process. To figure out who this is, make sure you ask for their business card at the end of the interview. If you’re uncomfortable with asking for their business card, you can say something like, “Do you mind if I get your business card in case I have any more questions later on during the application process?” I have never had anyone say no to me when phrasing the question like that. Even if you don’t actually have any more questions, you’ll be able to directly contact them and write thank you notes. You’ll also be able to periodically update them on any potentially interesting developments throughout the application process that they can then add to your file. Just so you know, this thank-you note gets added to your application file in some places. I’ve worked in a college application processing center before and know this to be true.
Interviews may not make or break your application, but they certainly will help. It’s not only beneficial to the college- you’ll also get a better feel of the college through the people who work and spend a lot of time around that community. In addition to scheduling a tour, you should schedule an interview if you have the chance to do so.
Admissions office typically have a score sheet for their applicants. In this score sheet, they have different criteria to weigh student applications. Now, it’s important to bear in mind that colleges might not have the same scoring system. Some of these criteria may be weighed more heavily while some of these criteria might not be weighed at all in some places. However, it’s still helpful to take a look at the criteria in order to get some form of an idea as to how they evaluate your application.
First generation – If you’re a first generation college student, this will help your application. Make sure you also talk to your guidance counselor about it because you can get a fee waiver for your application.
Diversity – They evaluate whether you’re multilingual as well as your ethnic and/or religious background.
Your high school – Colleges are looking to get as many different schools as possible to be represented at their college. Also, some schools just have a better academic performance than other schools and the GPAs are readjusted in that sense.
Legacy – If you’re a legacy applicant (someone in your family graduated from the school), they may also weigh your application more favorably.
Demonstrated interest – How high is this school on your list? If you’re very interested in the school, your application could score a few more points. To measure this, they keep track of how many times you visited the college for tours and whether you did an interview at this college.
Academics – Obviously, higher grades will help you get into college. This includes also includes honors and AP courses.
Standardized tests – If you’re like me, you hate standardized tests. Unfortunately, most schools require either a SAT or ACT score. Some schools have an additional SAT/ACT-optional where instead, you’ll submit a written paper from a class.
Extracurriculars – How involved you are in an extracurricular as well as the diversity of your extracurriculars could be considered. This includes which clubs you are part of. For example, this could include community service, sports, student council, hobbies, etc.
The main takeaway from this is that they want to see what you can offer to the college. In a lot of cases, they’re trying to cover as many bases as possible with their recruiting class. Compare this to a college wrestling coach. If a wrestling program has five wrestlers at 125 but zero wrestlers at 197, who do you think they’re more interested in recruiting? They’re happy to get an extra 125 in the room, but they’ll really push to get the big man a scholarship, right? Same goes for the college application process as a whole. If you’re an uncommon individual and your application shows that, your chances of getting into college will be higher.
Here’s another way to look at it: the more takedowns you can score in a match (doesn’t matter if it’s the same takedown), the higher the chances of you winning that match. The more criteria you can satisfy, the higher the likelihood of you getting accepted into that college. Make sense?
In all fairness, there is no right answer to this because colleges are constantly changing. Your best bet is to just be honest and go with what you truly are interested in. Make sure you truly represent who you are as a person and you won’t be disappointed.
Always try to answer the question, “What do I have to offer this college?” Once you get your acceptance letters in the mail, you’ll be able to ask yourself, “What does this college have to offer me?”
With the college application process ahead of me, I braced myself. Storm clouds were in sight. Whether I was a wrestling recruit or not, this was going to be a war.
My college application process wasn’t a typical story. As an international student, I would have issues with financial aid as some colleges and universities don’t give financial aid to international students. I also would not be eligible for government grants such as the Pell grant. Student loans were also an issue since all of these loans needed a cosigner that was a United States citizen. This was problematic because nobody in my family was a United States citizen. How was I supposed to pay for college when my single mother of two barely made over five figures per year? Most people would say that we were in trouble. Some thought that this was the end of my education.
Not so fast. My mom was not willing to give up on my United States education just yet. As a wrestler, I was ready to scrap. It didn’t matter how much the odds were stacked against me. This was the college application equivalent of giving up two takedowns and back points in the first period, but I was ready to keep wrestling until my opponents broke. I had watched a lot of Brent Metcalf over the years and was a big fan of the relentless offense, and I would realize later that this attacking philosophy subconsciously spilled over into other facets of my life.
I talked to my guidance counselor and expressed the fact that I needed to apply to schools that had wrestling programs and would grant financial aid for international students, which narrowed my list down to less than fifteen schools. My mentor and wrestling coach sat me down and let me know realistically what I could expect from the college application process. With my grades and my financial needs as an international student, Ivy league schools were out of the question. With my wrestling ability, division 1 schools and the scholarships that came with them were also out of the question. This meant that I would need to apply to a division 3 school where I could potentially be granted financial aid as an international student. Merit scholarships were also on the table.
My list of thirteen schools were pretty solid and included a lot of liberal arts colleges throughout New England, New York, Pennsylvania, and the Midwest. However, I had no idea as to how to approach the college process. I had an older brother with very different interests compared to me, so his experiences were not as helpful in making my decisions. For one, he had zero history as an athlete. To add insult to injury, his grades and academic merits were enough to get him into an Ivy league school (the only reason he didn’t get in was because of financial aid. I was not in the same boat and could not relate. Basically, I had to approach this process as if I were a first-generation student. My mother found the school rankings and ordered my list by rankings based on the Princeton review. Past that, I was on my own.
I didn’t even know what I wanted to major in. How many 18-year old people are actually set on their career path? I personally had no idea. I kept on clawing my way through the darkness. My parents were in Thailand and I didn’t have a driver’s license so I didn’t have the opportunity to visit many colleges. In fact, I only visited one college and that was because the wrestling coach had contacted me during the recruiting process and told me that I should seriously consider going to visit. Even with all my classmates going through the same experience, I felt so lost. It felt as if I were swimming in quicksand.
I was finally able to go on a college visit a few days before Christmas, which was mostly because of the fact that one of my close friends also happened to be applying to the same school. All in all, my application process was not the best. I felt lost the whole time. However, I knew that I was very interested in Muhlenberg College, the one college where I was actually getting recruited for wrestling. I did everything I could to stay in communication with this wrestling coach.
I tried to finish as much of my application process as possible during Christmas break which was about two and a half weeks long. My essays felt weak even after talking to my guidance counselor about it. What were colleges looking for? What should I write about? This confusion definitely showed during the application process. The schools couldn’t possibly see me for who I really was.
My lowest point happened after the wrestling season when people were getting their acceptance letters through the mail. My girlfriend at the time ran up to me in excitement and told me she got accepted into her first choice school. Awesome! I was very happy for her. Then, I asked her, “Can I take a look at your acceptance letter? I just wanna see what an acceptance letter looks like.” That moment was excruciating. I thought of all my hard work that I had done in the classroom and on the wrestling mat. Still, I felt so far behind my classmates.
Miraculously, I was accepted. However, I was heartbroken to see that they wouldn’t give me enough financial aid. I ended up making some very difficult phone calls to the coach and the admissions office in order to beg for more financial aid. Despite this, we were still just over my mom’s annual salary of around $10,000. Through some stroke of luck, I received one unexpected merit scholarship from Muhlenberg college that put me just over the mark where we could afford my college experience. I finally was going to enroll at Muhlenberg College. Talk about a close call. I felt as if I had just scored the winning takedown in the closing seconds of the match.
Looking back, were there certain things I wish I knew about or did differently? Absolutely. If I could go back with the knowledge that I have now, even with the same academic standing and the same athletic achievements, I probably would have gotten into a lot more schools and received more financial aid. That said, I know now that I made the right choice with Muhlenberg College.
I would have certainly paid a decent amount of money for help in this area because I could potentially have gotten more options and financial aid from the whole process. Thinking back to all the time I spent feeling lost and confused, I probably would have saved a lot more time with some more guidance throughout the process. There would have been at least some reassurance that I was doing some of the right things. Fortunately, as a scrapper with unrelenting offense, I made it work anyway. One way or another, relentlessness got the job done.