Saturday, February 06, 2010

Tales from Reading the Applications

I'm reading through over 1000 pages of applications from high school students vying for very few slots. The competition is pretty fierce -- in terms of acceptance percentage, you're more likely to get into Harvard through their regular admissions process.

I don't even look at GPA because high schools have crazy weighting schemes. I look at the grades and the courses. No matter what your high school's crazy system is of giving bonus points to honors classes, I know that if you got a B in precalc honors, you are not the best math student in your school. Even if you got a B in precalc honors when you were in 7th or 8th grade. Similarly, if you take AP Physics C as a high school freshman, I'm not that impressed if you score a 2 on the AP exam -- even if your teacher gave you an A in the course.

Test scores are only useful up to a point. Just about every application I'm reading through has standardized test scores in the 99th percentile. If your test scores are substantially below that, you'll need some other objective measure to convince me of your excellence. Have you scored well on Olympiad tests? Won something at the state level? Had something published?

Did the same teacher write a recommendation for you and for someone else from your school. I'm going to compare them and try to read between the lines. I may even call your teacher.

With so many excellent applications, I'm not too keen to consider ones that don't follow directions. We don't care that you played rec soccer in first grade. That's why we didn't ask about that.

Right now I have my stack down to four times the size that it needs to be.