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December 12, 2021

3 Minutes Read

Hi friends,

Greetings from New York!

December is upon us and this is going to be a big week for early admissions results.

We'll be watching closely, but nobody should be surprised when those inevitable stories of record low admit rates start to appear. 

I also want to take a moment to thank all of our loyal readers (consistently over 5,000 this year)! I'm grateful to be able to share The Savvy Applicant and provide actionable insights into the often opaque world of college admissions.

I'll be taking a break over the holidays, but we'll be back in January with some exciting new features we're producing for next year. In the meantime, don't hesitate to reach out. As always, you can reply directly to this email. 

Here's what I want share with you this week:


🕊️Early Birds


While Early Decision programs can serve the needs of institutions over students, there is evidence to suggest they significantly improve your chances of being admitted.

And just as generals go to war with the army they have, you apply to college with the application system you're given. If you're a pragmatist, you play the game to your advantage.

One mistake I see, however, is students "wasting" their ED application on schools where they have very little to no chance of being admitted. Applying ED will only help if you are a competitive applicant in the first place. 

Students (and parents) often grossly misjudge the competitiveness of their application because they're informed by GPA and standardized test score averages. The truth is even Naviance's scattergrams don't tell you very much at selective schools where assessment of character (personal, academic, ethical, civic), and athletic ability often matter just as much.

When students apply ED to a school where it was unlikely to make much difference, they inevitably forego an opportunity to apply ED to somewhere where it may have actually affected the outcome. 

Bottom line: Savvy students strategically arbitrage the early application applications system.

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🏈🏀⚾⚽🎾NESCAC Admissions

My visit to Williams College was great, but I want to highlight a couple of other NESCAC schools this week (remember NESCAC stands for the New England Small College Athletic Conference that is home to several of the most selective liberal arts colleges in the country). 

🎓Amherst College recently announced it will no longer give preference to children of alumni. Bravo! Amherst has so few students that the move does little by itself, but it's significant given their status in the higher ed ecosystem. And there will be increased pressure on more schools to follow suit. A new generation of donors is actually making their gifts contingent on the policy.

❤️Bowdoin College explains their admissions philosophy:

"Every year, Bowdoin College receives thousands of applicants from smart, dedicated students all over the world. We offer admission to the kindest ones. Since our founding in 1794, we've been committed to serving the common good. We attract thoughtful, compassionate, wicked smart people who want to tackle the biggest problems on Earth.  We're need blind, and our student aid packages contain only grants, no loans. Because that's the right thing to do, right?" 

See the pic that accompanied this below.

At Bowdoin and other similar schools, you are not in competition with your peers as much as yourself. Be careful not to turn kindness into a quasi competition though. The maxim think global, act local applies well. What small thing could you do today?


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🏛️The (Harvard) Trial 

The Kafkaesque court case focused on Harvard's holistic and race conscious admissions policies is back in the news as President Biden urges SCOTUS not to drag it out even longer.  

What is Harvard's admissions rubric (the accusation)?

Harvard rates applicants on a 1-4 scale—1 being the best— in four different areas: academic, extracurricular, athletic and personal. Asian applicants, a far from homogenous group, have on average received lower personal ratings than other racial groups.  

Lower courts have ruled that Harvard's system is legal because they treat every student as an individual and consider a student's race as one factor among many.  

Context—socioeconomic context— will always be part of a holistic review. Even if there was no box for race and no question about parental education on the application, there will be your name, your school profile, and your zip code.

Admissions Insight: AOs are generally interested in how your background and experiences have impacted the person you are and who you want to become.

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✍️Application Essays 302: How to Add Intellectual Vitality

Our Write Your Way Into College course will return in 2022, but for those of you still working on essays (potentially revising what you previously submitted), here's another lesson from Module 3.
One way to demonstrate your academic prowess (remember you are essentially applying for a job to work with professors who want intellectually engaged and curious students) is to make an allusion to an "intellectual touchstone." This could be literary, philosophic, scientific, or artistic.
If used right—meaning it is both relevant and authentic—it can add to your credibility. Example:
📚The previous section of this newsletter references Franz Kafka, his book The Trial, and the theme of his work. You learn something about my literary sensibility while I'm commenting on something else entirely. 📚
Regular readers of this newsletter have probably read The Costco Essay, but have you counted the number of intellectual touchstones? Read the full essay and our analysis here.

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🍿Netflix and Learn

Applications aside, it's crucial that all of us have a chance to rest and relax over the holidays. For those of you that love learning so much that it's part of your relaxation routine, The Mind Explained is one Netflix series I enjoyed over Thanksgiving. 

I recommend it for the budding neuroscientist and anyone generally curious about how humans work. 

Bowdoin admissions infographic
pic from a Bowdoin mailing via our colleague Nancy Sheehan