Navigating College Admissions
Episode 2 : College Applications (Part 1) Transcript
:00:00 Jack W.
This is navigating college admissions. I'm Jack Weinberg. I'm a recent alumni working in college admissions at the University of Chicago. And in this show, we're going to walk you through each step of the college admissions process and hopefully answer some of your questions along the way. There's a lot that goes into a college application. Everything from test scores, to teacher recommendations to your World Champion Cup stacking videos, and each part is just one piece of the puzzle. I sat down with Grace Chapin, James Deputy director of admissions at U Chicago, to learn about the best ways to cook up your college application.
I've come to understand that there are a lot of different parts of a college application.
:00:43 Grace C.J.
:00:44 Jack W.
Which one is the one that I actually need to worry about or do?
:00:48 Grace C.J.
:00:49 Jack W.
Or are they all important?
:00:50 Grace C.J.
Now you gotta. Worry about all of them, but like not worry about that right? You have to you have to think about and consider all of them.
:00:53 Jack W.
:00:56 Grace C.J.
Yeah, we certainly like when you submit all of your materials to the University of Chicago. We legit do look at all of them. So I feel like people are like Oh no, they're just going to get my test scores in my GPA or. No, this you know. Poured my heart in this essay. That's never get read now man. We're going to look at all of it so I will say that like obviously we kind of need to be able to see that a student is academically ready to come to the University of Chicago. So I'm not saying that like you know, if your transcript does not.
Show that you're going to be ready to jump into a rigorous college environment that suddenly a really beautiful essay is going to be like, haha, we did it.
But that's pretty rare, and certainly like we, we look at all these things in tandem and on the flip side, I feel like there are some students who have done a really great job in school. They're getting great grades taking good, you know, challenging classes. Maybe if they're sharing test scores, test scores are like, oh, I've worked hard for this. This is working for me. But then you get to the rest of their application and you're like, wow, you know it's a. It's a little bit sad because you're like, oh, I was really excited about you. And then your essay is like 2 sentences long or not about the University of Chicago at all. And or really hasn't engaged creatively in like the kinds of questions that we're asking, and so so on that side too. We really are looking for all facets, right, yeah. Right, so I guess if you're giving equal attention to every part of an application, perhaps an applicant should too. It would be lovely and you know there are also going to be like some areas where students will show their strengths better than others and so I'm not saying that like you know, if you are an extracurricular Rockstar, an that is like. Where you spend a lot of your time, you're really passionate about what you do. That certainly were like going to say, OK, you know the fact that you forgot 1 comma in this one small essay is outweighed by, you know your extra. We certainly understand that like there will be ebbs and flows for each student. But we just hope that everyone will kind of. Bring their full effort to the table in all parts.
:03:06 Jack W.
So Uchicago practices something called holistic admissions. Can you tell me a little bit about what that? Means so like. Means
:03:11 Grace C.J.
So, like holistic medicine, there's a lot of crystals involved. Just some divining and mysticism. No, it's it's real, holistic. Envision basically means kind of what we just talked about. That, like we don't assign weight like numeric weight or value to any part of the application, and so. We are certainly like looking at all of it, but when I'm reading an application, for example, I don't have a spreadsheet where I say .15% of your score towards admission is this. We don't have a score tordsson. And we are evaluating all parts of the application, kind of as like a big pot of soup.
:03:46 Jack W.
It's just a big Stew.
:03:46 Grace C.J.
So the just a big ol stew. So we're just looking to see, like what did you mix in here?
:03:51 Jack W.
:03:51 Grace C.J.
This tasty? In the end an like? Certainly there could be times when like something and there is not tasty or other times we look very delicious, you know?
:03:58 Jack W.
:03:58 Grace C.J.
Or if you forgot an ingredient like well, sometimes I'm going to notice that and sometimes I'm not so.But but really like, instead of ascribing weight or value to something we're looking at as part of a part of a larger whole.
:04:10 Jack W.
Yeah, yeah, I think thinking of it as a big tasty Stew is going to be a very helpful analogy.
:04:15 Grace C.J.
Just mixing in ingredients, you know.
:04:17 Jack W.
:04:17 Grace C.J.
And I actually talked to students actually OK, this is if anyone heard me talk before they've heard this too before. Sorry guys joke, I use a lot but I think the thing about this too that can be really helpful. Is also when we're talking about our practice of not requiring students submit standardized test scores, so you know, because we're a test optional school, you can submit standardized test scores. If you'd like to, and we will happily look at them if you do. But if you don't, that's fine. That's also your choice, and so when we're talking about this to a lot of people will be like, oh, So what do you look at more?
:04:48 Jack W.
:04:48 Grace C.J.
When I don't submit standardized test scores, and that's why I go back to the students say look if you don't put salt in your Stew. So I'm not being like I look at these potatoes a lot more. President young salt.
:04:57 Jack W.
:04:58 Grace C.J.
You know it's more just like you're just trying to see how everything fits together and in some cases you might in the end feel like that could have been a valuable ingredient here that would have helped me, but in other cases you're like the rest of this is so great that I'm happy to. Move forward with. This Stew, with or without this piece of information, but don't have to be replaced, I need you. Right? You don't need a salt.
:05:17 Jack W.
Substitute so Speaking of tests, the University of Chicago does not require it.
:05:19 Grace C.J.
:05:23 Jack W.
We are test optional and you talked a little bit about what being test optional means. But if I do decide to submit test scores, which test should I submit? Should I submit one? Should I submit both?
:05:38 Grace C.J.
Yeah, and I think the one thing also to remind folks is that like test, optional does not mean that you do not have to share testing with us. So I've had conversations with some students that are like, oh, I worked really **** ** that. I'm really proud of that. Great, we're going to look at that if you want to share it with us so, so don't you know, don't worry on the other side, that being test optional doesn't mean that we're you. Will look at your scores. Will happily look at them if you want us to, but yeah, in terms of the two different major testing options that will see from students got your essay T in your AC T and my friends they are equal. It is totally fine. You do not have to worry. We do not like, prefer or specify like oh haha secretly in the essay T is it versus. Yeah, they're both fine tests and an you know different students will choose to take them for different reasons. There's sometimes like regional differences like your whole high school might take the AC T versus 80 people in the Midwest seems to take the AC TA little bit more than the S 80, but we are professionals. We are well versed and looking at both ultimately. If you've taken both. Tests it's totally fine to share both. If you'd like to. For some students, it can. You know in there there are cases where it can be useful to try both and see. You know, one might have a little bit more of a way for you to share your strength on the other, but there's also students that take the city or the ECT. Take it once and they're like good to go here so it doesn't. You do not have to. Worry too much about like. Taking everything this is not a situation where we're like haha. Ha ha. We're looking at everything you know when we're saying we're looking at everything we if you told us we're going to share testing with us. You know? We really just need to have a test in that space and as long as you're comfortable with. What it looks like we're gonna be fine with that, great.
:07:28 Jack W.
Well, speaking about the term optional, a little bit more generally. I know when I was applying to college I treated the word optional, just kind of like free space on a bingo card like.
:07:38 Grace C.J.
Yeah yeah haha, stamp that.
:07:41 Jack W.
Yeah, like oh, that's one thing I don't have to do, but how should someone approach the word optional when they see? Right? That a component of their application is optional. What's the best way to approach that?
:07:54 Grace C.J.
I feel like the best way to approach that is kind of step back and ask yourself the question. Like what would I be sharing that is helpful to learn about me in this space if anything and so in some cases things can be truly optional. And in some cases things can be kind of like more of a. Recommended optional the nudge, nudge, optional and what I would say is anytime you get the opportunity to share something in more of a narative way, it's usually a really cool opportunity to share more about yourself. So like if there's a school, for example, that has an optional essay and the essay question is really interesting. Or it could, you know, give the person who's reading your application really different picture of you then.
Just your resume or your personal statement you've already written. Then that's an optional situation that could be really powerful and really helpful for that person to getting to know you a little bit more. On the flip side, you know if you're looking at a school that says. Hey the the S 82 exam you know the subject exams on the SATR optional and you haven't taken them yet and you didn't know about what they were until you sat down and you start doing the application then that's a situation where, yeah, I mean that you know school might be asking to see those if they can. They make it clear that they really want to see them for a particular major or for a particular program.
So it's worth asking if that might be the case too, but if you're not somebody who is well set up for those exams, if you don't know about them, or if you haven't taken them or if you took them and your scores just you don't think reflect your level of ability, that could be a situation where. The optional material may not highlight a strength for you or be a great opportunity for you to share more so that could be a time to pull back on the optional.
The last thing that I will say is just remember you don't have to fill every space so many schools, for example, allow you to submit supplemental materials like art or research project or creative writing if you have. Right? But those are really also going to be spaces where it's like. If you have it and if you really feel like this is a way they can learn a lot more about you, not like, let me learn to play the ukulele E right now and write a very bad song about the University of Chicago or something of that nature.
You know, if it's I would say if it's a medium in which you frequently expressed yourself. Even if you're not necessarily the best, but this is a talent or a skill or a passion for you that you would want people to know about you. That can be a great way to do that, but don't just look at like optional art supplement and say like, oh, they need it. I have to. I have to learn art, all of art right now. It's not really, not really what we're asking for.
:10:30 Jack W.
Going back a little bit to standardized tests and trying to decide at Uchicago, it's optional, but trying to decide if it's the best reflection of your abilities. I know that some schools offer test prep classes for standardized tests. If my scores aren't. Where I want them to be. Or if I'm, you know, nervous about that, do you recommend taking those types of classes?
:10:57 Grace C.J.
I would say I don't think it necessarily needs to be a class, but just like any other test in school, you know knowing a little bit more about what the format is going to be like and the kinds of things you can expect to encounter on that test is always going to be helpful.
So like, just like you would study for your math test before you go to math class and have a test. Yeah, I think that knowing a little bit more about what you're likely to encounter on the SAT or the AC T is really. Helpful and will probably help you do a little bit better. Just because you're not spending half your time going. Oh, why do they ask me this question in this way? Or where do I put the bubbles right? I think for some people, if there's a free class at your school or an opportunity to do that in your community, that can be great.I think there are a lot of resources online like. Crazy numbers of resources online, like the S80 for example, partners with Khan Academy so you can do. Khan Academy is free. It's online. It's pretty easy to.
Access there's also I'm a big fan of the local library so you know, don't don't discount the idea of just checking out a prep workbook from a library and just getting a little bit familiar or finding some free online practice exams. You know, some people may feel that they really need the kind of intensive in person class experience. But I don't think you need that to be able to be successful, and I don't necessarily think that that is something I want to encourage everyone to feel like they have to do right.
In some cases college is a little bit more about preparing things with the resources that you have. And I don't want anybody to feel like they're at a disadvantage because they don't have the ability to sign up for a big class. Or you know something brand name or whatever. The library prep book worked for me. If it's good enough for me, it's good enough for you.
:12:51 Jack W.
So letters of recommendation? Oh yeah, what? What is a letter of recommendation and why do you want 1A?
:12:57 Grace C.J.
Lot of recommendation is basically not you badgering your teacher for something. It's you nicely approaching a teacher and being able to talk to them about, hey, you know, applying to college an colleges would like to see a little bit of reflection of me. How I engage in the classroom, the kind of community member that I am. And so that's why we asked for somebody to write a little bit about that. Who isn't you and isn't your mom. Right, Mom all although you know there are no, there's no time So what what I would say is that you know a lot of recommendation for us is a good way for us to kind of peer in making like a hand signal that looks like this is a podcast, so I have to like Do's. I'm like peering through window.
:13:36 Jack W.
Yeah, you're doing a little bit of a binocular.
:13:39 Grace C.J.
Binocular like a not creepy just like oh like a bird like a bird watcher and so the letter of recommendation basically helps us to peer into the classroom.
:13:41 Jack W.
:13:48 Grace C.J.
Kind of see like a little bit more about who's Jack in math or who's Jack in his. Three learn a little bit more about your achievements in that class, how you engage with other people, things like that. How we ask for them? Because that's something we value, right? We're we're not only looking to hear from you about how cool you are and what kinds of experiences you've had and what you do, but we also are bringing people into a larger community and we want to know, you know the many different ways that students might fit into that. What they're kind of contributions might be, and just generally how you're going to engage when we put you in a classroom of like. 20 people and say go.
:14:24 Jack W.
So, so you mentioned that it's something that should be approached in a friendly way course?
:14:31 Jack W.
Yeah, who should I approach about getting my letter of recommendation? And how should I do that? How do I start that?
:14:37 Grace C.J.
So some schools will, some high schools will have a pretty strict or at least guided way in which you do that so.If this goes against the advice at your high school, listen to your high school first, but, but generally you know. I would say talking to teachers who you feel know you well. Probably primarily teachers, maybe from your junior year, but also maybe if you've had a teacher since freshman year every year. Like you know, my German teacher, for example, I had every year of high school, and so while my freshman German was probably not the best reflection of me, at the very least she had been able to see me progress and kind of advanced through that class and to the point where we are in. AP German class with literature and other kinds of things was learning about me in a way that was much more beneficial to talking about me in a recommendation. An area. The other thing that I would say is that approaching teachers the time frame can be helpful in that you know your school might say, ask your teachers at the end of your junior year or ask the teachers in the summer as the teachers at the beginning of your senior year. But my reference, my recommendation is do not ask the teachers. Two days before it is due really. Gotta record. Have you seen teachers? They work so hard. You have to recognize.
Like your emergency is not their emergency, nor should it be. You are 12. I mean you're like 1718, but like you don't. You don't have to deal with a lot of things that teachers have to deal with, so making sure that you're asking. I really say I think you should ask at least a month in advance. Yeah, an like a passing glance in the hallway like so. Want to write a rec is not the way we ask like.
In writing, preferably. I think is is really helpful. Maybe sending an email reflecting a little bit tight in like you know NSA. But like hey, I really enjoyed your class. Here's what I really felt like. I went in there. I was wondering if you'd be able to write me recommendation for college. Here's here's the first deadline that is going to do an here's how you're going to send this to. People like that. Seems like so basic, but that's really the information that you need and. Ann, just you'll hear this from like every adult would be like, why? But the thank you note friends so thank you know you gotta write a thank you note or just do something nice like that person.
:16:40 Jack W.
I was about to say.
:16:45 Grace C.J.
You know most of the time teachers don't get paid to write rec letters. They don't get extra time. You know they don't get to skip math because they have to write your recommendation letter. You're in math like that's why you're there. So if you're a Baker like a lovely baked good. Or maybe just a nice little handwritten note. Yeah can go a long way in in making sure that they know that you appreciate their efforts. You know, just trying to try to pump up our teachers right?
:17:09 Jack W.
Yeah, it was the best choice.
:17:12 Grace C.J.
Teachers are rad.
:17:13 Jack W.
Is the best piece of advice my parents gave me because I did not.
:17:15 Grace C.J.
Know about the thank you note. Oh oh man, have you ever met Susan Chapin? Thank you, thank you. It was a very important part of my life so. I felt like I was like oh gosh, yeah, of course I have. Tried to think you know I guess.
:17:31 Jack W.
My conversation with Grace will continue in the next episode of navigating college admissions. If you want to continue the college conversation, feel free to email us at college admissions at uchicago.edu or follow us on Twitter at Vue Chicago and Instagram at Uchicago admissions. Good luck and happy happen.