The night was hosted in Duffy, and had students from Malvern, Villa, Notre Dame, and Devon.
I had been sitting in the Duffy lobby for about half an hour, with my leftovers from dinner at my side, watching the clock.
I stayed after school to go to an event hosted by the Director of College Counseling Mr. Ian Harkness, which he called the Mock College Admissions Night, where we would become an admissions committee for Webster University, a fake college based in New York.
As the time got closer to 6:30, I saw Mr. Harkness walk through the door with half a dozen admissions directors and representatives from Notre Dame, Northeastern, Lehigh, Gettysburg, High Point, and Davidson. I had recognized a few of them from a college fair I went to at Villanova the night before, and was glad when they recognized me too.
I was given a name tag with directions to go to the Learning Commons with my group, led by Derek Fox, an Associate Director of Admissions at Lehigh. There were about ten people in my group, mostly parents. We all sat down and got started looking at the applications.
Before we got started, we were told that we had to accept two of the five applications, deny two, and put one on the waitlist. Webster was also a need aware school, meaning that it did not have an unlimited budget for financial aid, and it had just gotten a huge endowment for the rowing program.
Then we began to look at the five people who sent in applications: Ann Fulenweider, Christopher Scott, Sharon Jones, Danny Young, and Mark Green.
Ann was the weakest academically out of the five applicants, but she had an upward trend in her grades, which Fox said was a really good thing to have. She was involved in a whole lot of extracurriculars, and went to a boarding school in Massachusetts, far away from her home in Florida. Her essay was also written like a story, which made it interesting even with grammatical and syntax errors.
Christopher was taking almost all AP classes, and was doing alright in his classes, but had a downward trend in his GPA, which was a bit of a red flag. He also did not do as many extracurriculars as Ann did, but he was very active in them: playing guitar, acting, and part of the Philosophy Club. His essay was a bit too self-deprecating, almost to the point of cringing about his lamenting over his large ears keeping him from a date.
Sharon was the only non-white applicant: a Sioux Indian in the inner city of Philadelphia. She had amazing grades, ranking fourth in her class of 720 students. Her SAT scores were the worst of the group, not even breaking 1000 with her reading and math scores. She was a varsity athlete and was a leader in the Peer Alliance Club, but her home life was not ideal, as she lived in a single-parent household. She was also the first person in her family to apply for college, and that combined with the rest made me call her “an American success story”, getting a few laughs from the group. Her essay was a bit weird, being about the evils of drugs in poor neighborhoods.
Mark’s dad was an orthopedic doctor and alum of Webster, and he was a Junior World Champion in rowing. He was middle of the road academically, but had an off year in junior year, dropping .3 points in his GPA from sophomore to junior year. He was a bit lacking in extracurriculars, but had a 1290 SAT score. His essay was, you guessed it, about rowing.
Danny’s name fit him, as he was applying to college at 16 years old to a school really far away from his home in Alaska. He was a merit scholar, member of the National Honors Society, and was science and japanese student of the year his junior year. His SAT scores were good at 1220, and ranked 12th in his class of 99. His essay was a bit of a novel, going into the additional information section of the Common Application.
So, we had one hour to review all the applications, and decide who to accept, who to deny, and who to waitlist. That wasn’t all that fun, as everyone had their own opinion about who they wanted in. To make our decision even harder, Mr. Harkness came in and said the school wanted a rower because of the endowment, and that Ann had forgotten to cite a source in her project.
As the hour went on, we debated back and forth who to accept and deny. It seemed that for each time we put someone on the accept or deny list, there were three telling us to hold on a minute.
Eventually, we decided to accept Mark and Danny, waitlist Sharon, and deny Ann and Christopher. The groups all came together at the end, and asked questions of the admissions directors.
What I learned was that there is no golden ticket to college. You could be in all APs with A+s, and be in three dedicated extracurriculars and amazing standardized test scores, but the college could go for the other guy because his dad was an alum and donor.
I also realized how stressful it could be to be on the other end of the application process. We had an hour to go through five applications, and we barely had enough time. Imagine if you work at Notre Dame where you get tens of thousands of applications but can only accept a couple thousand.
Before this program, I was trying to think of ways that would make my application perfect: great grades in AP courses, plenty of extracurriculars, good scores on the standardized tests. It’s incredibly stressful to always be trying to get that to happen, and I’m not even sure if it’s worth it.
In closing remarks, Fox said that sometimes even the perfect application won’t guarantee someone a spot at a great school. He said that he’s had to make calls to families whom he’d rejected. When asked why they students did not get in, he didn’t have an answer.
At first, that was a bit jarring. Even a perfect application wouldn’t guarantee me a spot at my number one school? But then it got me thinking. Maybe that one bad test I got in the beginning of the year won’t be as devastating as it would be for the kid with a perfect 4.0 who is rejected from Harvard or another Ivy because they didn’t have the right connections.
So, when I got home that night, I was feeling better about the mysterious admissions process that had eating at the back of my mind. I just wish that more Malvern students attended. It seemed like there were twice as many Devon Prep students than Malvern.
At a college prep school, you need a pretty good reason to not attend an event that is this helpful.
The program answered questions I didn’t even know I had.