College Admissions

As a college-bound student, you are required to take standardized tests, think about what college you might want to attend, what you want study there, make sure you fill out all of the application paperwork correctly and then, figure out how to pay for it all. Whew!
Thankfully, many Vermont schools understand how overwhelming it feels to apply for college and they want to help you become one of their students. We asked the directors of admissions at three Vermont schools –– St. Michael’s College, Castleton State College, and the University of Vermont –– to answer some commonly asked questions about their admissions criteria and the application process.
1. How many applications do you receive each year? How many of those applicants do you accept each year?
University of Vermont: 21,000 applicants total, 2,000 of which are from Vermont. We have a 65 percent acceptance rate.
Castleton: Castleton will receive close to 2,700 applications for this fall semester. We will admit close to 1,800 students by August 2008.
St. Michael’s: Number of applicants: 3,504; accepted: 2,423; enrolled students (Fall 2007): 532.
2. How do you determine who makes the cut? What are you looking for in your ideal student, and what do you weigh the most? SAT scores, grades, or extra curriculars?
University of Vermont: We review the student’s entire transcript, but grades and the curriculum they have chosen are most important. Most students are in the top quarter or third of their class. We also look at test scores, extracurriculars, and their personal essay.
Castleton: Castleton reviews each applicant on an individual basis. Course selection and grades are by far the most important. SAT and/or ACT scores are evaluated as well. We carefully read letters of recommendation and student essays. We want to admit well-rounded students who are going to be successful academically and make a difference in our community. Participation in extra-curricular activities helps us to learn more about a student’s interests.
St. Michael’s: Primarily we look at a student’s high school record –– the courses they have selected, the level of challenge, how they have progressed through their high school career. If they started out with some weaker grades, have they shown improvement over the course of high school? We look at testing scores as one part of the student’s background. If scores are decent, there are no worries. If scores are weaker we look for strong high school performance in good college prep courses to allow us to give less weight to the scores. Extra curriculars are an important dimension of a student’s background but academics are the most important.
3. How can I make myself stand out on paper? What are you looking for in an essay?
University of Vermont: You can make yourself stand out by writing a good essay. The essay doesn’t have to be long, but it has to show a specific focus or passion. Also, don’t be humble about your accomplishments!
Castleton: Take pride in how you present your application to the colleges of your choice. Your application and its supporting documents tell the admissions committee who you are. It should be accurate, neat, and professional.
Students need to look at each college’s essay requirements. Some colleges give very specific instructions and others are more flexible when it comes to essay topics. Castleton offers a couple of options for topics, but we encourage students to be open and tell us about themselves in the essay. Ideally, we should meet every applicant during the process, but unfortunately it cannot happen all the time.
St. Michael’s: First, an essay should do no damage –– control what you can control, re-read and revise –– proofread and proofread again. Then, use the essay to reveal something about yourself that is important to you. Don’t try to be creative when it is not your nature –– be sure to consider your reader –– it could be a recent college grad working as an admission counselor or a crusty old admission dean, be careful not to be too informal.
4. If I need financial aid, does it affect whether or not I will be accepted? Does someone who doesn’t require financial aid but has my same grades and SAT scores have a greater chance of being accepted?
University of Vermont: No, we are need blind in terms of admissions.
Castleton: Financial aid is not a consideration at all during the admissions process at Castleton. Each applicant is reviewed in the same manner regardless of whether or not a student is applying for financial aid
St. Michael’s: This is a tough one and will vary from school to school. The bottom line is you do not know who else is applying for admission or for aid so apply for both if the school is high on your list but be prepared for positive/negative/ambiguous news.
5. Do the courses I choose to take in high school matter? Are you looking for certain classes on a transcript?
University of Vermont: Yes. A well-rounded curriculum is important. All of our accepted students have taken at least two years of a foreign language, and take at least one class in each discipline each year such as mathematics, science, English, and social sciences. We also look to see if you have taken any honors or advanced placement courses.
Castleton: The classes that you choose in high school are the most important factor for many colleges. Most colleges are looking for a rigorous college preparatory course load. You should work closely with your college counselor to make sure that you are making choices that are appropriate for you. The following list of courses would be the minimum high school curriculum that most four year colleges would want to see: 4 years of English, 3-4 years of Mathematics, 2-3 years of Laboratory Science, 3-4 years of Social Studies and 2 years of Foreign Language.
St. Michael’s: Of course they do, you are building a foundation to be successful in college level courses. The more math and science you have the better, regardless of future majors. Take the toughest courses you can handle in high school and do the best you can in those courses.
6. If I messed up a few classes or had a bad semester, what do I do and what does that mean for me? Is there any way I can fix it to make myself look more appealing?
University of Vermont: You should address it in your application by writing an essay. A guidance counselor can help you explain yourself in writing. We understand that every one has bumps along the road, especially if you take the time to be honest with us about it.
Castleton: The best way to handle a situation like this is to schedule an interview so that the admissions committee knows why. Often times, there are very legitimate reasons for bumps along the way. Colleges cannot always figure out why things are the way they are. If you cannot schedule an interview, you should address the issue in writing to accompany your application materials.
St. Michael’s: Do your best to challenge yourself and show that you can do the work. Sometimes it is best to repeat a course to improve the grade, other times you should just plow ahead in the subject area. It is also a good idea to explain the situation in your application but not in a whiney, excuse laden way. Simply tell the story and prove that it was a one time aberration by doing well in your senior courses.
7. Are certain majors or schools within your college or university harder to get into than others?
University of Vermont: Yes. In theory you are admitted to a school within the university, not the university itself. Some programs are very competitive, like nursing for example, because it is small.
Castleton: Yes, nursing is an example of this kind of major. Students may be admissible to the college in general, but not the major. Additional steps need to be followed in addition to success in the classroom before matriculation into a certain major.
St. Michael’s: Since we are a liberal arts college with a third of our incoming students undeclared, we apply the same admission standards for all majors.