Guest Post: An Inside Look Into the College Admissions Process
Updated: Jun 16, 2019
Rahul Naik is a former Moon Prep student we guided through the admissions cycle. Now, he has advice for other students who are just beginning their journey.
Hey there high schooler,
First of all, a big congratulations on making it this far. While I know the pressure may seem intense right now, don't give up and keep on grinding. Before you know it, you’ll be basking in the warm summer rays of senior year.
My name is Rahul Naik, and I’m from Plano, TX. Next year I’ll be attending the University of Texas at Austin where I’ll be studying Computational Engineering through the Engineering Honors Program in the Cockrell School as well as being a member of the Polymathic Scholars Honors Program through the College of Natural Sciences.
This year, I had to make a number of difficult decisions regarding where I would go to university next year. I was also accepted to the University of Chicago; however, I decided to decline admission due to financial reasons.
I understand how this time can be very stressful for you. It seems as if your entire future is uncertain, and you feel burdened with the feeling that you’ve worked your entire school career to get to the college of your dreams, and now the time has come to throw yourself into a pool of your peers and let others judge you and your merits. It can truly seem daunting and downright stressful. Through writing this post, I want to share with you some of the lessons and insights into this fabled college admissions process that I’ve learned from my own experience and hope to alleviate some of the stress you must be feeling going into this process.
The first topic I’d like to cover is SAT/ACT scores. While it’s not required at most colleges to submit both test scores, with some colleges not requiring either, I would highly recommend you to take both tests. Personally, I submitted both my SAT and ACT scores as well as most of my SAT Subject Test scores, but this may not be the best strategy for you.
The SAT and ACT, while they have their similarities, are markedly different. The ACT tends to move at a faster clip, with less time per question. However, the questions are regarded as being slightly less complex than the SAT. Moreover, the ACT has a science section and one math section in contrast to the SAT, which lacks the science section and has two math sections (non-calculator and calculator). Both tests have a reading, writing, and math (calculator) section.
I would suggest taking both tests, at least once, to see which test allows you to demonstrate your abilities better. Some may find that the ACT is the better choice for your academic skill set due to it having the science section. I took both the ACT and SAT twice, so I was able to demonstrate the full extent of my abilities. I would caution against taking these tests more than a few times each because that does not always correspond to a better score.
It’s important to prepare for both of these tests. I started preparing the summer after my sophomore year. I reviewed vocab, practiced writing the essays, went over math concepts, and took numerous full-length practice tests. After all this practice and early preparation, I was able to take my SATs the fall of my junior year and the ACTs in the spring. This meant I did not have to worry about finishing up testing in the fall of senior year and could instead focus fully on the applications. I would highly recommend doing this type of testing timeline if you feel comfortably prepared in your junior year. You’ll really appreciate being able to not worry about testing while in the midst of application season.
Both the ACT and the SAT have optional essays; however, I strongly suggest you do the essay section. Many top colleges want to see that you’re willing to go the extra mile and take the optional section as well as verifying that you can read and write at a collegiate level.
SAT Subject Tests are also offered in a variety of different subjects. Most top colleges will either recommend or require you to send in about 2-3 Subject Test scores. These one-hour tests are scored out of 800. I would recommend taking SAT Subject Tests in which you’ve completed the corresponding AP courses the summer after you finish that course.
For example, if you took AP World History and felt as if you did well in the course, you ought to consider signing up for the SAT Subject Test in World History during one of the upcoming summer test dates. The exception to this is the math Subject Tests. You should only take the Math Level 2 if you’ve successfully completed all math courses up to pre-calculus otherwise take the Math Level 1 test.
If you are targeting elite schools, I would recommend only sending Subject Test scores above 700. For the ACT/SAT, in my opinion, and from what I’ve seen, aim to score above at least 33 on the ACT and at least 1520 on the SAT to be competitive for elite colleges.
I’m sure that some of you are wondering what my scores were on these standardized tests. After taking both the ACT and SAT twice, I ended up sending a 35 as my highest composite ACT score (superscored to a 36), and 1560 (760 Verbal 800 Math) SAT score. I also sent subject tests in Chemistry, US History, and Math Level 2. The scores for those were 740, 750, and 800 respectively.
Hopefully, this gives you some helpful insight into the SAT/ACT testing process, and remember, no matter what score you get, the application process is holistic and these scores are simply one piece of what the admissions committee will be considering in your application.
The second topic I’d like to cover is extracurricular activities. If you’re a junior about to enter your senior year, there’s likely not enough time to embark upon a new extracurricular activity. Hopefully, you’ve spent the past few years taking part in meaningful extracurriculars. Colleges want to see that you can succeed and be passionate about things outside the classroom.
I’ve noticed that participating in a few extracurricular but really diving deep into them and perhaps even gaining positions of leadership are more impactful on colleges than engaging in a lot of extracurriculars but not having an impact on any one of them. Quality over quantity really rings true here.
Another thing to note is that colleges want to hear if you have an extenuating circumstance which prevents you from participating in extracurricular activities. For example, if you have a younger sibling that you have to take care of daily after school, it could limit your ability to be active outside of school.
My extracurricular activities really centered around community. I volunteered extensively with my city as well as the libraries. I also started a Red Cross Club at my school and used that to launch different service events throughout the year. I served on advisory boards for my local state representative and US congressman. At school, I was heavily involved in orchestra and math club while also balancing my after-school tutoring job.
Colleges don’t need to see that you’ve landed on the moon or discovered a new element, they just want to know that you’re passionate about things outside the classroom and are interested in giving back to others. If you engage in things that genuinely interest you, the success and leadership positions will follow, as will the approval of colleges.
An important note when listing out your extracurriculars on your application be sure to list them in order of importance because this is how colleges will be looking at your activities.
Next time, I’ll be discussing application types, essays, and how to choose the schools you apply to. I hope you found this to be helpful!