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Powell shares Princeton admission tips with alumni and their children

Princeton applicants’ writing skills are taken seriously in the admission process because they can provide an indication as to whether the applicant will be able to write a successful thesis by senior year, Director of Undergraduate Admissions Logan Powell told an audience of alumni and their high school-aged children at a Reunions panel Friday afternoon.

The panel, called “Navigating the College Admission Process,” discussed what the admission office is looking for in its applicants as well as how the admission process works.

The number one criterion the admission office looks for is academic rigor, Powell said. The admission office would like to see applicants who both perform well in their classes and “push back the limits” of their academic excellence in terms of the classes they take. Powell added that the name of one’s high school does not have an impact.

“What the school offers you and what you’ve taken advantage of … does have an impact,” he said.

Powell added that the number two criterion is a commitment to extracurricular activities. This criterion does not necessarily entail that each student be “well-rounded,” Powell stated, noting that the admission office has had strong applicants in the past who were “well-lopsided.”

“We want to see what you want to do,” Powell said. He noted that passions that may not translate well to a resume may be added in the “Additional Information” section of the application. These “outside-the-box” passions will also likely emerge during the alumni interview, he said.

In looking at students’ applications, the admission staff looks first at each applicant’s academic rigor and grades, as indicated by his or her transcript, Powell said. Other materials that receive secondary consideration include the alumni interview, extracurricular achievement and counselor and teacher recommendations. Powell also noted that he would like to emphasize the holistic nature of the application process. No one feature, he said, would result in a denial of admission to Princeton.

Two readers read student applications, and files with the most promise are sent to a committee for a decision and a vote, Powell said. The University also makes use of its wait list so that it can enroll exactly the right number of applicants for its incoming class. Powell said that there have been years when Princeton was able to fill this capacity by May 1, and no one was admitted off the wait list.

Princeton’s application process distinguishes itself from that of other schools through its use of the SAT Subject Test, Terri Riendeau ’83, senior associate dean of admission said. While many other schools have stopped requiring the submission of subject test scores, Princeton still requires that two SAT Subject Test scores be submitted, in addition to either the SAT or the ACT with writing. Princeton also places an emphasis on writing, requiring two essays instead of one, as many other colleges do. Riendeau noted that one important question guiding the application process is, “Will this student be ready to write a thesis in his or her senior year?”

In examining applications, the admission office is, above all, trying to put together a diverse community, Powell said. In addition to engineering, the University has 38 varsity sports teams, the Wilson School and an orchestra, and the University admits applicants in the hope that all these programs will remain strong.

In giving advice to parents on helping their children apply to college, Powell said that the admission process is, first and foremost, about supporting the child. Powell encouraged parents to “look at admitted student profiles on our websites and then look at what your son or daughter looks like on paper,” using tools such as Naviance. Powell also said that parents should encourage their children to apply to a diverse range of schools in terms of size, location and geography and to consider factors such as whether the school is liberal arts or a technical university.

Powell also said that parents should consider what makes their children happy. In helping their children decide what schools to apply to, parents should “think about all the factors that will make a big difference in [their] students’ day-to-day lives” at the institutions they attend.

Princeton has seen a large spike in the number of applicants, Powell noted, attributing this large increase to a corresponding increase in U.S. and world populations and in the population of high school attendees. Powell also said that as the number of admitted and enrolled students has remained fairly stable, the percentage of students accepted has declined.

In general, Powell said, finding the right “match” is the goal during the application process.

“Be yourselves. Be honest with us. Be honest with yourselves,” Powell said.

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