Colleges Look Beyond Applicant Grades

“Be yourself.” That was the message shared by three college admission professionals during the first college admission planning webinar hosted by the National Honor Society (NHS) and National Junior Honor Society (NJHS). NASSP is the parent organization of NHS and NJHS.

Staged live at the LEAD Conference in Phoenix on November 14 and broadcast to more than 800 virtual attendees, the webinar featured Christine Bowman, dean of admission and enrollment services at Southwestern University, a small, private liberal arts college in Texas; David Burge, vice president of enrollment management at George Mason University (GMU), a public university in suburban Washington, D.C.; and Youlonda Copeland-Morgan, associate vice chancellor of enrollment management at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The panelists stressed that many colleges and universities are interested in more than an applicant’s grades and test scores. They want applicants who will dig deep into themselves to share distinguishing attributes they can contribute to that institution’s learning environment.

Copeland-Morgan said that as part of UCLA’s “holistic admission process” the institution is “interested in who you are. Be you. Be unique.”November Honor Society webinar

Burge also amplified GMU’s holistic admission approach, explaining that sometimes a video essay might be a better opportunity to express oneself than a written essay. He urged students to leverage any unique opportunities they might have to communicate their distinctions.

Bowman advised, when applying to a small liberal arts college, consider “what you want to get out of the experience.” She suggested students asks themselves: “Would I be comfortable contributing in a classroom?” since that would likely be expected in a smaller environment.

She stated emphatically, “Students should be driving the admissions process. … We all have slick brochures and websites, but visit, visit, visit. … If you live a distance from the institution of interest, get on the phone or participate in a chat.” She also emphasized the value of speaking with a graduate of the institution.

Copeland-Morgan reminded students that “college is an opportunity to break out of your normal shell. It’s an opportunity to surround yourself with people from different backgrounds. Go someplace that will stretch you and grow you as an individual” so that you might come to conclusions about life experiences that may differ had you stayed in an environment that is familiar.

She offered three “don’ts” for webinar attendees: “Don’t stress over the application. Don’t underestimate your ability. And don’t ignore your email. That’s the way colleges will communicate with you. So if you have five or six email addresses, pick one to use for your communication with the colleges you apply to and check it.”

The panelists also addressed questions about the value of Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses. They recommended taking such coursework, if it is available, because it indicates to a college or university that the student is willing to “stretch and prepare” for the rigors of a college curriculum.

A Twitter Town Hall followed the webinar. Find questions and comments from the representative schools on Twitter at #Prep4College.

This was the first of three webinars being hosted this academic year by NHS and NJHS as part of NASSP’s commitment to promoting college access and success for students. Through chapter advisers, NHS and NJHS invite student members and their parents to participate in the series. The next webinar, “Understanding Financial Aid,” will take place on February 17. On March 23, “The ‘Right’ College Fit” will conclude this year’s series. A Twitter Town Hall will follow each session.

Registration information for the next two webinars will be available at and Members, parents, advisers, and principals of Honor Society affiliated schools can also view the archived November 14 college admission webinar on these pages now.

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