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Continued: Perfect scores alone don't make grade for admission to college of choice

  • Article by: PAUL LEVY , Star Tribune
  • Last update: May 16, 2013 - 3:58 PM

“When I meet with an applicant, I look for interaction, for presence,” Bruno said. “We assume they have huge credentials. I don’t even ask them about grades. We’re looking at the human side of these kids.”

Joan O’Connell, guidance counselor at Cretin-Derham Hall, tells top students, “You have the numbers, credentials, activities and scores to be a viable applicant. What about community service?” Jonny Nicholson, director of college counseling at the Breck School, urges students interested in elite colleges to seek early admission — because that’s where he says some admittance offices find half of their class selections, with the wait-list earning most of the remaining openings.

When parents ask how they can enhance their children’s chances of landing at an Ivy League school, Hopkins counselor Jean Davidson tells them jokingly to “move to South Dakota or Wyoming, where there are fewer people and less competition to possibly fill a quota.” She tells them that some elite colleges, which recruit internationally, will take only so many students from Minnesota.

In Tanner McArdle’s case, he appeared to do everything right. He applied to Stanford early. He took the right courses — earning perfect 5’s in his four Advance Placement class exams. When he earned a 34 on the ACT exam, he heeded the suggestion of Colleen Neary, career and college specialist at Anoka High School, and took the ACT again — earning his perfect score. Last summer, he attended Boys State, the prestigious educational and governmental instruction program. And he’s personable.

“He’s well-rounded,” Neary said. “He’s not a nerd.”

McArdle, wait-listed at Brown and Washington University in St. Louis, said despite strong letters of recommendation he knew admittance to Stanford “would be a crapshoot.” On Dec. 15, his dream evaporated via e-mail.

He was admitted to Vanderbilt and offered a substantial scholarship, but one that he said won’t cover enough of his bills. He also was accepted at Wisconsin but plans to attend the University of Minnesota and major in biomedical engineering — unless Brown calls with an irresistible offer.

“I’m happy,” he said. “If I had it to do all over again, maybe I would have gotten more involved in projects outside of school earlier, like ninth grade.

“My grades and test scores? There’s not much I could have done about those.”

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419

  • related content

  • Anoka High senior Tanner McArdle scored a perfect 36 on the ACT college entrance exam.« He’s at the top of his class and can’t get in? Are you joking me? »Anoka High Principal Mike Farley on Tanner McArdle’s not getting in at Stanford

  • Admission control

    A few tips gleaned from conversations with college admissions people, guidance counselors and students:

    Know your competition. The University of Minnesota received 41,000 applications, but has openings for only 5,400 freshmen. Duke University informed high schools early last fall that it expected a record number of applicants — for the sixth consecutive year. Some 31,785 seniors applied, but only 2,897 were accepted. When applications rise, so does the bar for admittance.

    Stand out. Good grades and board scores are essential, but they aren’t the total package. Participate, volunteer, work on your jump shot. Hopkins counselor Jean Davidson said that one of her students got the attention of a college admissions staff by mentioning that she’d taken dance lessons for 15 years.

    Do your homework before writing your essays. The essay should be personal, not generic. “I decided to have fun with my essay,” said Sarah Brandt, a St. Louis Park senior who is headed to Yale. “I felt like I had nothing to lose.”

    Make an immediate impression when being interviewed. Minneapolis attorney Fred Bruno interviews local applicants for Stanford, his alma mater. “Personality is key,” Bruno says. “Being open, sunny and positive never hurts.”

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