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“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