By: Kyle Cochran
I am now seven months into serving as an Admission Counselor for TCU. While I still have endless amounts to learn about how to effectively perform this role, I have now seen most of the major responsibilities for the job, specifically travel and application review. I highlighted some key takeaways from my first travel season in previous blog posts and I would like to do the same with my first reading season. This information, however, should be much more relevant to prospective students as I will frame it around what really stood out to me on various applications and what could help an applicant position himself or herself to be competitive for admission to TCU.
When reviewing an application at TCU, we consider all pieces of the application in order to get to know our applicants as much as possible. This holistic process helps determine if he or she is a good fit for TCU, as opposed to simply being able to hold his or her own in the classroom. This differentiator is very important to us – we really want to admit students who will contribute to the culture of TCU’s community by getting involved on campus, being excited about meeting new people, and challenging themselves throughout their time as a student. We would never be able to determine this about a student by simply glancing at his or her transcript, so it is essential for us to look at all pieces of an application.
Through examining all of the documents, there are a few of them that consistently prove to be the most valuable. A student’s transcript, test scores, resume, and essay are typically my go-to pieces of an application that initially help me determine if he or she is ready for a TCU education. I will often turn to these first before moving onto the other pieces to get a better picture of what the student is like. With this in mind, I am going to give you a few tips and tricks of what I look for with each of these documents to hopefully put you on the right track when time comes to apply!
Transcript: Succeeding in the Latter Half
When analyzing an application, of course a transcript is one of the most important pieces. If a student has been successful in high school, he or she will likely be successful in college. If a student wasn’t, he or she likely won’t. However, this isn’t dependent solely on his or her overall GPA. Some students are concerned about poor performance in their freshmen or sophomore years affecting their chances of being admitted to TCU. While we, of course, like to see success throughout all of high school, students’ latter years tend to carry much more weight than their former. We feel as though if a student is on an upward swing, this trend is likely to continue into college. If he or she is on a downward swing, however, a solid freshman year in high school may not be enough to merit admission.
Also, I always appreciate students who take a heavier course load in both junior and senior years. Schools sometimes limit the number of AP or IB classes students can take, or preclude students from taking them until junior year, so students tend to ramp up their schedules. On the other hand, some students feel content coasting in senior year by taking two off periods and classes like Basket Weaving and Cat Juggling. If students aren’t going to challenge themselves in high school, why would we think they would challenge themselves at TCU?
With all of this considered, my recommendation to you is to not slack off junior and senior year. In some high schools, there is little accountability to prevent students from coasting by, but there is also a relatively low expectation of performance. In college, however, while there is also little accountability for students, they are expected to perform at their highest level day in and day out. Don’t get in the habit of coasting now, as that will be a habit you will be forced to break in college.
Test Scores: The Ultimate Trial and Error
Another important piece of our application contains two of your favorite three letter acronyms: SAT and ACT. Yes, those dreaded standardized tests that college applicants take do play a big role in the decisions we make in our office. While GPAs can sometimes be a bit difficult to interpret (due to varying grading scales, course offerings, and that chemistry teacher who gives everyone Cs!), students’ SAT and ACT scores help us evaluate them on a national scale. The word “standardized” can sometimes sound negative, but for us it literally means that we have a “standard” by which to compare students.
At TCU, we accept either the ACT or the SAT. I would recommend taking both to see which exam more closely aligns with your learning style. We also “superscore” both tests where, if a student takes a test multiple times, we will take the top score from each section of the test and combine them to provide the highest possible composite. This way, a student doesn’t have to knock the ACT or SAT out of the park each time he or she takes it.
Resume: No Fillers Added
A student’s resume is one non-quantifiable piece of an application that is very important to us at TCU. I mentioned before that we really want students at TCU who are going to get involved in student organizations on campus, so seeing a student’s involvement in high school is valuable.
Students might be tempted to fill their resumes with relatively insignificant activities to give the illusion of being very involved. However, there are many ways to see through this by looking for two key aspects to each activity on a resume: duration of the activity and presence of a leadership role.
When a student spends more than one or two years in an extracurricular activity, it seems to me as though he or she is committed to not only learning from whatever that activity offers, but also to improving the club or organization. This is especially true when a student pursues a leadership role in the organization in order to truly make a difference. TCU provides many opportunities for students to leave their legacy.Essay: Yoo Reely Shuld Proofreed
The essay is another absolutely vital piece of an application. I saved it for last because it absolutely SHOULD NOT be poorly put together. I could (and probably will) write an entire other blog post about how to write a compelling essay or at least how to write one that isn’t a disaster.
When looking at each piece of the application, most of them are representative of a student’s success over time. A GPA encompasses four years of work, test scores are bolstered with years of practice tests and test prep courses, and a resume looks at involvement in activities over a long period of time. The essay is the ONLY piece that is constructed at one point in a student’s life. Nothing about the past (aside from maybe the topic itself) has any bearing on it and nothing in the future can bring it down. A student has a completely clean slate on which to write the essay. With this being said, all essays that I have read have been pristine, right?
I have definitely read some great essays, but some look as though the students wrote them in sixty seconds and pressed submit immediately after. I have seen glaring grammatical errors such as a singular lowercase “i.” I have seen run-on sentences that expanded into tomorrow. I have even seen a questionable discriminatory comment. These mistakes and many more could be easily avoided if the author would simply take the time with an essay that is expected of a TCU student.
You might be thinking, “I’m just not a good writer! What should I do?” My suggestions to you would be a) work on it because writing is INCREDBILY important and b) have one of the thousands of people you know look over your essay before you submit it. Whether it is a parent, counselor, teacher, mailman, hairdresser, flight attendant, or anyone else, let a second set of eyes see that essay before submitting. There is literally no reason you should not.
There you have it: four takeaways I have from my first season of reading applications. I hope that you have taken these suggestions with more than a grain of salt (ideally with an entire salt shaker) in order to position yourself well for admission to TCU. Good luck!