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What are College Admissions Officers Looking for?

insight into college admissions interview

An Interview with Santa Clara University’s Claire Kreeft, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions

I conducted an interview via email with Ms. Claire Kreeft, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admission at Santa Clara University (SCU).  Ms. Kreeft provides invaluable insights into the admissions process at SCU.

 

Please note that this interview was conducted shortly before SCU announced that it will be going test-optional for the next two years (meaning SAT or ACT scores will not be required to apply to SCU for the next two years), so please keep that in mind when you are digesting Ms. Kreeft’s responses.

 

Insight counselor Jason:  What are the most important factors in a student’s application?  Why?

 

Ms. Kreeft:  At Santa Clara University we have a holistic application review process. What we mean by that is that we consider all parts of the application to paint a larger picture for each student. We do not have a minimum GPA or test scores (although those are still important factors in the application), so we balance those hard data points with the student’s story they share with us through the personal statement, involvement, and supplemental questions.

The different parts of the application are indicators of different things and are thus all-important. GPA, test scores, and transcript help us determine if the student is academically ready for SCU. The personal statement, extracurriculars, and service work help us determine if a student would be a good fit for our campus and if we can support what that student wants to do.

That being said, if a student is well below the average in both GPA and test scores, it is tough to make a case for a positive admission decision. 

 

Jason: What sets accepted applicants apart from the rest of the pack?

 

Ms. Kreeft:  A student that can articulate what they want to do, how they have practiced this so far, and why they want to continue it on my campus stands out. What makes an applicant memorable is when they can show us how they have maximized their opportunities so far and how they plan to take advantage of what we offer at SCU, it is not one magic factor like the right number of APs. At one high school taking 10 APs before you graduate may be rare, whereas at another high school it may be the norm.

What we want to see is how a student pursues their interests and passions.

If you want to be an engineer, what projects or clubs have you invested yourself in to further explore this? If you want to partake in undergraduate research, have you looked into what ongoing projects we have and if professors on our campus are engaged in your topics of interest? 

 

Jason:  What is the best advice you could give to prospective applicants?

 

Ms. Kreeft:  The best advice I can give to prospective applicants is to think about your non-negotiables.

What will you need on a college campus to feel comfortable and successful? Size and location are two of the most impactful features of a college campus that the individual student cannot change, so think carefully about the type of environment you want when crafting your list of schools to apply to.

When you have that list, be sure to communicate to those colleges why they are on your list. Don’t just regurgitate the school’s mission statement, be intentional and specific. I can tell pretty quickly when reading a student’s application if they are truly considering SCU or if we were just another college to apply to. 

 

college application advice from undergrad admissions office

 

Jason:  Other than grades and standardized test scores, what is the most important part of the application?  Why?

 

Ms. Kreeft:  In holistic admissions, this is a difficult question to answer (and one that doesn’t really have one answer), because the whole point is that the elements of the application complement each other to give depth to a student.

One factor that is often overlooked, but is very important, is rigor (or strength of schedule). When we see your high school transcript we see what your choices were for classes. Especially in a college landscape with increasing test-optional application routes, a student still needs to demonstrate the strength of their academic career. Rigor becomes especially important for students seeking admission to our more specialized programs in Business and Engineering.

Just taking a standard college prep course load will not be enough. Also, a student is more than just the things they study and the tests they took. Use the story part of your application (essay, involvement, supplements) to give life to your file. 

 

 Jason:  How much does an applicant’s choice of major factor into whether they are accepted or not?  Are there certain majors that affect admissions decisions more than others, and if so, which majors?

 

Ms. Kreeft:  At Santa Clara University, it is actually the choice of school that matters more than the choice of major when it comes to selectivity. When you apply to SCU, you will choose to apply to the College of Arts and Sciences (about 55% of the undergraduate population), the Leavey School of Business (about 30% of the undergraduate population), or the School of Engineering (about 15% of the undergraduate population).

While it is the same application process for each of the three schools, the way we read the applications is a bit different. With our more specialized (and smaller) programs of Business and Engineering, we take a closer look at a student’s academic history in certain areas.

For Business that would be in math, specifically looking for calculus. For Engineering that would be math and science, specifically looking for calculus and physics. The one major that has the greatest impact on an application, and is our most selective, is Computer Science in the School of Engineering. Students admitted to this major tend to have our highest average GPAs/test scores as well as having demonstrated a prior interest in and commitment to this field.

 

 Jason:  What advice can you offer regarding application essays?

 

Ms. Kreeft:  The biggest piece of advice I offer students regarding application essays is to centralize your experiences in your own voice.

No matter what the prompt says, an admission office is trying to learn more about who you are and how you will be in their community.

I have read some beautiful essays about how influential a student’s grandmother has been in their life, and then by the end of the essay I want to admit the grandmother and I have learned very little about the student. My first big tip is this: after you write your essay, highlight every sentence that has to do with you (the student) making a decision, reacting to experience, learning a lesson, etc. If this isn’t at least 50% of your essay you need to rewrite it.

My second tip is this: have a few people close to you read over and give you feedback on your essay.

Sometimes we think we know how we sound, but having a fresh set of eyes review your work can make sure you communicate the message and story that you intend to. 

Another important thing to consider, use the additional information section to give more context! This is an optional section in the common application that is essentially bonus free words. There is no prompt; it is not an additional essay. It is simply space for a student to give us more context. If you have something you need to explain, like a poor grade in a class or a personal situation that has impacted your high school career, this is the place to tell us about it. Save your personal statement for the story of who you are and what you care about.

 


Written by Jason Katz

This interview article was conducted and written by Insight Counselor Jason Katz.

Jason has helped hundreds of students gain admission to their best-fit universities. In addition, he wrote more than 170 college admissions/college life columns for the Palo Alto Daily News and the San Jose Mercury News.

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