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Abby Wolterstorff, Class of 2021

What are admissions counselors looking for? Abby Wolterstorff, a junior at Timothy, interviewed Franklin Gaglione from Lake Forest College, and Claire Higgins from Grand Canyon University, to find out. Here is what these two College Admission Counselors told Abby.

When do you suggest high school students start looking at colleges? 

Franklin Gaglione: “When is the right time to start?” is a question that I hear frequently. Typically I find that students visiting too early (freshman or sophomore year) are not quite ready to grasp the reality of a college environment, as they are still acclimating and finding themselves in high school. On the other hand, I frequently meet students that wait until the start of their senior year to take the college search seriously, and feel a stressful sense of urgency or that they are “behind” in the process. A great time to start visiting campuses typically falls at some point between the summer before and middle of your junior year.

Claire Higgins: I definitely suggest beginning the search junior year. I had to go to college for five years because I started the process too late. I was not ready and I needed more time to figure out what I wanted to do. Junior year is the best time to look for colleges and senior year is when you should commit to a college. 

What happens when your GPA is lower than your SAT/ACT scores? 

Franklin Gaglione: This is a great question, and the answer can vary widely between institutions. At Lake Forest College, the high school transcript is the most important piece of the application, where we evaluate both the rigor of the classes you’ve taken (Honors/AP courses) and how well you’ve achieved (grades). Additionally, we will look for trends in achievement, so a lower GPA on its own may not tell the full story. A stronger standardized test score is never a bad thing for an applicant, but we attempt to evaluate the full student as a person. For students that don’t feel their transcript is the best indicator of who they are as a prospective student, it is highly encouraged to be in contact with your admissions representative and to add an explanation for certain grades into your application.

What do you look for in an application essay? 

Franklin Gaglione: Simply, a great college essay allows me to feel that I already know the student personally. I have been highly impressed by a wide variety of essay topics and styles because students come with so many quirks, interests, and stories. While there is no “right” way to write a college essay, there are certainly things that I recommend students avoid. While I am often lenient, I always check for grammar and spelling errors, along with a writing style that shows college readiness. At the same time, we can easily tell if a parent or adult has heavily influenced the essay, so we do not expect perfection. Lastly, because I read hundreds  — if not thousands — of essays annually, there are certain topics that appear very frequently and as a result, often fail to be memorable. These topics include, but are not limited to, sports teams and mission or community service trips.

What can students expect in a college interview and what are you looking for? 

Franklin Gaglione: When I interview a student, I always lead off by attempting to reduce the formality. Admissions officers really just want to get to know you, your life, and your college search. Students can always expect to talk about their classes, interests, and hobbies from high school, but beyond that, we look for a successful interviewee who is comfortable in their own skin. I also like to ask about their families and pets, to make the conversation light and fun. 

Lastly, I really enjoy when students have questions for me at the end of an interview. It demonstrates that they are taking personal ownership of the college search and want to hear from the perspective of someone immersed in the environment. Overall, I try to do as little talking as possible, and encourage the student to share what they are comfortable sharing.

Claire Higgins: I look for strong students who are focused and dedicated to their studies. We want students who know what they want and who are ready to work hard to achieve what they want.

Should students go to college knowing their major?

Claire Higgins: At Grand Canyon University, we strongly suggest that students do not come in undecided. We encourage them to take personality quizzes to figure out their interests. From there, we can build their major and schedule their core classes. However, this does not mean that there is not an opportunity for them to switch. We have many understanding counselors ready to help any student who is not happy with what they are pursuing. 

Franklin Gaglione: From my perspective, students should not feel like they have to know their major at the start of college. Most eighteen-year-olds are not ready to commit to a course of study, so there is not a lot of sense in requiring them to. They have not had the life experiences necessary to declare a major right off the bat. Going in with an open mind allows students to find their way to a major and career they are passionate about. There are a large number of institutions that urge students to declare early. While students don’t need to know their major fully, admissions officers often hope that students have a few ideas and interests. This can guide them to important foundational courses in their initial semesters.

Are there ministries available for college students to participate in? 

Claire Higgins: Every Monday, we have a period blocked off so that every single student can attend chapel. We have no classes during that time because we want the students to be able to come. There are also different services on Sunday that we offer, and we can also help you reach out to and join a church in the area. We also have other events like a candle lighting at the beginning of the year so we can bring the students together. Mission trips are also available for students who are interested and we partner with Habitat For Humanity on different things. We want students to be brought together and to feel a sense of community when at GCU.

Thank you to Claire Higgins and Franklin Gaglione for their time. Please stay tuned for the next installment in our College Search blog series.