For many high school seniors, Thanksgiving break is more about perfecting personal statements on college admission applications than about eating turkey or playing football. The deadline to “press the button” to apply online for all University of California campuses is just over a week away. The Santa Barbara Independent sat down with UCSB admissions director Lisa Przekop to find out what colleges are looking for.
Which personal statements stand out to you the most? This is what I tell students: When I’m reading your personal statement, I’m trying to picture you, your environment, your family situation, and your community …. We evaluate students based on how they grew up. What information did they have? Are they first-generation [college graduates] or low-income? Are they in an area like Santa Barbara that has a lot of resources? If so, how did they take advantage of those resources? How did they challenge themselves if their schools offer great college prep or AP classes? For instance, there’s the Engineering Academy at DP or there’s the MAD [Multimedia Arts and Design] Academy at Santa Barbara High.
What should students avoid? Sometimes students make the mistake of telling me why the university is outstanding and why they want to be a member. I need to know about them …. One thing I tell students is to not reference the quote from “The Road Not Taken”; it has been used a million times.
The hard-core students feel like they need to go out and do every activity, but really what we’re looking for is depth. We use the phrase depth over breadth. We want students to find what they’re passionate about and explore it as much as they can. The student who’s just joining 10 clubs and going to a meeting at lunchtime — that doesn’t impress us. Have they done it for multiple years? Have they assumed a leadership role in that club? Have they taken their interests to a higher level than entry level or did they just show up to the beach and do beach cleanup one day?
What is the average GPA of students who apply to UCSB? The average GPA of the applicant pool is a 4.13 [weighted] but we admit from a wide range of students. That number is impressive and shows we’re highly selective, but I worry they see these numbers and say, “forget it.” When I’m working with students, I like to quote a range. I like to say, realistically to be competitive, 3.6 and up.
Are there any new resources for high school students to research schools? A lot of colleges participate in collegelive.com, which are basically virtual college fairs. There are usually ways students can talk to admissions counselors online. In a lot of cases, you can do a one-to-one chat via Skype. Stuff is out there; they just have to take the time.
Last word of advice for seniors? Apply to a broad range of schools. You have until May to decide, so don’t start eliminating schools at this point. People get hung up on the one perfect school for them, but in reality, there are all kinds of colleges in the U.S., and there are many that could work.