TODAY   |  October 26, 2012

What you need to know to get into the college you want

The deadline for early decision at many universities is less than a week away, so what do you need to know to impress the college of your choice? Admissions officials at Johns Hopkins University, the University of Michigan, and Vanderbilt University share their top tips to help you get that coveted acceptance letter.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> many universities is less than a week away. what do you need to impress the college of your choice? here with the inside scoop, ted spencer , executive director of undergraduate admissions at the university of michigan , ellen kim, the director of undergraduate admissions at johns hopkins and the vice provost for enrollment and dean of admissions at vanderbilt university . good morning to all of you. bottom line, a very distinguished panel here this morning.

>> good morning, savannah.

>> great questions that our viewers sent in, but let's start with the basic question to you, ellen what. has changed in the last oh, i guess 20 years or so when a lot of parents were applying to college and now?

>> i guess the biggest difference is the amount of information that's accessible to students. i think a lot of universities have put a lot of information online on their websites and hold a lot of events across the country so information can be very successful now without even having to make the visit to campus.

>> there's so many students, and i think what most kids want to know, and i'll put this to you, doug, what to do to really make the application stand out.

>> i think the best information i would give is to be authentic and describe who you are and let us understand what you want. don't write to us and tell us who you are because we're building a community, not filling a classroom.

>> talking about the dreaded essay, of course. the point you is want to make it personal. can you tell when it's been overedited or adults have maybe even written it?

>> yeah. a lot of times, particularly when the adults sign the application, you know --

>> does that really happen?

>> that happens sometimes. it feels a little bit more packaged. it's not about the students so much when someone else is writing it. we don't hear their voice. we don't understand what makes them tick and that's what we're looking for.

>> can you forgive something a little less than polished if you feel it's authentic?

>> i think you can. i think at times, you know, it's an individual review. you look at everything, and you say, well, where does this fit in the whole package of the application?

>> ellen , what are you looking for when you look at transcript, it's not just grades.

>> right. so we're looking at the types of classes this person has taken over the course of high school . want to see the student challenged themselves and looking at performance as well and underlying all of that i think what we're really thinking about is what type of student that they are.

>> and a lot of kids really involve themselves in a ton of extracurricular activities . is it a competition, is it a numbers game, how many you do?

>> no. i would really say it's more important to be in two or three or four and be transformative and have made a difference, not the requisite i'm a junior, i better get in 20 clubs. can you see right through that.

>> exactly.

>> it's the persistence, the passion and the leadership, the reasons why they are joining that's more important to us than the laundry list.

>> so many students understandably freak out over the s.a.t.s and the a.c.t.s. how much does that score matter, be honest?

>> ellen . it does matter. we ask for it and we'll ask for it and take it into consideration. it doesn't matter as much as students think it does. we're overall looking at the whole of the academic profile, not just that one number.

>> it complements the transcript. in other words, it's a part of the whole many factors that we look at, but it's not the one and most important thing. it's a holistic review, test scores , transcript, extracurricular activities . all of those things so the test scores have one weight. it means if you're applying to a competitive school, it's important.

>> one of the reasons we're having this conversation now is because it is early decision , early action time, and for those who aren't familiar with the concept, doug, i'll let you explain what this is.

>> early decision is the ability where a student can choose the school they are really wanting to go to and actually in early decision have a binding contract with the school, the high school counsellor and university all agree and that's where that student is going to end up and must end up if they are admitted and selected.

>> so you have to really be devoted to that school because you're making a promise.

>> that's right, for early decision and then there's early action . we confuse parents and students all the time.

>> i'm confused.

>> and it varies. that's why students should go to the website and look at every college, the information about how to get in, but the early action is not binding, that's the major difference. if you want to go to the school and want to be admitted early apply early action .

>> okay. read the rules. let's get to our high-tech fishbowl. we've got viewer questions. amy from north carolina . should i hire a college coach for my child? this is all the rage in this part of the country. who wants to take that one?

>> ellen . sure, we recognize that sometimes students are at schools where maybe they don't have as much access to their high school counselors, and i think sometimes a little outside help can be helpful in those circumstances, but at the end of the day we encourage students to take ownership over the process themselves because the application should be a representation of who they are

>> we want to make sure they are not too pre-packaged, back to your original question.

>> counselors are great, best people that can advise and assess a student's ability to get into college.

>> tammy wants to know. how would you feel about a candidate submitting a home video of themselves with their application, oh, boy? that could be a pitiful.

>> we had a situation like that at the university of michigan , admitted this wonderful person who submitted a home video about why he wanted to come to michigan and used the michael jackson theme, give me one more chance.

>> did he get in?

>> he got in. let me say this. we see tons of things like that every year. we don't admit people based on those kinds of things.

>> okay.

>> if you stand out, if it really makes a difference, it may be considered. most cases it doesn't matter.

>> okay. let me try to get to one more. sarah, another one from north carolina . how much weight is given to playing a team sport in high school ?

>> i think the question on playing a team sport , whether it's a team sport , debate or whatever, the question is did you make a difference and did you stick with it for a long period of time?

>> okay.

>> we've got nancy from california, real quick on this. we've been told it's helpful to make multiple contacts with the university of your dream, campus tours, visits, et cetera , does it really help?

>> demonstrated interest is important but don't stalk.

>> keep within 50 feet. you guys are great. good to have you here.

>> thank you.

>> thank you.

>> sending you home with this