Thursday, April 12, 2007

College Admissions - What I Consider the "Right Stuff"

As an alumnus, I have interviewed local high school students applying for admission to Princeton University. During those interviews, I did an evaluation of the student which was then submitted in a recommendation to the University. Essentially, I was making a decision as to whether the applicant had the "right stuff."

Each interviewer has their own criteria for the "right stuff." Here are my top three:

Intellectual Capability - I look for intrinsic mental capability. SAT scores and grade point average are a beginning, but not the final factors. I also consider intellectual curiosity and depth of understanding. I typically ask about a paper they wrote, a scientific experiment they did, or volunteer work. Does the candidate accept the standard explanations or do they wonder about other causes? Can the applicant explain why he took a specific path or choice? What did the student learn from volunteer work. Based on the discussion, I get a better understanding of their overall mental capability.

Leadership - To me, all applicants should have extracurricular activities as a minimum. I look for leadership participation to differentiate the students. For sports, did the applicant demonstrate outstanding performance in the form of a tournament win or league championship? For student council, did the candidate have responsibility for a major program. For other school activities, did the applicant only participate or take a leadership role in planning for the organization.

Diligence - The third area I evaluate is the student's commitment to doing hard work and overcoming adversity. For me, this is the area that most differentiates applicants. What did they do when results turned out different than expected? Did they have a financial, physical or skill challenges that needed extraordinary effort to change? Did they need to influence others to enable getting something done?

In my 10 years of interviewing, I found these three criteria have often helped me identify the most qualified applicants. Of note, I am amazed how much the quality of applicants increases each year. I often wonder if I would still be admitted if I applied today:-)

Disclaimer: Other than being a graduate, I am not affiliated with Princeton University. This article represents my own views and not the views of the University.

For more on Crossing Generations, check back every Thursday for a new segment.

This is not financial advice. Please consult a professional advisor.

Copyright © 2007 Achievement Catalyst, LLC


Matthew K. Tabor said...

An addendum to diligence - have you considered looking for whether students have sought out adversity rather than overcoming it? Hitting walls and simply creating adversity (this happens necessarily with achievement and is not a reflection of a person's attitude) is a hallmark of a motivated, successful person. I'm interested in your thoughts on this. Great post!

Super Saver said...


Thanks for your comment.

If I understand your question correctly, I agree someone who takes on a goal where signficant adversity is already apparent is operating at even a higher level. Especially, if the adversity is not an area they have previously encountered.

living off dividends said...

any ideas about MBA schools?

Super Saver said...

Living Off Dividends,

I don't have any personal experience with MBA school admissions. So this is only a guess: I would expect work accomplishments to be a additional key criteria that is considered.