We had the opportunity of interviewing Andrew Nyholm, an alum of the University of Pennsylvania and student at California Institute of Technology about: College Applications
a former student at the Materials Camp at Drexel University
a former student at the Governor's School for Engineering and Technology at Lehigh University
a former student at Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research (VIPER) at the University of Pennsylvania
a lover of science and sustainability
Here are some important words he shares:
"I wrote my essays to emphasize what is unique about my time in high school and my time growing up."
"I wish I knew that it isn’t a bad thing to truly sell yourself and that sometimes humility isn’t the best aspect when you only have a short essay or a brief interview to give an admission officer a picture of who you are. "
Q: How many colleges did you apply to and what are some key factors you considered?
A: I believe I applied to roughly nine undergraduate programs. The key factors that I considered were the presence of either academic scholarships or strong financial aid scholarships, the ability to do research, the location of the university, and the relative strength of the programs. I knew I needed scholarships for college, so I found out which schools have need-blind admission and a history of strong financial aid commitments. I also looked at how many programs gave assistance for research funding and positioning for undergrads. Additionally, I knew that I wanted a liberal arts education as an undergraduate which limited some of the tech schools I would have applied to at the time. In the end, the final consideration was whether I would pursue physics or materials science & engineering as my major. As it happens, I was accepted into a program that allowed me to do a dual degree in both for which I am still grateful.
Q: What were some important steps you took to prepare for college and when would you suggest taking them? (researching, taking the SAT/ACT, writing essays, etc.)
A: While I do not like the supposed necessity of taking standardized tests such as the SAT/ACT, I do suggest taking multiple practice tests under pseudo-proctored conditions to prepare for the test. This is a relatively low commitment way of improving the quantitative reading of our application. Additionally, I would spend some time early in high school to decide what path you generally want to take in college and take opportunities early to work in those fields. I did engineer camps in between my sophomore and junior year and between my junior and senior year. If you are lucky, you can find universities that offer free programs that give you both exposure to material you otherwise won’t see in high school and see if that path is right for you.
Q: How did you make sure your application essays stood out against others? (reading other essays, reading literature, authenticity, passion, etc.)
A: I wrote my essays to emphasize what is unique about my time in high school and my time growing up. I imagine that growing up in a nature preserve is a pretty unique opportunity and I figured that building off of that aspect of my life to describe not only what I did in high school, but why I did different activities would give them the best picture of who I am.
Q: What is one thing you wish you knew when applying for college?
A: I wish I knew that it isn’t a bad thing to truly sell yourself and that sometimes humility isn’t the best aspect when you only have a short essay or a brief interview to give an admission officer a picture of who you are. I grew up knowing that being modest was the best way to make a first impression. The problem with that mindset during an application is that you must first make an impact enough in your first impression for them to warrant you the chance of a second or third impression.
Q: What is something you avoided when applying for college?
A: I generally avoided talking to friends about colleges I applied to until I knew where I was going and had committed. This is a stressful time for everyone, and it is natural to compare yourself with the friends and peers you have had class with for possibly the last twelve years. However, this comparison can just add to the stress and competitiveness of friends before you all possibly split off across the nation or world.
Q: What do you think admissions officers consider most (transcript, GPA, extracurriculars, leadership, personal research, essays, etc.) ? Or is it different for each person?
A: I think my personal essay probably caught their attention the most. While my application was good in a lot of quantitative respects, I figure it is much easier for one set of an applicant’s GPA numbers or test scores would blend with another applicant’s than one personal story would with another personal story.
Q: Throughout high school, did you have one school you were aiming for or did you have multiple considerations?
A: I had a general aim of getting into top schools for scholarships, but I did not only consider one university. Multiple considerations were on my mind throughout high school.
Learn more about Andrew and his experience on his LinkedIn account.
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