What’s Your Story for College Admissions?

bay area sat tutoring student

The college admissions process is not just about reaching certain markers. It’s about telling a story. And telling that story starts at the beginning of high school.

At a recent event organized by the University of California, Berkeley, admissions director Olufemi “Femi” Ogundele said the admissions process is “rational but not predictable.” That term rings true, because there are many factors college admissions officials consider, beyond grades and the SAT and ACT, in deciding whom to offer a seat to, and some of them are subjective. This is where the power of a great story comes into play.

This video, recorded some years ago in the admissions committee of Amherst College, illustrates how college admission decisions move past traditional factors like test scores, grades, and club memberships:

What challenges has the student overcome? What are their driving passions? Are their grades simply a reflection of their ability to follow rules, or does it represent an active, independent learner?

From Venkates Swaminathan, an Aspire educator and Founder of LifeLaunchr, which provides expert coaching to help students find their best-fit college and get in, here are two factors we tend not to consider:


Grit and resilience are necessary for college. College is a big change from home, and students who know how to seek help and grow through the process will do much better. One student we worked with this past year increased his grade in algebra from an F to an A- despite his diagnosis of autism. That is an extraordinary story. But many students have stories of adversity in their lives, and being able to show transformation or improvement throughout high school is critical - whether that’s an academic challenge or external challenge.


As an admissions officer at Stanford said, many colleges are looking for students with passion and a track record, not necessarily the most “well-rounded” student. That means that if you focus your extracurricular activities—whether that means chess, martial arts, volleyball, or machine learning—on a few areas and devote time and attention to it, your chances are better than someone who has a number of scattershot interests and activities on their résumé. It gives texture to who a student is as a person.

What’s common between those two capacities is they can’t simply be built or established senior year. Building those capacities starts early. If there’s an academic challenge your student is facing, our team of 40+ content experts, across a range of expertises, is here to help and empower your student for sustained success.

bay area sat tutor swamiBut we also want to help you navigate the broader educational world, which is why we’re partnering with Swami and Lifelaunchr. On February 23, at 4 PM Pacific (7 PM Eastern), Swami and Aspire will offer a free webinar on Building an Effective College Plan. The webinar will unravel the secrets of the holistic admissions process at U.S. colleges and help your teen find their best-fit college and get in. To register, click here. Everyone who registers will receive a video replay, so register even if you can’t attend live.

College admissions can be a complex process, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Learn what college admissions officials look for, and you can use that knowledge to build a great high school career.



Drew Sokol, Executive Director

east bay tutoring director