Valedictorians at the Gate: Standing Out, Getting In, and Staying Sane While Applying to College by Becky Munsterer Sabky

Special Considerations

14. A Word on Early

  • Deadlines vary, but early applications must be submitted in November. Some high schools are better than others at helping students meet these deadlines. Early decision is a binding agreement whereas early action is nonbinding. Applying for an early decision improves your odds slightly.
  • If you make an early decision, you won’t be able to compare financial aid offers. Good midterm grades and subsequent awards won’t be part of your application. Colleges can also rescind your acceptance if your grades drop or you have disciplinary issues.

15. International Applicants

  • Applying to college from another country can be tricky. The first stop should be a conversation with the admissions officer who specializes in international students. A standardized test is a good way to confirm your English capability, but some countries like China don’t offer them. Extracurricular activities are fewer or nonexistent in most schools outside the US, so explain what you do with your spare time.
  • In many colleges like Dartmouth, the international pool is much more selective (2% instead of 10%). It is also true that your chances are better if you can afford to pay full tuition, which is the college’s highest rate. Generally, international students want to be seen as themselves rather than as representatives of their home country.

16. Recruited Athletes

  • Many student-athletes wouldn’t otherwise be accepted were it not for their athletic prowess. However, they need to have enough in the way of academic accomplishments to convince admissions that they can succeed in the classroom. Successful student-athletes need strong time management skills. You should take the most challenging courses you can do well in, and don’t write your personal essay about sports.
  • You need to start the process early. Contact the coach near the end of your sophomore year to introduce yourself as a person, along with your athletic accomplishments. You may have to complete an application by July before your senior year. It’s not fair that you have to apply early, and it’s also not fair that you can apply early. While you may not receive formal acceptance early, the coach can send you a likely letter early.

17. Decision Day

  • Here, Becky recounts contacts with rejected students, parents, and wait-listed students. Her advice to the rejected is to fall in love with another college and move to an open door rather than clinging to a closed one. (Doug: This is also good advice if you ever lose a job.) Grieve if you have to, and lean on loved ones for support.
  • Some years, Darthmoth doesn’t use its waitlist, and when they do, they use it to balance geography, gender, and majors and to boost their average SAT/ACT scores. If you are on a waitlist and still interested, keep in touch and send updates.

18. Admitted Student Events

  • The decision can be paralyzing for students admitted to more than one school. It’s very personal, so pick the school that makes the most sense and move on. If you do your homework, it’s hard to make a bad choice. Most colleges run events for accepted students in April. They gin up fun activities, serve better food, and forgive parking tickets.
  • If you have a negative experience, mention it, as they don’t want one bad apple to spoil the entire barrel. You can appeal your financial aid offer and ask if they match any better offers you may have. You can also ask for more time to decide if you have a good reason.

19. Welcome to College

  • There are many distractions at any college; even some Dartmouth students succumb to alcohol and peer pressure. Make sure that you put academics first. To put this in perspective, divide the total cost of your first year by the total number of classes. This gives the cost per class, which is most likely in the hundreds of dollars range.
  • You don’t have to do everything you said you were going to do on your application, but do something. Today’s colleges compete by adding amenities that you should take advantage of. Also, attend the museum and one-time events like lectures and musical performances. Look for mentors and mentoring opportunities. You may not be better than some students that weren’t accepted, but you made the varsity. Now it’s showtime.

20. Best in Class

  • This is a reflective summary where Becky hopes that the college admissions process can somehow become less crazy and feature no emphasis on legacy students. She warns that elite colleges don’t necessarily produce impressive people. As she raises two toddlers, she is more concerned about their character than the college brand on their future sweatshirts.
  • This chapter also includes a true story about a valet and a frog that caused me to tear up. I could summarize it for you, but you might not buy this book if I did. If you have kids in high school or know friends who do, you need to get one or more copies of one of the best books I have ever read.

Becky Munsterer Sabky

  • Becky is a former director of international admissions at Dartmouth College. She graduated from Colby College and received her master of arts in liberal studies degree in creative writing from Dartmouth. Based in Vermont, she is also an award-winning monthly newspaper columnist, a blogger, and the author of a children’s book series The Little Ripperes. Her email is and her website is
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