A Guide To the Admissions Process at Boston University
This article is a first-person account from Yesh Datar, a Boston University student and CollegeVine livestreamer. You can watch the full livestream for more info.
Writing your college application isn’t easy. It’s hard to look back at your whole high school experience and try to fit it all neatly into one concise resume, and it’s really hard to figure out how to approach the different required essays. The admissions process can feel unclear and mysterious, but you don’t have to be in the dark about the whole thing. In this article, you’ll learn some advice from a real Boston University student about how to approach your applications.
When you apply to colleges, you’re most likely going to go through something called the Common App, which is a website that most colleges use. It allows you to submit applications very seamlessly through a consolidated network of universities. It contains a lot of information, including facts about your high school — who’s in the top 10%, what courses are offered, the average GPA, and so on.
There will be some personal data too. You’ll need to fill in information about your academic background. What courses did you take? How many of those were high level or advanced? What was your GPA in those courses? Did you take any standardized tests?
There’s also a section for activities, where you can list all the extracurriculars you participated in over the four years of high school. You’ll be able to rank them in order of importance to you. You can also write about the leadership positions you held and provide a description of how impactful your work was for the community. On top of all that, you need to write essays. The essay — called the Common App Personal Statement — will be a response to a broad prompt that asks you about a challenge you’ve overcome or to reflect on an important experience.
After doing all this, you’ll need to submit some letters of recommendation and a few other things. Each of these elements matter to your overall application. They provide a comprehensive picture of who you are as a high school student, and colleges take it seriously. Once you’ve completed the Common App, you’ll be able to move on to the supplemental parts of a specific college’s application.
I applied to Boston University’s biomedical engineering program as well as other biomedical engineering programs and, in retrospect, I feel like I might have been too broad of an applicant. I didn’t have many engineering-focused extracurriculars. I was a band kid, I played ultimate Frisbee, and I volunteered for the Red Cross. I was an emergency medical technician (EMT) but I didn’t do anything that was related to engineering.
So, when I applied to very selective schools, I can now see clear reasons why they weren’t convinced I was interested in biomedical engineering. I don’t think that I had much of a spike in the subject, which would have helped my case.
I also wish I’d known that your SAT score isn’t everything. It’s just used as an academic threshold; for the most selective schools, admissions works in different phases. The first phase is just a filter phase. The school will look at your SAT score and GPA to see if you meet their academic standards. When you move past that phase, they’ll start to look at your extracurriculars and essays and how specialized they are for your particular area of interest.
All of that starts to matter a bit more than your standardized test score, so it’s important to work hard in those areas. I thought having a great SAT score was all I needed, but that was not the case.
Getting Additional Help
I didn’t use a consultant or any kind of tutor to help me with my applications. I didn’t think that it was quite worth the cost; I didn’t want to put the financial burden on my parents. I also felt confident enough to navigate the admissions process by myself.
I made an Excel spreadsheet, and I had the deadlines for all my applications on that. Because I put in some of that work, I felt like I had a good handle on the whole thing. In hindsight, though, it would have been helpful to know which aspects of my application were most important. I wish that I’d had some guidance during my freshman year of high school so that I could have known what to focus on.
Looking back, my essays were all over the place. I didn’t show a specific area of focus or specification, so I didn’t convince many colleges that I was truly interested in engineering. Having a consultant there to advise me on my essays and go through the bigger picture of my application would have helped me quite a bit.
My opinion on hiring a consultant has changed over time. When I was a high school junior, I thought I could do it all myself. Now, though, I think that it would have helped me. Before you go down the route of hiring an expensive advisor, though, you should check out a lot of this resource. Getting application help can become very pricey very fast. This site is free, however, and you should use it like you would use a private consultant.
There are a variety of essays, so one tip won’t cover everything. But some good general advice is to be genuine. Everything you say should align with what you’ve done in the past, and you should write in your own authentic voice.
People also like to hear stories. Show, don’t tell, right? You’ve probably heard that a lot before, but it’s valuable advice. To carry across ideas, don’t just state them outright. You should strive to tell a full narrative so that it’s more convincing to your admissions officer. Be sure to spend time brainstorming and drafting, too. Set aside time two months in advance, before the deadline, to write your essays. Have a couple of drafts going so you know that you’ve written down all of your best ideas.
To be more specific to Boston University, the blog pages on our website are fantastic. I’d recommend checking those out; it’s always super important to do your research, after all. If you want to know how to write the Boston University essays, there are some good examples that should give you some inspiration: