Karina Macosko talks about her acceptance into Princeton University. Take advantage of her advice on academics, extracurricular activities, the college admissions essay, and more. Enjoy!
What helps a student get into a prestigious university? Karina Macosko walks through her application process and gives advice on how to make a strong college application. Whether you are a student currently applying to college, a student just starting out in high school, or a parent trying to navigate the college admissions process, this can help clarify the seemingly mysterious college admissions process. She covers her personal stats (GPA, Class Rank, AP Classes, etc.), extracurricular activities, and essays. Karina also discusses some of the myths surrounding the college admissions process and offers practical advice to high school students trying to build a strong college resumé. Also hear from a former dean of admissions at Wake Forest University and a College Admissions counselor.
If you are lost in the essay writing process, check out Sara Harberson’s book, Soundbite.
While the admissions process can be stressful at times, we at AcademicInfluence.com offer resources to help you in whatever stage you are in.
See more at AcademicInfluence.com.
(Editor’s Note: The following transcript has been lightly edited to improve clarity.)
Karina: Hi, my name is Karina Macosko from Academic Influence, and today I will be talking about what helped me get into Princeton.
I am a senior, I just graduated, and I will be attending Princeton University in the fall as a freshman, so I thought I would just walk through kind of my process, what I went through when applying, and hopefully it can be helpful if you are starting the application process this coming fall, or you are in high school or you are just starting to think about it, or you are a parent and you are trying to help your kids through this process. But before I start, I just wanna give a few disclaimers. I first wanna say that I do not know really what got me into Princeton. And so that is why it is called, "What helped me get in," because even the admissions counselors, it is hard to pinpoint exactly what gets a student into a certain university, and we have talked to a lot of admissions counselors on here, and they all kind of say the same thing. So this will hopefully just help you become a better applicant to whatever school that you wanna get into.
And then the second disclaimer, I wanna say is that it was a miracle that I got in. I do not wanna belittle my application at all because I did have a fairly strong application, but like anyone, the admissions process can be a little bit confusing at times. So praise God that I got in, and honestly, it is kind of a miracle for anybody to get into a school, regardless of what school it is or how good their application is. So I just wanna put that out there. Praise God, I got in. And then the last disclaimer before we get started is just do not spend all of high school just trying to get into college, and I know that it seems silly, but do not spend all of high school trying to make your application look good or do things for your resumé, try to find something that you genuinely enjoy and maybe find a school that you know really is a good fit for you. Well, not maybe, definitely find a school that is a really good fit for you, because we have talked to Admissions Counselors on here, Deans of Admissions, in fact, the Dean of Admission from Wake Forest said.
Martha Allman: The best school for one child might not be the best school for another child.
Karina: Not every school that is good for one student will be good for another, and so find a school that is right for you, and you can do that through our website, we provide a lot of resources to help students find the college that is best for them and really just enjoy wherever you are at. Whether you are just starting high school, whether you are about to go into your senior year, it does not need to be taken up by college admissions because you can be so successful anywhere. And so with that long introduction, I will jump right in. We are gonna go through academics, what I did kinda for academics throughout high school, extracurriculars, and then kind of how I wrote my essay, which can help you write yours and a little bit of what it was about. So if you wanna skip ahead, I will put it in the description below where each of those sections are.
Karina: So starting off, I apply, I ended up applying to eight schools, and I think originally I had something like 11 schools maybe on my list, and then I ended up getting an early admission to Princeton, thankfully, so I did not finish some of my applications. And I would say try to keep your list as short as you can. So try to narrow it down before you even start applying, and again, Academic Influence is really great for that because we have a customized ranking tool to kind of show what schools are good specifically for you, because it really does take a lot of work to apply to a college, and so if you can get that list narrowed down, then your application can be higher quality, so if each school has three supplementals and you are doing 11 schools, that is 33 additional essays that you have to write, compared to if you can kind of narrow it down to like five schools, then that is only 15 supplementals that you have to write, and then they can be higher quality essays. My topped ranked list, top five schools that were kind of like my dream school was Princeton obviously, Harvard, MIT, Columbia and Duke. Okay, moving on to academics, so I was a pretty good student in high school, I am not gonna lie, 4.7 GPA first in my class, thankfully, and I took 19 AP classes over high school, I got mostly fours and fives on my AP tests.
Karina: From my experience, you did not have to submit all of your AP scores, our school pays for all of the AP tests, so every student takes all of their AP tests, which is another thing that was really nice. In terms of the classes you take, I remember freshman year, our guidance counselor was like, "If you wanna go to one of these top colleges like the Ivys, you have to take the hardest classes you can." And from my experience, now, this might not be experience, academics are kind of what gets you in the door, and we have heard other admissions, counselors say that, so your academics have to be good, but then you also have to have additional extracurricular stuff. So moving on to extracurriculars, I think this is the biggest myth that I heard when I was a freshman or starting off in high school, I would hear so many people say like, "Oh, you should join that club, it will look great on your resumé," or like, "It’ll look great on your college application process." That is not true, extracurriculars are the biggest thing that you do not wanna just shop around and do things to look good for your college application, most things you do that you are passionate about that are productive, will look great on a college application, if you do them correctly.
If you join even if it is the best, most resumé building club, if you are not very involved and you just show up to put it on your resumé, they are gonna be able to see that and they are gonna be able to see that like, "Oh, you did it for one year and then you dropped out." So try to find something that you are passionate about, try to find something that really excites you because then that will make it so much easier to write about it for your application to get involved. And also, like I said, you are not just in high school to build your resumé for college, you really wanna enjoy what you are doing in high school, and it is four years of your life. If you join a club just to look good on your resumé and let us say it meets like an hour after school once a week, and that is like 40 hours a year maybe.
Let’s say, 40 hours a year and that is for four years, that is 160 hours that you are doing something that you do not... You do not even wanna do it. And chances are that there is another club that would be more exciting for you that would look just as good on an application and you would actually enjoy doing it. In terms of my club, my club experiences, I did Spanish club, I was vice president for two years, debate club, I did that for three years and I was president for the last year. I did Youth in Government for three years, and I was a senator, my brother and I wrote a bill together, we went to the conference. Very fun. I did National Honor Society. And I know there is a few more but those are just the ones I wanna highlight. I also did things like kind of random opportunities that just came up. So I did a WECode Conference that was organized by some undergrads at Harvard, and I really enjoy coding and computer science, so I just happen to do it. So, if you have the opportunity to do something and it sounds interesting, I mean, definitely make sure that it is a time commitment you can make. But just go for it, go for the random opportunities and you never know where it is gonna lead you. Chances are, you could get really involved in it, and it could actually be the thing that you end up writing a supplemental essay about, your Common App essay about, so just go for those random opportunities.
Karina: Next is work experience. And this might not be something for everybody. I have thankfully been able to have pretty unique work opportunities throughout high school, and especially with the pandemic, it opened up a lot of online things that I could do from my house. I worked at my church, and I was doing that long before the pandemic. I help with the childcare, I love it. Like I said, find something you are passionate about, I just love doing that. Definitely I was not doing it to put on a college application, but I did end up including it which was kind of fun, and I am definitely gonna miss that when I go to college. These videos I do for Academic Influence, which I love doing. Again, I love talking to people. That was another work experience. And then I actually helped for a little bit, type up a textbook. So I was a typesetter for a textbook. And that was really fun, again, just random opportunities. That was written in LaTeX, and I was actually a TA for a short course on LaTeX. Again, super fun. I just reached out to the teacher doing it and I was like, "Hey, I have this experience, let me know if you need a TA," and it was really fun. Just try something new, high school, and even college is really your chance to explore, to branch out. So, just find something that you love doing and really stay consistent with it.
Karina: The last thing for extracurriculars is sports. So, sports is very different for some people. I was on varsity track all four years, and I played volleyball for two years, and I danced for two years outside of school. For me, I am not going to college to run track, but I loved doing it in high school. It was the extracurricular that I got most involved in at my school. If you are going to try and do your sport in college or at the next level, of course, you still apply to college, but you definitely have to be more proactive and reach out earlier, but for me, that was an extracurricular I did was track, and it was kind of, again, random opportunity, and I loved it.
Karina: Okay, last section is essays. Just from my friends, and for from me personally, essays are what stress people out the most of their senior year. You have your resumé, you have all that you have done from freshman year to senior year, and now in the fall of your senior year, depending on what schools you are applying to, you have to write a ton of essays. Specifically, the Common App essay. We have talked to Sara Harberson, she wrote an amazing book called "Soundbite." If you are kind of lost on what to write for your Common App essay, I would definitely recommend getting that book, reading it through. We interviewed her, and one of the greatest pieces of advice that she said was...
Sara Harberson: What I have realized over the years, it does not just come down to one thing. It is about living your soundbite, being really true to who you are and making sure that comes through in every part of your application.
Karina: For her Soundbite, it is kind of like a theme that you have throughout your application, especially throughout your Common App essay. If you just take all that you have done in all of high school and try and throw it in an application, it is not really gonna paint a clear picture of who you are. Even though you wanna highlight all the amazing stuff that you did in your extracurriculars, your academics, maybe you did some research, you more than anything, wanna paint a picture of who you are, right? Because they are not admitting your accomplishments, they are not just admitting like a 4.7 GPA, they are admitting you as a whole applicant. And so, sometimes people can miss out on that, they just try and put their whole resumé into a Common App application and they lose the personality of it right. If you are lost on what to write about, or you are working on your Common App right now, or you are just thinking about it for the future, try to imagine what you would want a college admissions counselor to know about you.
Think about, if they had never met you before and they are reading this Common App essay to get to know you, they are reading your application to get to know you, what is it that you want them to know about you? And kind of go off of that. I will do a whole other video on essay, writing an essay, but I wrote about loving to talk to people. Loving hearing people’s stories, and getting to know people and having conversations that kind of open the door to learning something new. I tied in stuff I have done, stuff in my extracurriculars, life experiences, things beyond just awards and accomplishments, and that is I guess what my theme was. So, do not focus so much in this application on just trying to tell them every great thing you have ever done, focus on telling them who you are. And maybe that is telling them what awesome Honor Society awards you got, but also maybe it is telling how you helped a friend or you helped a neighbor, or how you love to draw, or you love to make videos. [chuckle]
Karina: So, whatever it is, just try to stay true to yourself in this whole application process, especially in these essays, and have fun. And if you are in the middle of the college application process, me saying that probably is like, "I do not know what this girl is talking about because this whole process is not fun." But honestly, there are so many opportunities at so many different schools. But I hope this helped. I am just one person who went through this college admissions process and who is going to college in the fall. There is no cookie-cutter model for a college application, but there are ways that you can become a better applicant. This is just the things that helped me, personally, the things that were on my resumé. I know that there is things in my extracurriculars I have missed, there is some random things that I did not even think to put in my application. Again, praise God, I got in, and I am praying it goes well for all of you guys. I know it can be stressful. If you have any more questions, again, feel free to leave them down below, contact us directly or check out our website, AcademicInfluence, and we would love to help you.