Q&A from the 2020 College Information Session

MLC Writing

Q&A from the 2020 College Information Session

MEK’s 8th annual College Information Session on Saturday, May 9th, 2020, was a success! The College Information Session was MEK’s first ever webinar, and we could not have been happier with the results. Thank you to all 205 attendees for your participation and questions!

If you were not able to attend, do not fear! If you have any questions about the college application process and how MEK can help you, you can contact us to set up a consultation.

In the meantime, here are 10 questions that were most frequently asked during our webinar.


1. Will going to a public school, as opposed to a specialized school (i.e. BCA, BT, Catholic, or Private High Schools) put me at a disadvantage when applying to highly selective schools?

The short answer to this question is “No, not at all.”

When considering this question, it is important to look at it in two ways: in terms of school reputation and of academic rigor. 

Specialized schools tend to have better reputations, in that they usually send many students to highly selective universities every year. This is a result of the school’s history with the university, and is something that you just cannot control. This is a big reason why students choose to go to specialized high schools. However, if you do not do well at these specialized high schools, you will not be able to take advantage of this reputation.

On the other hand, another reason why highly selective universities tend to choose more students from specialized high schools is because of the academic rigor. BUT keep in mind–academic rigor is determined by the student. If you go to a public school, do well in your classes, and show that you are increasing the difficulty of your courses every year (thereby challenging yourself), then your curriculum is just as rigorous, if not more rigorous, than those of specialized high schools.


2. What is a good number of schools to apply to?

Last year, the number of schools that MEK students applied to ranged from 5 to 23. The number of schools that you apply to is largely your decision. It is a matter of how much work you can handle and how much confidence you have in your applications.

As long as you have a good number of Safety, Target, and Reach schools, you are in a good place. If you would like consultation on how to build your college list, MEK has consultation resources available to help you in this essential step.


3. Are academic extracurricular activities more valuable than artistic or hobby-related activities?

The reason why academic extracurricular activities are valuable is because they show your dedication to that thing that you are saying you want to study in school. It shows a good degree of exploration and your desire to know more. However, this doesn’t mean that they are more valuable than your hobby-related activities.

One of the points that our student panelists touched upon during our webinar is that it’s not always about the activity itself, but rather, what you did with the activity. If you are a long-time participant of a certain artistic or hobby-related activity, even if it has nothing to do with your academic interest, your energetic engagement will be a valuable asset to your application.

Also, your activities are what you make of them. Because many activities are quite fluid, if you are able to bring  your academic interest into your hobby, or vice versa, you will have a much richer experience that will definitely shine in your application.


4. Is it better for my extracurricular activities to be well-rounded or focused on my academic interest?

This really depends on what point in high school you are in. If you are in your earlier years of high school, exploration of a wide variety of activities is recommended. After all, how will you know what you want to keep participating in if you don’t try?

However, be strategic. If you know you like an activity and want to be in it for a while, then start filtering out the others. Keep what is essential to you, even if it isn’t related to your academic interest. That way, by the time you are a junior, you will have a focused set of extracurricular activities, and you will be able to invest more of your time and energy to making these activities richer experiences.


5. Do you suggest applying for financial aid, or will that decrease my chances of acceptance due to the COVID crisis?

I suggest that you do not apply for financial aid when applying to your first choice school. Colleges are businesses too, and they are definitely also feeling the financial burden. When they consider applications for admission, they are also going to consider your ability to pay.

Keep in mind that financial aid is not the only way to get aid! There are also many private scholarships that you can apply to.


6. Will taking the SAT/ACT/SAT Subject Tests enhance my college application, even when more schools are becoming test optional?

Definitely! Test optional does NOT mean that these schools will not look at test scores if they are sent to them. Test optional essentially means that not submitting test scores will not hurt you. But submitting good test scores will only boost your application to the next level more now than ever, especially if a large portion of the applicant pool is not submitting any to begin with. Submitting a good SAT or ACT score will make you a safer bet. Think about it like this: a 4.0 GPA supported by a 36 ACT is a stronger case than a 4.0 without any SAT or ACT scores, especially when the last semester of most high schools will be graded on a Pass/Fail system.

This year, we can’t talk about SAT Subject Tests without going back to AP test scores. Because AP tests will not be considered as reliable this year, SAT Subject Tests will act as support for AP test scores. For example, if you get a 5 on the AP Biology test, a 750 or higher on the SAT II Biology will show that your AP Biology score is indeed accurate and you do have a strong command of the subject and topics. However, research colleges’ unique testing policies, as some schools are not taking SAT II scores at all this year.


7. I have a decent GPA, good test scores, and pretty good extracurricular activities. Should I apply Early Decision to an Ivy League school that is my first choice?

If your first choice school offers Early Decision, it is best practice to take advantage of the opportunity. To colleges, Early Decision means 100% yield–you are bound to admissions if you are accepted. Schools want to invest more in their Early Decision applicant pools because they want to invest in the students who will definitely go to the school when accepted. We are predicting an even higher Early Decision advantage for students who are applying for Fall 2021 admissions in light of COVID-19.


8. Is it too late for a Junior to start working with an MEK college counselor?

Definitely not! Our Road Map to College program is designed for current juniors (incoming seniors). In this program, you will work with experienced counselors and essay coaches to work on your colleges from start to finish. Now is the ideal time to have an initial consultation and writing evaluation, so that you can start working with us on your applications once the academic year comes to an end.


If you are interested in college counseling and application guidance, give us a call at 855-346-1410 or contact us to schedule a consultation with our expert academic counselors! Also, stay tuned for weekly blog posts related the college application and essay writing process!

We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

Jaehee Ahn

Jaehee Ahn is MEK Review's Director of Academic Counseling Services and a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley. She is also an alumnus of MEK Review's SAT Prep program. If you have any questions about our College Counseling programs or wish to set up a consultation, you can email Jaehee at acs@mekreview.com.


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