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Photo by Karan Malik

By this time, many prospective college students have chosen which 4-year university they will attend. On May 1 three years ago, Peter Albrecht ’19 didn’t have much of a choice to make: Claremont McKenna College was the only college that accepted him.

Albrecht applied to 29 schools from his father’s list; the only way his father would pay the application fees. These included many of the Ivy Leagues, Stanford, Georgia Tech, Pomona, Harvey Mudd, and CMC. The rejections kept piling up, until finally, the iconic CMC acceptance letter arrived with gold and maroon confetti. Albrecht instantly knew he was coming to CMC.

There are many myths and urban legends about the college admission process. It is hard to determine exactly what a college is looking for, and why it may accept or reject someone.  Jefferson Huang, CMC Vice President for Admission and Financial Aid and Philosophy Professor, dispelled myths and provided a behind-the-scenes look into the CMC admission office. While he did not divulge details about Albrecht’s application, his general comments explain why Albrecht was welcomed into the CMC family. 

The “Holistic Review” 

Albrecht said that one of the reasons he may have been accepted to CMC and not to other colleges is that CMC is one of the smallest schools he applied to, and that the admission officers were, therefore, more likely to take the time to read his application in detail and understand his specific circumstances. The circumstances of Albrecht’s transcript and program were very unique. Homeschooled for most of his life, Albrecht had read all 7,000 books in his house by the time he was 12. At the age of 13, he got on a bus to Boston and enrolled in classes at Harvard University. Albrecht ended up completing three years of Latin, three semesters of Greek, two history courses, three math courses, and two physics courses. Albrecht spent 5 years at Harvard, taking classes with both undergraduate and graduate college students. His transcript showed a 3.2 GPA from Harvard, which is extremely impressive as a teenager taking classes with graduate students. However, Albrecht felt that many colleges denied him because the number was lower than the 4.0 high school GPAs he was undoubtedly competing against.   

Huang confirmed that, like all applicants, when Albrecht sent in his application to CMC, it was subjected to a “holistic review.” Huang explained that in a holistic review, the admission office gets to know the entire student. There are three equally weighted academic measures: test scores (usually either ACT or SAT), high school transcript and how rigorous the high school program is. “Transcript” refers to the courses you took and the grades you got — not to be confused with GPA which is measured differently by each school.

In addition to the academic measure, there is a personal metric. “If a teacher in a recommendation letter talks about your intellectual curiosity…that matters. Of course, it is not as quantifiable,” Huang said. Unsurprisingly, Huang stated that for personal factors, leadership is very important at  CMC. “It is not just about the things that you did, but how you did them. It is important to show leadership, creativity and ingenuity through your activities,” he said. Huang also emphasized the importance of engagement within one’s community and of forming connections in the world outside of the classroom. “Personal characteristics come out of the activities when someone does a good job of telling us about them,” said Huang. According to Huang, both the academic and personal rating inform the decision; however, there is no disqualifier — the decision is simply informed by these placeholders.

Clearly, Albrecht was an applicant with unique academic and personal characteristics, such as the initiative to follow the unconventional educational path he chose to take and the ability to keep up with the older students in his Harvard classes.   

What Happened to Peter Albrecht’s Application?

Once Albrecht pressed send on his application, the ball was in the admission office’s court. Huang confirmed that once an application arrives in the admission office, it is read at least once, usually twice, except when it is deemed really far from competitive (as in “this student will flunk out at CMC”). According to Huang, the first reader would have made a few notes and voted “admit, waitlist, reject” on Albrecht’s application. Next, a second reader would have also made notes and voted “admit, waitlist, reject.” Each read-through takes around 20 minutes. In Albrecht’s case, the two admission officers either voted to admit, and the application went into a holding bin for admit, or, if there was any disagreement, the application was discussed by the whole admission team. After having been read and scored, all applications are given a final screening by the admission committee. The committee then sends out offers! Here are the statistics of the admitted students from the class of 2022.

The Interview

Peter Albrecht also interviewed at CMC where he was given the opportunity to clear up any confusion with his transcript. Huang explained that the interview process allows CMC to get to know a student on a more personal level, and allows the admission team to see what a written application often cannot portray.   

“Admissions Doesn’t Make Mistakes”

The CMC admission office does not quantify the number of valedictorians in each freshman class, but there are definitely a lot of students at CMC who were valedictorians in high school. For the average student who was not, it can be intimidating to be surrounded by students who may seem more experienced, intelligent or prepared for college. Huang states that he personally loves that a common message is that the admission office does not make mistakes. “It tells students that we chose them because we thought they would be great– welcome to CMC, now be a great student here!” Albrecht is a perfect example of a CMC student who did not have the typical “high school valedictorian” experience. However, Albrecht does feel that he fits in at CMC and is very glad that he came here. He finds that the CMC professors and classes are even better than the ones he took at Harvard, is very fond of the administration and enjoys being able to take classes that are tailored to his interests in economics and physics. Most importantly, Albrecht is thriving at CMC with “a larger and closer friend group than he has ever had,” and relationships that he hopes will last a lifetime.   

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Shanil Verjee is a freshman from Vancouver, Canada. If she had to describe herself in just a few words, she would say that she is ambitious, witty, and (if she manages enough sleep the night before) energetic! She love making her friends and family laugh and smile. She immensely enjoys performing arts, debate, public speaking, and writing. In addition to writing for the Forum, she works at the Kravis Leadership Institute, and is a member of the Under The Lights theatre group, Mock Trial, and the Alumni Relations Committee of Senate. As a possible career path, she would be interested in pursuing international relations, through international law, but at this stage she is not really sure. Another thing she loves to do is travel. Her favourite place to travel is Europe, but she would also love to visit Japan one day!