Case Study

Tell-allGiven the popularity of sites that gauge your odds of being admitted into a certain school based on your quantitative credentials, I figured that there are a lot of people who are interested in reading about other kids who made it into certain schools, hoping to figure out what it takes to get in. Obviously, a certain SAT/ACT score or GPA isn’t going to singlehandedly get you in the door and there are many other factors considered, but it can be helpful to see what a successful applicant looks like. It is for this reason that I’m making myself a case study and disclosing all of the details of my life according to my Common App–to show that you don’t need to be perfect to get in (unless you’re going for MIT or Stanford or Harvard, in which case, I really can’t help you).



  • weighted: 102.225 (Pre-AP classes add 7 points to cumulative GPA, AP classes add 10)
  • unweighted: ~95.818 (Only including core subjects: English, Math, Science, Social Studies, and Language)

Rank: 20 out of 630

Honors classes (PAP) taken: 13 (I took about 8 classes each year; 6 during junior and senior year)

AP classes taken: 9

AP classes offered at school: ~22

*Note about my school: It is a large public school located in an affluent suburb of Dallas, TX. It was named the largest exemplary school district in North Texas (I believe?), but is definitely not nationally ranked or renowned. The class of 2014 is about 630 people.

Test scores (Best only):


  • Reading: 720
  • Math: 730
  • Writing: 770 (Essay subscore: 10)
  • Subject, Math II: 740
  • Subject, U.S. History: 760
  • Subject, Literature: 780


  • Reading: 36
  • English: 36 (w/o essay)
  • Math: 34
  • Science: 35
  • Writing subscore: 10


  • World History: 4
  • English Language: 5
  • U.S. History: 5
  • Calculus AB: 5
  • Environmental Science, Statistics, European History: TBD


Ballet: Reppin’ classical ballet since 1998! From 7th grade on, I attended class and rehearsed about 4-5 nights per week, which added up to about 20 hours. We emphasize performances over competitions but participate in Youth America Grand Prix (one of the biggest ballet competitions in the world) each year. In 2013, I won 2nd place in the Senior Classical division of the semi-finals and advanced to the final round in New York City. In 2012 we traveled to Montreal for the National Regional Dance America Festival (ironically held in another nation), and in 2013 we toured Austria and performed in multiple cities as part of the Young! Tanzsommer festival. Ballet basically takes up all of my time and energy. To watch a video of me: . I also choreographed a piece this year!

National Charity League: Mother-daughter charity organization. I volunteer through them and participate in fundraisers (our fashion show this year raised upwards of $100,000). This is where I got to add LEADERSHIP! I was president in 7th grade (though I just said “previously” since that was kind of a long time ago and I didn’t mention that I got the position by a random draw), “organized” a cultural event (by selling tickets to one of my performances), and was elected Vice President of Senior Presentations this year (at least it sounds legit).

School related things: National Honor Society, National French Honor Society, French Club. None of these required extensive (or any) involvement.

Recommendations: I asked my junior year math teacher and junior year U.S. history teacher to write me recommendations, both of whom are aware of my heavy involvement in ballet. I also asked my sophomore year English teacher for a letter–I thought it’d be a relevant addition since I’m a prospective English major. Though I waived my right to read the letters, my counselor told me they were all glowing, which is not surprising because I felt confident that each teacher was very supportive of me. It sounds like common sense, but I would recommend you seek out the teachers that you know think highly of you.


As you can see, I was not valedictorian or volunteer of the year. I didn’t take an outlandish number of AP courses, though I suppose 9 could be considered outlandish depending on how many AP classes are available. I was not involved in school in the least. Yet somehow, some Ivy League admissions officer decided I was worth it (hallelujah!) Just be earnest in your application–if a school doesn’t want you, it’s likely that it’s not meant to be.

I almost didn’t apply to Cornell; I applied with a “might as well” attitude and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve made all year (or ever). Because I’m a sappy person, I can’t help but feel it was meant to be. My point is, things will come together in ways you can never predict. Don’t lose faith in yourself, your abilities, your worth, or your accomplishments, even if you feel like you could’ve done more. Trust me, I’ve felt that way. It’s not productive. Or maybe you’re completely confident in your application, in which case I envy you. As a control freak, it was excruciating for me to be in limbo for those few months, but the feeling of relief is a totally underrated emotion… It feels fantastic being past the admissions process and knowing where I’ll be next year. I’ll post part or all of my Disneyland admissions essay soon. Thanks for reading, and hope this made you feel better somehow.




6 thoughts on “Case Study

  1. JennyB May 26, 2014 / 1:43 pm

    Natalie, I’m curious as to what type of assistance in college planning you received. You seem like a self-starting kind of gal. (I’m a college admissions advisor and appreciate your comment on my CollegeSphere blog post.)

    • natalietsay May 26, 2014 / 10:28 pm

      Hi, Jenny! As far as testing goes, I used the Collegeboard and Princeton Review guides for SAT and ACT (respectively). I didn’t receive any assistance in planning other than running my list of schools past my school guidance counselor. My application was never reviewed in full by anybody, but I asked a former English teacher to look at my Common App essay. I would probably consider that self-starting. Thanks for the interest!

  2. Nathan July 3, 2014 / 2:04 pm

    Natalie, I’m just curious but in your opinion how important is gpa(unweighted) in the college process? I’ve talked to a number of current college kids and all of them seemed to point to the fact that as long as you meet a certain threshold you should be fine cause they said that most important is to show you have a passion for something(whether through EC’s etc.). Also does it make a difference as to the type of high school you goto(like private etc.)

    • natalietsay July 4, 2014 / 5:34 am

      Hi, Nathan!

      I’ll start off by saying that I know nothing for sure, but I read in “The Gatekeepers” that the admissions officers at Wesleyan would look at a student’s academic year and count the number of A’s, B’s, C’s, etc. that they made (while also noting how many AP’s they took), so I do think that colleges try to standardize everyone’s GPA and account for AP/IB weight.

      That being said, I think that since SO many kids have comparable GPAs, it’s really more about the big picture. GPA definitely isn’t everything, especially since it depends on where you go to school and what opportunities you have. It’s important, but I’d say equally as important as components such as ECs, essays, and test scores. From everything I’ve heard, colleges are definitely attracted to students with a clear and demonstrated passion. You probably can’t get in anywhere based ONLY on your ECs, but it might differentiate you from other kids who look exactly the same on paper.

      I don’t think what kind of school you go to makes a huge difference. As long as you’re making the most of what is available to you, colleges will recognize that. The VAST majority of applicants (and acceptees) attended public high school (including me), so I certainly wouldn’t say that either type of school is more advantageous than the other.

      I hope that answers everything. Please don’t hesitate to ask any questions at all, and good luck with the admissions process! 🙂

  3. espanolanatasha July 12, 2014 / 10:06 pm

    Natalie, do you think that average standardized test scores (29/1910- 700M 620W 590CR) can be overlooked if all other criteria is met? I am really nervous because I am Asian and my test scores aren’t within range. How strong do you think my chances of getting into Cornell are and do you have any tips for me? I’m all ears please. (Top 4% in a very competitive public high school, +100 volunteer hours, debate, Key Club, Spanish Honor Society VP, Student Council, Best Buddies, Bilingual Buddies, work since sophomore year, joined an entrepreneurship program with the Chamber of Commerce my entire junior year and started my own baking company that donates 70% of profit to smaller charities, all AP’s and PAP’s, and legacy). Cornell is my absolute dream school and I will be applying ED to CALS Applied Economic Management this November. Looking at last year’s ED results makes me really nervous because so many strong contenders were rejected or wait listed. Is there anything I can do to make my app stand out? Thanks

    Also, out of curiosity, which hs did you go to? I also live in the DFW area haha.

    • natalietsay July 15, 2014 / 2:38 am

      Hello! Sorry I wasn’t able to reply earlier, I’ve been out of town.

      I’ll start out by saying again that my opinion is not a professional one–I’m simply writing what my perceptions are after personally going through the process and hearing firsthand from other friends.

      While test scores undoubtedly play a very important role in admissions, I’m not sure they’re generally the deciding factor. Just because you’re not in the range doesn’t mean you don’t stand a chance: remember, that means 25% scored the same as you or lower. There are also kids with above range scores who don’t get in, which is what makes me believe that test scores may not be as crucial as they’re made out to be.

      Your extracurriculars are strong and related to your intended major, and while I’d definitely list everything, I’d really emphasize the company that you started yourself–that’s something that would potentially help you stand out. Focusing on the few most important activities will help you avoid sounding like you piled on the ECs to make a good application. Not saying you did, but there are plenty of kids like that out there, and I think admissions officers see it.

      You’ve got a lot of other things going for you too: ED demonstrates total commitment, which they love to see. You’re also challenging yourself academically with all APs and PAPs, and while they insist that legacies don’t receive special treatment, it can never hurt. In fact, it might help distinguish you from other similar-on-paper contenders.

      Overall advice would be to do a LOT of research before writing the supplements. For instance, showing that you know a lot about the program you want to enter and the classes you want to take lets them know that you’re passionate about the school. Other than that, just spend a lot of time making sure you represent yourself in the best possible light and hope for the best! Admissions are truly unpredictable, but I think you have a good chance and wish you the best of luck!

      What a coincidence! I went to Carroll (Senior?) High. Please let me know if you have any other questions, I’ll be happy to help in any way possible!

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