What does an Admissions Officer look for when he/she is evaluating students?

Gradually, it’s been getting increasingly more difficult for B students to gain admission to Michigan State University, one of the state’s flagship institutions, and one school that has prided itself on not being moderately selective (71 percent acceptance rate this year.)

This year’s freshman class high school average GPA is 3.75 and average SAT score is 1,218; the mean ACT is 26.2. The grade point continues to increase steadily, too. Ten years ago, the average GPA for admitted freshman students was 3.60.

And last year, the first time MSU began accepting the Common App, the school saw applications jump by more than 11,000 students to a record  44,340.

 “Michigan State University uses rolling admission, but the number of qualified applicants has exceeded available space in recent years,” the website warns. “Depending on several factors –including space available in the entering class –  it may not be possible to submit an application for certain semesters.”

If students apply early action before Nov. 1, they will be guaranteed a decision within 12 weeks. As always, MSU will continue accepting students until all slots are filled.

Recently, I had the opportunity to chat about admissions with John Ambrose, MSU’s Interim  Executive Director of Admissions and Recruitment. We talked about what he looks for in an applicant, how to get into MSU, and the role of the college essay in the admissions process. He confirmed that as admissions becomes increasingly competitive  “the college essay is the one thing that can separate you from everyone else in the application pool.”

Here is some of Ambrose’s best advice for students who want to apply to MSU:

What’s your elevator pitch to prospective Spartans?
MSU is looking for people who care about making a difference in the world. The SPARTANS WILL speaks to the heart of who we are as SPARTANS and the attitude we have about developing world changers.

What is the secret to getting into MSU? 
Be your most authentic self! Students put a lot of effort into trying to convince admissions officers who they think we want to see. Authenticity is always appreciated.

Why do parent alumni believe MSU is becoming so competitive they would not be admitted today?
Each year the application pool changes from the size to the strength of the academic profile. MSU is no different we have watched our application counts grow along with the academic profile. A number of students in our entering class begin at MSU with college credits they earned while they were in high school and that’s one of the biggest changes from then to now.

What’s the typical GPA of an admitted MSU student?

Our freshman profile at the 50th percentile ranges from a 3.5 – 3.9 GPA, and 1130-1300 SAT Composite and a 23-29 ACT.

How important is AP and IB?

We encourage students to challenge themselves and take the highest level of preparatory coursework available. AP and IB students gain a wealth of academic texture and contextual rigor that provides them with a wonderful sense of preparedness prior to enrolling in college or university. I think it is very important to the academic experience that a high school student can choose from.

What are the four top factors you consider for admission to MSU? 
1. GPA
2. Test Score
3. Rigor
4. Grade trend

We also consider the personal statement, senior year schedule,  and extra-curricular activity as a part of our holistic review.

How can an application essay help an applicant? 

In the essay, take the opportunity to show us your authentic self and try really hard not repeat things that are already apart of your application. I wish students spent more time on their essay.

What do you look for in a college essay?
Genuineness of character, unique flair of personality, identifiable traits of a leader or follower, team player and someone who has the capacity to add to the rich diversity of our campus and our traditions as a SPARTAN Nation.

What advice would you give to a student whose grades and test scores are not a sure thing for MSU, but who really wants to attend MSU? 

If they want to be at MSU we want them to be here, too. Transferring into MSU is competitive but not at the same volume as entering with the freshman class. Students have a strong opportunity to transfer who have 28 earned college credits, completed college algebra and college writing, while maintaining a 3.0 or better cumulative grade point average.

How do you respond to a student who thinks the MSU campus is too big? 

You can always make big things smaller, and we have done that by offering living and learning programs that give the student a small college feel in a large university setting. Additionally, we have compartmentalized the campus into geographic pockets we call neighborhoods by decentralizing some key support services, so you don’t have to travel across campus to go to tutoring or the health clinic. Those services are available in each neighborhood. Come see us, and we will be happy to show you around the campus!

Our Gift to You: A Free Book for You and Every Parent in Your School

We’d like to give you a free electronic copy of our book: How to Write an Effective College Application Essay: The Inside Scoop for Parents.  After you click on the link, you’ll find out how to get free books for every parent in your school, too.

How do you approach the college essay? We’d love to hear how you talk to your students when they panic, and what your biggest college essay challenges are. Feel free to email me kim@wowwritingworkshop.com.

About the Author

Kim Lifton, a 2018 Top Voice in Education, LinkedIn, is President of Wow. We are a team of professional writers and teachers who understand the writing process inside and out. The Wow Method has been used by students to write application essays and resumes; by business owners to create blogs, websites and other communication materials; and by English teachers to improve student writing skills. We can even help you write a great poem or short story. If it involves words, we can help!