The Hopkins Insider blog is a great resource for students applying to Johns Hopkins — or to any college at all, really. The site offers an inside peek at the mystifying world of college admissions. This week, Daniel Creasy tells readers his approach to reviewing applications. We gleaned five crucial tips from his account. Read on — some of them may surprise you!

1) Your future matters more than your past
Frankly put, admissions officers want to pick the people who will make the best college students, not those who were the best high school students. This is a fine distinction, of course, since the way schools figure out if you’re strong college material is to review how you did in high school. But the key here is to remember that potential matters more than past perfection. What does this mean? Well, you can chill out a little bit if you’re not captain of the softball team, yearbook editor, valedictorian, and volunteer extraordinaire. You don’t want to be the kind of person who peaks in high school. To make admissions officers sit up and take notice, show evidence of abiding interests (academic or extracurricular) that you’ll be able to continue and deepen during your time at college. It also means that a freshman year slip-up is looked at way more leniently than plummeting grades in a student’s senior year, even if the end-result GPA remains the same.

2) Your “deeper qualities” matter more than your grades
It’s easy to get hung up on minute differences in SAT scores, GPA, and other quantitative measures. But remember:  competitive schools could stock themselves with 4.0-GPA robots if they wanted; the fact that they don’t means that they value other qualities beyond brute academic force. “Such an approach values interpersonal qualities and actual experiences and engagement, over raw data,”says Creasy.

3) Persistence is the “deeper quality” that matters most
Flashes of genius are great, but they’re just that — flashes. What impresses admissions committees more than moments of brilliance, according to Creasy, is “what a student does on a day-to-day basis.” In other words, given a student who spent a week building orphanages in Cameroon and another who spent four years tutoring low-income students at a school down the street, the student with the less flashy (but more consistent) tutoring experience is more impressive.

4) Test scores matter less than you think
Students tend to obsess about the SAT — they buy practice books, sign up for courses, and some even try to pull elaborate scams to get higher scores. But for the Johns Hopkins admissions team, at least, the test scores are not as definitive in determining admission as many students think. “Test scores are important, but the high school transcript holds much more importance in my analysis than do the test scores. I look at the test scores to see if they reflect what I expect a student’s standardized performance would be after reviewing the transcript. If they match, which they typically do, I move on. If they don’t, I ask why and then move on,” Creasy writes.

5) And recommendation letters matter more
“A recommendation tells much more about a student than a test score, and a recommendation is better evidence of future success, whereas a test score is simply an evaluation of performance,” Creasy notes. So get to know your teachers. It’s great if they can praise your classroom performance, and even better if they can speak to those value-added qualities mentioned above. Does your English teacher know about your spoken-word poetry? Can your biology teacher mention your volunteer work at the hospital in her recommendation letter? All the better to make you stand out as a candidate.

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