By Bonnie Raskin, Program Manager
In the course of being the Program Manager for the Caroline D. Bradley Scholarship (CDB), I’m often asked, “How do you evaluate a CDB application? What do you look for?” With the 2019 CDB application season in full swing, I thought this would be the perfect time to address these questions and speak candidly about my process.
To first present a broad overview, all of the annual CDB applications come to the firstname.lastname@example.org mailbox when they’re submitted online. The CDB staff initially makes sure all of the component parts are included in each application, and if anything is missing, we routinely—and promptly– email the applicant to inform them what’s needed before the deadline. Every CDB application is read thoroughly multiple times, always by me and at least one other member of the CDB staff. After our initial in-office evaluations and team discussion, the highest ranked applications are then sent to our four selection committees throughout the United States comprised of deans and directors of admission from high schools, colleges and universities; heads of schools; educators familiar with gifted educational programs; members of organizations that work with gifted students; and CDB alumni who are represented on each committee. The CDB Finalists are selected from the four committees and will be interviewed in person or via Skype over the summer by the CDB team and CDB alumni who travel from June-August to cities throughout the United States. Each annual CDB class is selected early in September.
The first aspect of any CDB application that I look at is the applicant’s photo. While this is not a requirement, I highly recommend submitting a photo to go along with your application. When hundreds of applications are received, it’s common sense to personalize YOUR application as much as possible. For me, this means early on being able to put a face to an applicant’s name. The photograph you choose is totally your choice, but personally, I always enjoy seeing a photo that shows something unique about an applicant—maybe your picture at a landmark that means something to you or doing an activity that’s directly related to a passion of yours or just an offbeat look at what makes you, you. There’s a lot of truth to the adage about a picture speaking louder than words. Really, there is no downside to including a photo of yourself. The only “message” you’re conveying by not doing so is that for whatever reason, you don’t want the reader to see you.
Next, I look at an applicant’s statistics to get an overall sense of the person I’m about to read in his/her home and family environment. I also pay attention to an applicant’s birthdate to get a sense of where they fit in age-wise as a current seventh grader. Has he or she been accelerated? (Btw, you don’t get “bonus” points for moving forward in school; it’s just one of many aspects of learning about you that we are interested in knowing and if you are being academically served by your current educational program). Then I look at where an applicant goes to school. If the applicant is or has been home-schooled, here’s an opportunity to let us know more details about your educational path.
I then move on to the ACT or SAT test scores to make sure the eligibility requirements have been met by at least one section of either test. While the numerics do matter—CDB is a merit-based application—each individual section of the entire application is taken into consideration as we evaluate the whole person who has applied. We know that each applicant is an individual who is way more than the sum of his or her GPA and test scores.
From here, I look at the various honors, achievements and activities that occupy your time outside of school. All of the application readers want to see what matters enough to you that you spend time and expend effort doing an activity in your discretionary free time, whether it’s sports, music, community service, a job, robotics, tutoring, competition or anything in between that rounds you out as a multi-dimensional person.
On to the Quick Takes section. I hope that you as an applicant enjoy completing this section as much as we enjoy reading it. This is really the first part of the CDB application where your originality and unique self come through and where, on this end, we want you to have fun filling out the questions in brief. Full disclosure– there are (often) times when I find myself doing a Google, Dictionary.com or Wikipedia search based upon your entries… and I don’t mind at all.
We always include a mandatory essay prompt to level the field, as every applicant will be expected to complete this particular essay which allows us to get to know your writing style and addresses a specific part of your personality, home life, background and what makes you the person—and student—you are.
We then provide several options for additional essays that can either be written or expressed in another form that helps you display a more rounded view of yourself and how you feel about certain aspects of your life and the world you live in. It seems unfair to us to only limit an applicant to the written word if writing is not your particular forte, so we want you to have the option of expressing yourself in other ways that you’re comfortable with and give you a full choice of alternate approaches to several prompts.
A hint about the essays—please, please, please proofread your essays, or have another person assist here. This is not to say that anyone but you should be responsible for the meat and substance of your essay material, but the grammar, syntax and spelling are absolutely ok to have another pair of eyes scan. Nothing stops a reader more abruptly than a poorly proofed essay. Your writing should be your voice, period. Don’t feel you need to pepper an essay with “big words” if the vocabulary is clunky or isn’t in keeping with how you verbalize your thoughts. If English is your second language, we do take how you formulate your essays into consideration. When I or a member of the CDB team approach an application, we do so out of a genuine desire to want to get to know and view you in a positive light, so help us help you by providing us with interesting, engaging responses that encourage us to keep reading.
Data-wise, your sixth and seventh-grade transcripts and nationally-normed standardized test scores paint a further picture of the academic side of the person you are that helps round out the whole person within each application.
From here, I move to what I refer to as the cheerleader part of the application—your recommendations. First and foremost, be mindful who you approach to be your recommenders—academic and extracurricular. Make sure these are people who not only know you well but who want to be supportive advocates for you. In fairness, there are recommenders who don’t tell an applicant otherwise and commit to submitting an application that is negative and can honestly derail your application. While as far as I’m concerned, this is unconscionable on the part of the recommender, it’s still up to you to know who and where to turn to for this portion of the application and to make sure that your recommenders are cognizant of deadline dates for them to submit their letters and that they have the time and inclination to be ready, willing and able to meet the application deadline… and let you know when they have submitted their portion so you don’t have the awkward responsibility to keep asking them if they’ve done so. While not every recommender is going to say that you’re “the best student they’ve ever taught in 30+ years of teaching” or that you “define what it means to be the epitome of a CDB Scholar” (yep—I’ve received those exact words in a recommendation), a personalized, detailed account of both the person and student you are from an adult other than your parent is a definite plus to any application, CDB or otherwise.
On to the parent statement. We hope that your parents understand that keeping their statement to one page double spaced is an important aspect of following directions which, on our end, we take seriously. It also should come as no surprise that when reading hundreds of applications, the smallest font and virtually no margins are not going to start us out in great stead if we have to squint to read a parent statement. The best parent statements by far are those that don’t repeat information we already know from other parts of your application such as awards and honors you’ve received, your grade point average or test scores. In almost all cases, there’s no one who knows you better than your parent, so our hope is that they are going to tell us aspects about you that we don’t already know or have ascertained from other parts of your application. And since even the most stupendous applicant also might have a few foibles or vulnerabilities that make you human, we welcome these admissions and certainly don’t hold it against an applicant who comes across as a mere mortal in spite of the superstar you understandably are in the eyes of your parents.
In the area of submitting a work sample, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. If you’ve spent an essay or two writing about a particular interest or passion you have, LET US SEE IT! If you wrote about being a dancer or an artist, a musician or a singer, a robotics aficionado, it’s almost a tease to not support this with a sample that shows you participating in something that’s clearly meaningful to you and which we would also love to see demonstrated. It’s fine if there’s a particular school essay or science fair project you’ve done that’s significant and you want to showcase as your work sample, but please also consider adding the afore-mentioned passion piece in the Additional Information section which should not be a recapitulation of your resume or honors you’ve accrued and duly noted previously in the application. When we read data that is repeated over and over throughout an application, it makes us wonder “Is that all there is?” to a particular applicant.
Without question, the rewards of being selected as a Caroline D. Bradley Scholar or Finalist can be life-changing and transformative, but simply being eligible to apply for– and complete– so extensive an application is beyond commendable. My hope and that of the entire CDB team is that you come away from the experience with a positive sense of yourself and how extremely capable and accomplished you already are. It is a privilege for myself and the staff to have the opportunity to get to know YOU, so thank you for taking the time and making the effort to introduce yourself to us.