By Bonnie Raskin
As the program director for the Caroline D. Bradley Scholarship with fifteen-plus years selecting and working with the CDB Scholars and families, I’m asked this question more than any other, so I’m here to provide some inside information that you won’t find on High School Confidential or through the grapevine.
Every eligible CDB application is read thoroughly by at least two members of the CDB staff at the Institute for Educational Advancement and logged into our online data system, one folder for each CDB applicant. If any elements of the application are missing, we will e-mail the applicant well before the submission deadline. We also send a DEADLINE COMING UP!! e-mail to every applicant who has begun to fill out or worked on an application within three weeks of the deadline. Staff members evaluate each application individually with written notes pertaining to each element of the application as well as an overall score and assign a numeric to the applicant. This score is then added to an evaluation grid comprised of the totality of that year’s eligible CDB applications. This compilation is what the CDB staff uses to determine which applications will move forward to one of three national selection committees comprised of deans and directors of admission at selective high schools, colleges and universities throughout the United States, heads of independent schools, educators who work with gifted students and CDB alumni, two-three per committee. Our CDB Scholar alumni are outstanding ambassadors and having successfully gone through the application process themselves, quite capable of helping select the Finalists.
The selection committee meetings last two days and result in the selection of between 45-55 Finalists from across the country. These Finalists will be interviewed in person or via zoom (as occurred for the 2020 Scholar selection due to the pandemic restrictions on travel and in-person gatherings) throughout the summer with one or both of their parent(s) or guardian(s) present for a portion of the interview. From the Finalist pool, each year’s CDB Scholars will be selected early in September to begin working with the CDB staff to help find each Scholar’s optimal high school fit.
In reading and evaluating hundreds of CDB applications annually, here are some tips for prospective applicants:
We always offer choices in the essays to help applicants find areas that resonate with them academically and personally. We hope that you will use the 500 word count or a close approximation to elaborate on the given topic and help us get to know what drives and motivates you as an individual in response to the prompt. In my experience, it has rarely if ever been the case that a two or three sentence “essay” has the ability to wow. If anything, it feels to the readers that you’re completing the application under duress and not of your own volition.
By all means use engaging, sophisticated vocabulary and concepts IF you have a clear understanding of their correct usage. Few things stick out more to an experienced application reader than “big” words or phrases put in for effect rather than to enhance a thought or statement. Clunky word choice is not a note you want next to one of your essays.
If you identify as a math or STEAM/STEM person, you are not alone in this applicant pool, so what can you write to set yourself apart from the pack? Well, you can be creative with your words and describe what it is about math that excites and engages you, and you don’t need to be a wordsmith to accomplish this. As readers, my team and I look forward to understanding what drives and motivates an applicant to complete this long and complex application, so help us better understand you. There are few more positive notes I write than, “I want to meet this person and get to know him/her!” It means that you’ve successfully captured my attention through an aspect of your application that presents YOU as the unique individual you are in YOUR voice.
Select your recommenders with care. I cannot emphasize this enough. Since the recommenders—academic and professional—are required to submit their grids and comments directly to the scholarship, you won’t have the opportunity to see what’s been written about you. Few things can derail an otherwise solid application more than comments by someone YOU’VE chosen who either does not have positive things to say about you or who just goes through cursory motions to complete a form without providing any real insight or approbation to heighten your application. Make sure your recommenders are people who know you well and who have shown themselves to be supportive, encouraging, helpful mentors or role models—people who you admire and respect and who feel the same about wanting to encourage and support your CDB application, because they know you well enough to be a staunch supporter of your candidacy.
You are welcome to employ your parents or teachers as proofreaders, but the core ideas should be yours, as well as the writing of your essays, submission of your work sample and finalizing all aspect of the application components. The CDB application is meant to be a reflection of you as an applicant, not your parent. There is a one-page parent letter that should handle that aspect of the application. More to come on this element in the Parent Section of this blog.
If you describe yourself in your CDB application as a dancer or a musician or an artist or singer or inventor or photographer, by all means SHOW US, either as a work sample or in the additional information portal. This is less about you impressing us as a superstar and more about sharing your passion(s) with our team. It’s frustrating to repeatedly read about a special skill or area of interest in your application and not see any visual or oral indication of this element of you.
It is up to you—not your parent—to check in with your recommenders and school office to make sure that the materials they’re compiling for you —recommendations, standardized tests and transcripts—are submitted well within the CDB deadline. You don’t have to make a nuisance of yourself, but go about completing each element of the CDB application in a timely fashion, so you’re not driving everyone around you CRAZY with completing the application minutes or hours before it’s due.[blockquote text=”Make sure your recommenders are people who know you well and who have shown themselves to be supportive, encouraging, helpful mentors or role models—people who you admire and respect and who feel the same about wanting to encourage and support your CDB application, because they know you well enough to be a staunch supporter of your candidacy.” show_quote_icon=”yes” text_color=”#000000″ width=”90%” quote_icon_color=”#aa230d”]
And now to the parent responsibilities…
While you are always welcome to call or email the CDB Scholarship team with questions or information that’s needed to help with the application, please do not word your questions to us as, “I’m completing the CDB application for my son or daughter.” This is a HUGE red flag for us as to the efficacy of your child’s application and not at all what you should be doing in regards to his or her submission.
As parents or guardians, you are offered a page to let us know about your son or daughter—what makes him or her unique, special talents, areas that perhaps only you as a parent see or know from having lived with this young person more than anyone else. Please don’t use this as a forum to reiterate what’s already been noted in other places of the application such as grades or awards received. This is meant to be your personal statement, and we always appreciate you staying within the one page limit without utilizing the smallest font and no margins top to bottom or side to side. We want to know as parents, what you see, know, feel and value about your child that you want to pass along to us. If you want to tell us about particular vulnerabilities or issues that your son or daughter has had to contend with or overcome, we look upon this as informational and not judgmental. Strengths and weaknesses as well as other aspects of character only help us round out the reality and clarity of an applicant. Perfect superstars as described by parents are immediately suspect to an experienced reader. If your child meets the CDB Scholarship eligibility criteria, by all means support their application, but please do not coerce, bribe or force the issue. The decision to apply—as well as complete and submit—a CDB application should be the responsibility of the applicant. As a parent, you can certainly support the process, but from the sidelines and not as a “co-writer.”
Finally, when decisions are made—whether it’s in selecting the Finalists or ultimately the annual CDB Scholars– please understand that in any competitive process, there will sometimes be results that are not to your liking or expectation. The decisions have less to do with what your child did “wrong” on his or her application or wasn’t “enough” in any given area and more with the reality that the CDB Scholarship draws an incredible, awe-inspiring applicant pool of truly stellar young people from all echelons of the seventh grade national gifted population. The selection process is one that the CDB team takes very, very seriously and meticulously as we evaluate and discuss hundreds of highly accomplished young people and always wish we had the resources to recognize many more of these highly accomplished young people than we are able to do each year with the 25-30 CDB Scholarships we award.
I can’t reiterate this enough, but the CDB team always looks at the multiple aspects of an application, not the singularity of test scores or an applicant’s GPA. Every Institute for Educational Advancement program is centered around the whole child—his or her academic, social, emotional and character-based aspects that all work together to comprise an exceptional individual who will find engagement and fulfillment as a Caroline D. Bradley Scholar within a cohort of peers, mentors and role models spanning selection since 2002.