Profile: Schools Want Students With Passion

Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Magnet High School grads tell their stories, dish out admissions tips.

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Amber Jackson is going to Princeton, where she's interested in linguistics. Like her classmate Richard Rosenberg, she got into all eight schools she applied to, and it came down to Princeton and Swarthmore. She figured Princeton's rep will "serve me well," and the huge endowment ($1.6 million per student, she calculated) caught her eye. What's more, she'll have to pay only $8,000 of Princeton's $51,000 annual ride—maybe even less. She's appealing her aid package.

GPA: 3.9 unweighted

SAT/ACT scores: 700 math, 770 critical reading, 710 writing/31 composite

Extracurrics: Mock trial, SGA, People to People International, founder of MLK's Quidditch Club, volunteering at church

Essay topic: Her dedication to the environment

Advice: Be aware of the different approaches schools take to awarding aid, especially when calculating the family contribution.

Organization tip: Compile a résumé early; it brings the big and the oft-forgotten achievements together.

What schools want: Students with passion—"those interested in something but not floating"

Coping strategy: Comedy Central stand-up

Do-over: Would have done online chats with students at the colleges.

Biggest surprise: Had no idea that some colleges fly applicants in free for visits. Princeton and Swarthmore did so.

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