College Counselor Conor Fritz was the Associate Dean of Admission at Claremont McKenna College in Los Angeles, California, before coming to TASIS in the fall of 2021. In his previous role, Mr. Fritz oversaw the international recruitment strategy and the enrollment process for international students and US citizens abroad, which makes up approximately 20 percent of the Claremont McKenna student body.
Prior to earning his Master's of Science in College Student Personnel at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Mr. Fritz worked in university admissions at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, before serving as Assistant Director of Admission at Saint Michael's College in Burlington, Vermont, where he had previously earned a B.A. in Political Science and completed the Secondary Education Program.
Mr. Fritz’s international upbringing—he was born in Canada, was raised in Australia, and lived in the UK for seven years, the last three of which were spent as a boarding student at TASIS England—and extensive travels throughout his career have helped him develop a unique perspective on what US admissions offices are looking for in international students.
Wexler Brodie ’24 recently sat down with Mr. Fritz to learn what lessons he can share with TASIS students as they approach the college admissions process.
What matters most to US admissions officers as they review international applicants?
There will be different reasons why universities make decisions, and each university will have its own separate criteria and different things that matter most to it. That is really about the makeup of the university, its mission, and what it values most in students. It could be a university or college that highly values students giving back to their community. It could be an institution that values academics above all else or an institution that focuses on engineering and math and therefore cares the most about exam scores in those subjects. It could be a school or university that most values engagement as a whole. It really all depends on the particular university as far as what matters most for the applicant.
“When a student finds their match and is truthful in the way they make this come across in the application, it stands out.”
What really helps an applicant stand out among a crowded field?
In my experience, what stands out most is when a student is applying for the right reason. That means the student has done really good research on what the university is all about. The student has also done some great introspective thinking about what matters most to them, and then they find that match. And so when a student finds their match and is truthful in the way they make this come across in the application, it stands out.
What are the most common mistakes you’ve seen students make on their applications?
This is an interesting question because in my experience there isn’t any one thing that really stands out. When you see a student has made a mistake, you try to put yourself in their shoes and understand that they’re applying to so many universities and mistakes are going to happen. I make mistakes all the time. And so a university admissions officer really isn’t going out of their way to find mistakes.
That said, one thing I’ve noticed is that sometimes a student is using the same answer for a different school and leaves the other school’s name in, so it’s always important to double check all your applications before submitting them. I’ve also seen students mention something about an academic program that the particular school they’re applying to doesn’t offer, and that kind of stands out. An admissions officer will think, is this student really the right fit for our school?
Is it important for students to show a demonstrated interest in the schools they apply to?
This is another interesting question, and the answer is yes and no. There are many schools that will state, “Showing interest in our institution does play a role in our process.” In this case, it’s very important to do as much as you can to make sure they know you're serious about them. Visiting campus, doing online programs, or reaching out to the admissions officer can all count as demonstrated interest.
Alternatively, there are many universities that say, “We don't factor this in.” Nonetheless, it is important for an applicant to do as much research as possible and to get as involved with that university as they can so that when it comes time to write the application and answer all their questions, they absolutely know why they're applying and what they want to say about that.
Do you think Covid has affected how students have shown demonstrated interest in their universities?
Absolutely. The pandemic has opened up so many more avenues for international students to engage with universities. I would add that one of the bright spots about Covid and applying to universities is that it has democratized the whole process for students across the world. Before you had to go and visit the university to do an interview, but now you can do an interview online. Before you had to go and be present for an admissions presentation, and now you can do it online. So many things have opened up to the international applicants.
How important is a student’s GPA?
In my experience, no university is basing a decision on one number in a student's application. In fact, many universities aren't even looking at that number. If a school gives the GPA, which TASIS doesn't, a lot of universities will just disregard that number altogether.
Some admissions offices will create their own GPA by recalculating grades in a way that makes sense for their institution. And many others, like my previous institution, don't look at a GPA at all. What’s more important to most highly selective institutions is to see a student's progression. They want to see how the student performed in each class, each year. Have the grades gone up or gone down? Is the student challenging themself with the classes they're taking? These are all things that played a part in my former role as we evaluated a student's academic credentials.
“As admissions officers, we want to see students who know who we are and know why they're connected to our school.”
What is some advice you have for underclassmen as they prepare for the application process?
Do as much research as possible. Look at all different types of schools, from the big to the small, the urban to the suburban and rural, and the community-oriented to the large public schools where everybody lives off campus. The reason why you need to do that intensive research at the beginning is because you want to find the type of school that's going to be the best fit for you.
This kind of goes back to the answer I gave about the review process earlier. As admissions officers, we want to see students who know who we are and know why they're connected to our school. It's very evident when a student doesn't do that. The best way to prepare is by saying, “Who am I, and what do I want out of the four years after TASIS? And where can I find that?” If students do that well, they will have a very successful admission process when it’s time for their senior year.
What extracurricular activities do you recommend applicants participate in?
There's no one activity that I would say, “You have to do this!” Admission officers are evaluating 17- and 18-year-old students, and they know that. So they want to see what interests an applicant and what interests they're going to bring to that university.
I believe intensely that a student needs to be engaged in extracurricular activities—that they should be doing something constructive with their time outside of the classroom—but that it's ultimately up to them. It's up to what their personality and interests are. So if you're an athlete, great, go play sports. If you're into the arts, amazing, be in the play or take part in the dance club. If you are interested in international affairs, awesome. We live in Switzerland, so you not only have Model UN here, but you have many international organizations you can get involved with. Community service—we have a great Global Service Program.
But what partners can you continue to work with beyond just what you do in your service learning meeting on Wednesday from 12:20 to 12:45? How else can you get engaged in this community? I think you have plenty of time here and have so many great teachers who want to encourage you to do those things, so just go for it.
Does it really matter if you choose IB or AP?
From an admissions perspective, it doesn't really matter which one you choose. There are amazing benefits to both programs, and I think it all depends on the type of student you are. Again, this comes with a level of introspective thinking before making that decision. What is best for you?
AP has a lot more flexibility when it comes to how many classes you can take and the level of challenge you want to take on. And even if a non-IB student doesn't feel up to the challenge of taking AP classes, they should keep in mind that doing this college-level work is great preparation for university. On the other hand, a beautiful part of the IB Diploma Program is that it compels students to think critically about a wide range of subjects and make connections between subject areas. I think it all depends on what is best for the given student, but colleges and universities will certainly look favorably upon both.