It’s that time of year again! The OA Admissions Office is always thrilled to begin a new admissions season, and this year they are enjoying meeting new prospective students from around the country both virtually and in person. 

As we begin receiving applications for the Fall 2022 and Spring 2023 semesters, we often receive questions from students who aren’t sure how to go about completing an application. Some students are wondering what makes an “ideal” OA applicant, and others aren’t sure how to perfect their application questions. 

So, we checked in with some of the current OA students and recent alumni. After all, who better to provide advice on the OA application process than those who most recently experienced it?

Now a member of Semester 53, Gabe grew up right here in western NC. However, being local hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm for spending a semester in Pisgah Forest.

 “OA is the most life-changing experience I have ever had,” he said. “But I think it can only work if you truly let it. It’s up to you to decide how much you want from this experience, and it’s up to you to get the chance. Show that you want it in your application!” 

When we spoke with Admissions Manager Katie Rowlett, she indicated that Gabe’s advice is exactly right.

“Yes, we consider components like grades and extracurriculars because we want to know more about who each applicant is as a student and as a community member,” Katie emphasized. “But honestly the most important thing we look for in any application is enthusiasm and a genuine willingness to dive into this experience whole-heartedly, even if it’s going to be scary, challenging, or completely new for you. That’s totally okay, too!” 

Hoping that it will help prospective students find inspiration, Gabe also offered a few thoughts on what the OA experience might be like for you: 

“Once you’re here, it can be challenging. You are in a new world with new people. But before you realize, that world will become a haven for adventure and creativity. Really! You have a limited time here, and it can be daunting at first, but time will fly by faster than you want it to. Seize the day and enjoy every moment, even while you’re applying.” 


Bella, who is from Atlanta, had heard about OA from friends who had loved their time here. However, she was nervous about applying because she wasn’t sure whether she would be accepted. 

“Answering the short response questions was intimidating to me,” she recalls. “But being worried about them actually made it harder for me to answer them!” 

So, what is Bella’s advice? If you feel similarly to the way she did, or are just a bit stuck on how to tackle the questions, here is what she recommends: 

“Your responses don’t need to be long or perfect. They just need to reflect your true self. At OA, we are currently in a storytelling unit in English class and have talked about why humans tell stories. When you answer those application questions, you are choosing which stories you want the people here at OA to know about you. Because of this, I was worried about trying to seem cool or good enough to get in. That distracted me from writing freely.” 

“Although it took me a while to get there, eventually I felt that even though my responses might not have been “perfect,” they were true and presented who I am. As you work through the application, I hope you find excitement at the idea that you could be in this amazing place next year! Remember that if you ever find yourself nervous or overwhelmed. Being here is absolutely worth it, and absolutely incredible. I wish you well!” 

Julie Holt is an OA parent and currently serves as the Financial Aid Counselor for prospective OA families. She has been on the Admissions Committee for many years, and reading applications and interviewing students has always been one of her favorite parts of working at OA. So, we asked her for her opinion on what applicants should focus on. 

“Bella said it beautifully; she came to understand that the point of the application was to tell the story of who she was, not to have perfectly written responses. At OA, we want to see everyone in this community, students and faculty alike, being their best selves. That starts with being true to yourself in the application process. And this is not unique to OA either! Colleges these days get many polished essays from students with great grades and super test scores. However, the ones who get into the college of their choice are the ones who share who they truly are in the admissions process. In the end, there’s no magic formula. You just be you! And, sure, proofreading is always a good idea, but it’s not the point! Remember too that if nothing else, completing the OA application is great practice for what’s to come like college applications or applying to jobs.”

Finally, we’ll end with a thought from Natalie. A recent Semester 52 (Spring 2021) alumni from New York City, she wanted to reassure every prospective OA student who might be worried about taking a big leap: 

“It’s normal to be worried about leaving your sending school or your friends. But you don’t need to be! Going into OA I was very nervous… Little did I know about the amazing friendships I would cultivate and all the other things I would learn in school there. I studied so many new subjects and learned from some of the best teachers I have ever had. Going to OA is not losing your friends and home life, it is a wonderful addition to who you are that will stay with you forever.”