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College Admissions: 5 Admission Factors You Can’t Predict

Monday, March 14, 2016

 

As colleges release decisions this month, many families are puzzled by outcomes. Their child had GPA and SAT/ACT scores that fell within range for a specific college, participated in an array of extra-curricular activities, and spent hours perfecting applications and essays. Still, he/she was rejected from their top choice college while another seemingly similar student was accepted the very same school. What happened?

The reality is that college decisions are predictable in some ways, but unpredictable in others. A certain GPA and SAT/ACT scores won’t guarantee a student admission anywhere. There are several criteria that parents and counselors simply can’t factor, and they can affect decisions immensely. 

  • The geographic, ethnic and gender mix that the college is seeking. Many colleges are striving to increase the number of minority and first generation students they enroll. Some schools are struggling to keep a balance of male and female enrollees (since women are going to college in higher numbers and men are dropping out more frequently). Additionally, colleges always like to have students on campus representing a wide variety of states and countries. In the last few years, we have seen Ivy League universities launch massive marketing campaigns to attract inner city, low income students. Some colleges, like College of Charleston, are pushing to enroll more young men to balance the male: female ratio. And the long running joke among elite northeastern colleges is that South Dakota is the best state to hail from, if you want a geographic advantage in admissions.
  • Teacher and guidance counselor recommendations. While we all would like to think our child is adored by teachers and administrators, not all are. Certainly, we hope that teachers and counselors would not say anything negative about a student in their recommendation, but they sometimes do. It’s not common, but I have seen situations in which both top ranked and struggling students have been thrown under the admissions bus by a negative recommendation that was completely unexpected. More often, the recommender uses lackluster adjectives or certain code words that can trigger concerns with an admissions committee. In some cases, teachers and counselors send in form recommendations that a particular college sees over and over again. And sadly, they just can’t stack up against an effusive letter of praise by a teacher who espouses the student’s true, individual attributes. 
  • What admissions officers want to see in student applications. Since admissions committee members vary from year to year, and a college’s values can shift, there is no predicting what will attract their attention on decision day.  One year, the college may desperately be seeking French horn players, and the next they may place a high value on leadership roles in a community service organization. One admissions rep may connect with an essay that a student wrote on his/her sister with Autism. Another may be drawn to the detailed scientific explanation by the student who re-engineered his/her car computer system. Still another reader may gravitate toward a student who sees the lighter side of life through the eyes of a puppet they manipulate in a children’s theatre. There is no crystal ball for these sorts of situations.
  • The applicant pool for various majors. It goes without saying that the competition in science and business majors is often fierce among elite university candidates. However, some schools pay more attention than others when they are considering the major (or undeclared status) you selected on your application. Some may be seeking classics majors one year to keep the doors open on that department. Other years, the number of psychology or political science majors may be overwhelming. Engineering schools may want more female candidates, and education departments may want more men. In other cases, colleges may not really care what major you applied under; they feel students switch majors and the pools in each department will balance out in the end.
  • How an interviewer perceived the student. Not all colleges offer interviews, and even those that do may not use them in the admissions decision. For those that do: some 17 year olds have the social skills and intellectual savvy to ace the interview, others aren’t there yet. A student and interviewer may simply not “click." And, there are times when the admissions rep or alumni interviewer may simply feel that the candidate is not the right fit culturally or academically for the institution. You really have no way of knowing what was written about the student when he/she left the interview.

It’s often difficult to fathom why one student is accepted to a college and another is denied admission. The sharp pain of rejection can be brutal for students and parents. However, it’s critical to remember that there are a multitude of great schools in the U.S., and a student’s success is not predicated on attending one particular school. After all, less than 10% of Fortune 500 CEO’s went to an Ivy League college, and the doors to success are indeed open to students from all colleges.

Cristiana Quinn, M.Ed. is the founder of College Admission Advisors, LLC which provides strategic, college counseling and athletic recruiting services for students. www.collegeadvisorsonline.com

 

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