The Essence of College Admissions


This is ultimately what it comes down to – do you have what a college is looking for? Unfortunately, colleges themselves have muddied the waters in terms of this. Who wants to hear the long-winded, but ultimately true, maxim that college admissions officers are “building a class of students that have a diversity of strengths and life-experiences.” Colleges give the impression that is only about merit, but this isn’t true because how we define “merit” changes depending on which student the college is assessing. This all sounds very hypothetical so let me give you a grossly simplified illustration.

Student A: 1350 SAT, wants to study a very niche major that the college has difficulty recruiting students for, has demonstrated interest in this major over an extended period in high school.

Students B: 1450 SAT, wants to study a popular major at the same college, has done a wide variety of activities at school but never excelled in anything

All other factors being equal, my money would that Student A would have a higher chance of being admitted. Again, it comes down to the subjective measure of “merit” – here the colleges would probably say Student A’s “merit” exceeded that of Student B (even though Student B’s SAT score is higher) because he demonstrated his passion for a particular subject, and hence he would add more to the incoming class. Note, in my example the students were relatively similar in terms of their SAT scores. It is highly unlikely that a kid with a score of say 1000, no matter how much he could bring to the incoming class, would be have a higher chance of admissions than Student B.

So to summarize: colleges build classes and therefore you need to a) meet their minimum academic requirements and b) demonstrate to them that you will be an asset to their incoming class.

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