12 Recently Discovered Facts about Admissions Process

Study Tips and Tricks
May 08, 2018 | 8 Minutes

The admissions process in most colleges got out of hand as more and more heartbroken applicants bash the system either on social media or in public. Just ask any educational specialist or high school counselor, and they are likely to unwillingly admit that the selection system is flawed. What is more, they will say that creative skills, tenacity, and social commitment are not enough to get enrolled in your dreamy school. Thus, the debate about who gets to be a student of the nation’s most prestigious colleges is in full swing.

Facts about Admissions Process

1. Whatever happens, the urgency of the eternal question about a degree of impartiality and fairness in admissions will not wear off. For this reason, students seem to dread one five-letter word: merit. The British sociologist, Michael Young, coined the derogatory blend “meritocracy” suggesting that in future standardized tests, such as the SAT, would determine the cream of college applicants. Moreover, Rebecca Zwick, professor emeritus at the University of California in Santa Barbara, points out in her book “Who Gets In?” that the meaning of this same word has been modified. She writes that the word “merit” boils down to academic performance manifested in grades and test scores. On the other hand, being a former researcher at the center which creates and releases the SAT, Dr. Zwick negates the fact that impressive testing skills immediately guarantee an applicant a spot at a desired college.

            Strangely enough, all this talking is far cry from reality. This made us address you whoever you may be, an edgy applicant, a considerate parent, or just a puzzled citizen. All of us have been fucked up trying to figure out who college admissions officers really look for. But there’s good news for you: 13% of four-year schools accept fewer than half of their enrollees.

            Nonetheless, the admissions process is still a pain in the neck mostly because it’s something inexplicable. If you’re rejected, the chances are that you didn’t meet God knows what kind of criteria. It’s all about havoc that dwells at each level of the selection system, so it’s wrong to pin a failure to fit in on you.

            2. One of the possible factors that influence enrolment rate is actually financial concerns. According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, half of establishments consider an applicant’s “ability to pay” when it comes to admission. They also prize geographic diversity, which now affects institutional strength and popularity.

            3. Overall, your grades and ACT/SAT performance speak volumes for you. These appraisal systems are not only convenient but also adept at predicting the best of the best. However, there is another side of the coin: the metrics have drawbacks. Grade inflation along with discrepancies between high school grading policies have made the task of assessing accomplishments more complex. What is more, family income is linked to standardized test scores. To illustrate, white, as well as Asian-American students, have more credentials to brag about than black and Hispanic students do. Thus, when predicting “success”, colleges usually rely on first-year grades and wealth enabling to study in well-resourced schools.     

            4. A first-generation college student, Dr. Pérez, is trying to defy the-affluent-are-more-promising-than-the-disadvantaged system as he himself comes from a low-income family. Recently, he modified Trinity’s admissions process to weed out preferential treatment so that students with different backgrounds could compete on a level playing field. He also claims that it is now more efficient in identifying enterprising students. Accordingly, when scanning applications, admissions officers now focus on evidence of 13 characteristics, such as inquisitiveness, open-mindedness, and the ability to find a way out of a predicament – these traits are linked to successful students. Although Trinity likes education conventions, the new approach does not require ACT/SAT results, expanding the definition of “merit.”

            5. What do colleges look for in a student? While some may hesitate to answer, Olin College of Engineering says that talented students are real assets. That is why, their admissions process actually presupposes a live audition. After submitting typical applications, chosen students go to the campus in Needham, Mass., to show themselves in the best light possible during a rigorous two-day tryout. Apart from being interviewed, they collaborate within small groups to win in a tabletop design competition by constructing a building that can hold a specific weight. Afterwards, assessors observe each of the students to evaluate how they communicate with others and think on their feet. So why to go to such great lengths? In fact, this experience aims to instill Olin’s collaborative culture into prospective applicants and gives the college an opportunity to scrutinize each of them to make an informed decision about acceptance.

            6. Being interested in things students can craft with their hands, the world’s most distinguished campus introduced a change to its admissions process. Massachusetts Institute of Technology now accepts a Maker Portfolio that sheds light on applicants’ “technical creativity.” Applicants can submit

  • images,
  • a short video clip,
  • and a PDF file to drive the project they’ve orchestrated home or showcase a piece of clothing they’ve made, a dish they’ve cooked, a tool they’ve designed, etc..

M.I.T also asks students to comment on the practical value of the project, as well as indicate how much help they got. Last year, approximately 5 percent of applicants sent their Makers Portfolio along with a traditional application. Stuart Schmill, the dean of admissions and student financial services, explains that this additional requirement helps applicants to explain how suitable they are for a vacant seat at their college. The problem is how to review all these portfolios when admissions offices are pressed for time. Reputable large schools do not even consider this option with their giant waves of applicants.

7. Most colleges prefer less overwhelming ways to optimize the evaluation system.  For instance, the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success, with more than a hundred of renowned campuses having its membership, recently devised an app that offers a virtual college locker, which is a personal space meant for uploading students’ works, either written or filmed, that can later be added to their application. By doing so, the organization wants to enhance impersonal admissions. Strangely enough, most of its members do not require that students send anything different than before so far.

8. When it comes to selecting students, the dean of undergraduate admissions and financial aid at Yale, Jeremiah Quinlan, seeks “better inputs.” Impeccable personal essays have made him jaded, and, therefore, he believes that technology is able to help colleges to get to know applicants better as in a résumé there is more than meets the eye. They want to understand their passions and gauge their readiness to commit socially.

Last year, Yale proposed entrants using the coalition’s application to send a written text, image, video or audio file as a response to a prompt. Moreover, they also were asked to mull over their submission in a written form in 250 words or less. When Justin Aubin found out about the creative part of the admissions process last fall, he was amazed. At that time, Mr. Aubin was a high school student dreaming about Yale. He was attracted to the prompt about a footprint he might have left in terms of social services. Eventually, Justin submitted a short video presenting his Eagle Scout project, for which he supervised the erection of a monument in honor of veterans. He was convinced that even a second to none essay would not be able to convey his experience as well as a four-minute footage. Yale’s admissions committee found the content of the video enthralling and imaginative. According to Mr. Quinlan, they could see how the applicant dealt with his leadership obligations on the fly; it also helped them get acquainted with him beneath the surface of his résumé. Guess where is Mr. Aubin now? Right, he is a freshman at Yale. Was he able to make a difference? He took the admissions office by storm!   

            But it is still early to sigh with relief. While some colleges are going out of their way to make the selection as fair and precise as possible, others are not even thinking of eliminating dubious practices that hinder meaningful changes.

9. One of such practices is giving preference to some students on the basis of their direct relationship to alumni of a certain insitutition. In fact, some institutions eagerly accept legacy students as compared to non-legacies. For instance, as the Harvard Crimson reports, a third of its current freshman class is comprised of legacies. Furthermore, according to the official website of Princeton, 13% of its class of 2021 is made up of children of Princeton alumni.

One of the reasons for making a fuss over legacies is actually a desire to promote colleges’ reputation and longevity. Rick Clark, director of undergraduate admission at Georgia Tech, where roughly a fifth of newcomers are privileged by dint of alumni connections, says that the advantages of admitting legacies go beyond preserving good relationships with alumni who might be immensely generous to their alma mater. From hands-on experience of Mr. Clark, such students often show enthusiasm and assist in cultivating a sense of community on campus, the kind of atmosphere conducive to studying and achieving goals.  The key, Mr. Clark assumes, is to strike a balance between college’s priorities and keep a number of legacies within reason by raising standards and making selection criteria more rigorous.   

10. Another interesting tidbit from a survey of the National Association for College Admission Counseling is that one in five colleges value “demonstrated interest” – the extent to which applicants show their desire to enroll if admitted. Owing to technology, it is now easier to track the number of times an applicant exhibits their interest in a particular institution. To express demonstrated interest, you may

  • visit the campus,
  • contact the admissions office,
  • write emails inquiring about specific information,
  • or attend social events of a college.

This record gives officers an insight into people who are most likely to enroll, which can later have an impact on the admission process. The catch is that knowing that colleges track their activity, incisive students may deliberately tip the scales in their favor. The executive director of a Maryland nonprofit group CollegeTracks Nancy Leopold is certain that the criterion of demonstrated interest disadvantages those who either are not aware that such game exists or cannot afford to play it.

11. What else do colleges pay attention to? A recent project dubbed “Turning the Tide” is set out to encourage admissions deans to reconsider the qualities they seek in would-be applicants. Overall, colleges are required to foster ethical character and dedication to greater cause through their admissions process. Although some deans are reluctant to evaluate the personality of still-maturing applicants, the project drove a handful of establishments to alter the system. Particularly, the University of North Carolina now emphasizes social input as a part of extracurricular activities. M.I.T. asks students to tell how they’ve helped others in the form of an essay.       

12. Another concern of many educational experts is socioeconomic diversity that depends on college’s policies. An institution can prioritize it or not, states Shaun R. Harper, a professor who studies a relation between race and student success. To support his claims, he cites some high school counselors who deter academically bright minority students from applying to prominent colleges. To our despair, we should not expect major changes any time soon, especially when it comes to diversifying the class.

Whatever admissions deans come up with to refine the selection, it definitely will continue to be of interest to colleges as their public image is at stake. Unfortunately, reputation is not always measured by the number of promising students.  

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