How Do Colleges Make Their College Admissions Decisions?

Not so long ago colleges made admissions decisions with clearly defined criteria. college admissions consulting were in plain black and white and high school students had a fairly good idea of their chances of being admitted when they applied.

Now, however, decisions are made holistically. This means that colleges do not print exact admission criteria, but rather give generic guidelines. Statements like “We review the student in the whole and look at hard stats like the challenge of courses, grades in these courses, grade trend, and test scores; but we also look at leadership and leadership positions, passion for some very meaningful activity, diversity, and outstanding talent along with other criteria” are common. This makes life difficult for students who want to know their chances of getting in to a college.

There are colleges that still make their admission decisions based on a combination of test scores, GPA, class rank and courses. These are basically computer generated decisions and provide a great way for students to know that if they meet the admission criteria then they should be admitted. The good news is that students know upfront if they are admissible. The bad news is that colleges may hold firm in these admission criteria and students can miss the “mark” by just a fraction and still not be admissible.

Other colleges will read applications several times starting with a read by a regional representative who knows the high schools in specific states or regions. This is helpful when someone on staff knows your high school. Students still are expected to meet criteria established by the college, and there can be many factors reviewed. Colleges also have specific needs to balance out their own institutions, and these needs can change yearly. This makes it even more challenging to know how decisions will be made year to year.

Many schools will make college admissions decisions through a committee. In these cases, consensus is need on each applicant for admission. Applicants will be presented to the committee, discussion will take place and a decision will be reached on the applicant. Sometimes the decision is to admit, sometimes it is to deny and other times it is to hold for future review. The dean of admission may have the right of “accepting or rejecting” applicants if there is no consensus of opinion.

The highly selective colleges receive more applications then they could admit over several years. Ultimately, these colleges only admit around 10-15 percent of their applicants. Perfect grades and perfect test scores will not necessarily result in an admission to a highly selective college because there are too many applicants with this profile. These highly selective colleges look very closely at the choice of courses and the levels of the courses and the grades achieved. If a student’s high school offers many advanced level and AP courses, and that students wants to attend highly a highly competitive college, then it advised the student take this higher level curriculum. Many of the colleges will require teacher and counselor recommendations, multiple essays, graded papers and sometimes an interview. There is no way to predict college admissions to these highly selective colleges. So it is imperative that students have a back up plan.


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