How Top Private Colleges Select their Students


The most selective colleges do not apply the same admissions standards to all applicants. They seek variety and sort their applicants, usually into five categories. This means that applicants don’t compete for admission with all the others who have applied but only with those in their category. Different colleges give varied weight to each category.
Intellectuals. Top academic records are likely to get applicants admitted anywhere. Those who have taken tough courses in high school graduated at or near the top of the class, and score well on the standardized tests are almost certain to be accepted no matter what other qualities they do or do not have.
Especially talented. Varsity-level athletes predominate in this group. If the athletic department is looking for a fullback, a long-distance runner, or a hurdler, the admissions office is likely to cooperate. Occasionally an exceptionally talented artist, musician, sculptor, or poet will be given preference.

All in the family

Private colleges depend on alumni for financial support and for time and effort spent on behalf of the institution. Family traditions within a school are highly valued. A parent, grandparent, or close relative who has been a loyal and generous supporter of the college gives the applicant an edge. It’s still necessary to meet the college’s academic standards. But most colleges are generous in judging the applicants from a kinfolk of alumni.
Affirmative action. In recent years, most top colleges have placed a strong emphasis on the recruitment of academically competent blacks and other minority-group members. They have considered it an obligation. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds are often judged more on their potential than on their previous academic accomplishments.
All-American boys and girls. This is by far the largest group. It includes all the bright, mannerly, goodhearted kids who are competent in many things but aren’t outstanding in any single area. Because of the large number of applicants in this category, the competition is tough. Note: This group makes up the largest percentage of all those admitted to the top private colleges.
Applicants who are bright, but who don’t get into a top school, shouldn’t despair. There are many excellent colleges that will accept them and provide top-notch education.
Also: That kind of education will be just as good as, perhaps better than, the one offered by a school thought to be superior.

If the College of Your Choice Turns You Down

If an applicant has not been accepted at a preferred private college, there is little that can be done. Reason: The applicant’s admissions folder was carefully reviewed by three or four admissions committee members, who made a decision. But don’t give up. Options:
Review the application and the instructions for filling it out. Was something that could have significantly affected the committee’s decision left out? The applicant’s special interests? Achievements? Talents or skills?
Also: The application process started in the fall when the senior year of high school was barely underway. What has the applicant done during the last six months? Built a computer? Raised the grade point average? Started playing French horn with the local symphony? All of these are significant additions to the application. Inform the college of them, and ask for a review.
Call the admissions director and ask: Why didn’t I get in? Listen carefully for specifics. Example: Your grades were high, but you didn’t take enough tough courses. More likely the director will offer general comments but will give you a clue about the decision, not wanting to get into an argument about specific issues of judgment.
Go to a college that has offered admission. Strategy: Achieve a top academic record during the freshman year. Then: Reapply to the first-choice college as a sophomore transfer. The admissions folder will still be on file. And the continuing interest in the school will get the applicant a first-consideration rating among transfer applicants.
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