How do Colleges Decide who to Admit?

How do Colleges Decide who to Admit?

Every student knows that grades, test scores, and essays help determine their college acceptances. Behind the scenes there are various factors that go into college admissions — some of which you can’t even control. It’s important to be aware of these external variables, and to understand that while you may be perfectly qualified for a particular school, certain factors may alter your chances of admission.

Here are some of the lesser known aspects behind college admissions.

Institutional Needs 

Colleges often seek to fulfill their institutional needs, such as bolstering specific academic programs, maintaining a balanced gender ratio, or enhancing diversity in particular fields of study. Applicants who align with these institutional goals may receive preferential consideration. This is why you frequently hear that colleges are looking for a well-rounded class, rather than well-rounded students. They are searching for a wide and diverse range of students that have well-defined passions, and potential to one day become experts in their field. When applying, be sure to highlight the extracurriculars and classes that you are most passionate about, and have dedicated the most time to, in order to illustrate that you would bring a specific, valuable, and unique perspective to the community.

Early Decision 

Applying Early Decision can be a major advantage in the college process. Many schools take a majority of their class through early decision, making the ED acceptance rate considerably higher than the regular decision admissions rate. Tulane University, for example, admits 2/3rds of every class through early decision, meaning there is a significantly higher chance of admission for those applicants applying ED. If you have a top choice, Early Decision is a great way to boost your chances. But keep in mind this is a binding contract, so you'll want to be certain.

Legacy Status

Nowadays, legacy status does not hold as much weight in college admissions as it did in the past. A student can no longer gain admission to a top university simply because their parents went there, even if they are well qualified for the school. There are, however, still many cases of nepotism within college admissions, particularly if the student’s family or connections work at the school or have made major donations to its programs. Having a sibling that attends the university also helps chances of admission, but again, does not guarantee it.

In State vs. Out of State

When applying to a state school, it's important to be aware how being in-state or out-of-state can affect your chances of admission. Public state schools are required to admit a certain percentage of in-state students into every class they select. The exact number varies by state. The University of North Carolina, for example, is required by state law to ensure that 82% of every incoming classing class are North Carolina residents. Therefore, the UNC in-state acceptance rate is 43.1%, whereas the out-of-state acceptance rate is 8.2%. It's important to keep this discrepancy in mind when sending out applications. If you are applying out-of-state, be sure to look up the out-of-state acceptance rate in order to better understand your chances. Alternatively, consider applying to your state schools- you will have a higher chance of admission, and lower tuition!

Demonstrated Interest

Some colleges take demonstrated interest into account within their admissions process, but for most it's not a factor. In some cases, if a student has failed to show any demonstrated interest, the university might believe that the student doesn’t care about the school and wouldn’t attend if admitted. This is why it’s particularly important to remember to show interest to your safety schools. If you are overqualified and show no interest, the school may deny or waitlist you because they believe you wouldn’t attend if accepted. Demonstrated interest varies from school to school, and many colleges will state on their website whether they take demonstrated interest into account. A student can illustrate demonstrated interest by taking tours, attending virtual events, connecting with professors or alumni, or reaching out to the school’s admissions counselor. The "why us" essay is also a great place to express your interest in a specific school. 

When applying to colleges, remember that there could be any number of reasons why a school may deny or accept you, so don't take every rejection to heart. Apply to a wide range of colleges you are excited about in order to have lots of options when it comes time to pick a school. 

One factor of your application that you can control, however, is your essay. Writing a stand-out college essay will help boost your chances of admission at any school, and can help to make up for any weaknesses on your application. Writing an exceptional college essay is simple with ESAI’s College Admissions Tool, which can help you brainstorm, outline, and edit the perfect college essay.
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