"College admission is not about you, the prospective student or parent, it is about the college. It’s not about being “worthy” per se, it is more about fitting into the college’s agenda.” Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admission, by Jeffrey J. Selingo.
So, yes, Universities are Businesses. Big surprise, I know. But I have to pass on this information because I am reading this great book right now.
When I am helping parents prepare their teens for college, I am always reminded of this fact. Since colleges are businesses, I try to estimate what the teens’ chosen university wants in terms of volunteer hours, playing ability, their major selected and any other extra curricular activities my students might be involved in. I do this to see how to make them a perfect fit for their chosen school but unfortunately, it can be quite difficult to do. Grades matter, of course, but also a university has to appease the departments’ needs as well. I almost feel that I need one of those Magic 8 Balls to get a clear idea.
The one thing I can control is the information I receive from each university and I always keep up to date on any admission information I can get my hands on. I also read as many books as I can. The author, Jeffery J. Selingo, caught my eye as I was doing an internet search on the topic of college admission. Mr. Selingo began writing about higher education as an intern for the U.S. News and World Report college rankings in the summer of 1994 so he has been at this for a while. One day, he was given a set of college rankings years ago that dated back to 1988. What was revealed to him was a list of acceptance rates dating back all the way to the 80’s. He noticed that many numbers seemed significantly higher in terms of acceptance rates. Let’s pick a year; 1990. Say a university like Johns Hopkins had accepted 53% of applicants back then. In 2021, it accepted only 11%. The University of Pennsylvania admitted 38% of applicants and in 2021, only 9% got in. I could go on with the statistics but I think you get the picture.
This shift was inevitable as more and more high schoolers began going to college and the number of applicants increased. More and more high school grads are applying to more than one university hoping that one or more will accept them as a student. This shift in the percentage of applicants who are admitted has also set off a competition among most high school students who are thinking about applying to higher education. Piano lessons, violin lessons, fencing, archery, water polo, football, baseball, volleyball… The list is endless and so are the hours spent ensuring all of these extracurricular activities are prudent.
Oh, and don’t forget the volunteer hours and students have to keep up with their grades as we all know that is one of the first things an admissions board looks at.
I get tired just thinking about it. So, with all of this in mind, what can we do to translate your teens incredible abilities and genius to the university of their choice? What will transform them into the best applicant for the university of their choice?
My suggestion would be to do a bit of digging. Find out what the university stands for and what its mission statement is. Find the department of your major and talk to people. I do believe one on one conversation is something that most people do not do nowadays and that it will make quite a difference. Make human connections and try your best to not be just a voice on the phone or an email. And, start this process early. You never know where it will wind up or will help you wind up. I would encourage you to think about not fitting into any particular college but finding a particular college that fits into your life.