College admissions in the United States
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College admissions in the United States refers to the process of applying for entrance to institutions of higher education for undergraduate study at one of the nation's colleges or universities. For those who intend to attend college immediately after high school, the college search usually begins in the eleventh grade of high school with most activity taking place during the twelfth grade, although students at top high schools often begin the process during their tenth grade or earlier. In addition, there are considerable numbers of students who transfer from one college to another, as well as adults older than high school age who apply to college.
Millions of high school students apply to college each year. There were approximately 4.23 million in the high school graduating age group in 2018–19, with an estimated 3.68 million high school graduates (3.33 million in public schools and 0.35 million in private schools). The number of high school graduates is projected to rise to 3.89 million in 2025–26 before falling back to 3.71 million in 2027–28. From within this cohort, the number of first-time freshmen in post-secondary fall enrollment was 2.90 million in 2019, divided between 4-year colleges (1.29 million attending public institutions and 0.59 million attending private) and 2-year colleges (approx 0.95 million public; 0.05 million private). The number of first-time freshmen is expected to continue increasing, reaching 2.96 million in 2028, maintaining the demand for a college education.
High school students will typically begin the college admissions planning process in their junior year, with applications due in October of their senior year (for Early Decision or Early Action) or in December of their senior year (for Regular Decision) although the application timetable for each college may vary. For example, many public universities such as the University of California system have a November deadline. Because the admission process places much weight on a student's high school transcript, admissions planning in the broader sense might take place much earlier in a student's high school career.
Students can apply to multiple schools and file separate applications to each school. Recent developments such as electronic filing via the Common Application, now used by about 800 schools and handling 25 million applications, have facilitated an increase in the number of applications per student. Around 80 percent of applications were submitted online in 2009. About a quarter of applicants apply to seven or more schools, paying an average of $40 per application. Most undergraduate institutions admit students to the entire college as "undeclared" undergraduates and not to a particular department or major, unlike many European universities and American graduate schools, although some undergraduate programs such as architecture or engineering may require a separate application at some universities. As a general rule, applying to two-year county and community colleges is much easier than to a four-year school, often requiring only a high school transcript or minimum test score.
Recent trends in college admissions include increased numbers of applications, increased interest by students in foreign countries in applying to American universities, more students applying by an early method, applications submitted by Internet-based methods including the Common Application and Coalition for College, increased use of consultants, guidebooks, and rankings, and increased use by colleges of waitlists. These trends have made college admissions a very competitive process, and a stressful one for student, parents and college counselors alike, while colleges are competing for higher rankings, lower admission rates and higher yields to boost their prestige and desirability. Admission to U.S. colleges in the aggregate level has become more competitive but most colleges admit a majority of those who apply; the selectivity and extreme competition has been very focused in a handful of the most selective colleges. (Total freshmen enrollment at the top 100 most selective schools where an admit rate is below 35% is below 200,000 out of 2.90 million total freshmen in all post-secondary institutions). On the other hand, colleges have increased outreach to attract applicants who have been historically underrepresented in their applicant pool and admitted classes, such as applicants from lower income neighborhoods (which may not be well served by knowledgeable college counselors) and applicants who are first-generation college students.
In 2018, there was a probe by the Department of Justice into whether colleges practicing Early Admissions violated antitrust laws by sharing information about applicants. The case SFFA v. Harvard proceeded to trial, alleging that Harvard's race-conscious admissions practices discriminate against Asians and putting affirmative action in the context of college admissions again into the judicial arena. In 2019, there was a widespread bribery and cheating scheme in which affluent parents used devious methods to get their children into competitive schools, involving cheating on standardized tests as well as bribes paid to college coaches and admissions personnel.
Applying to colleges can be stressful. The outcome of the admission process may affect a student's life and career trajectory considerably. Entrance into top colleges is increasingly competitive, and many students feel immense pressure during their high school years.
Private and affluent public primary education, test-prep courses, 'enrichment' programmes, volunteer service projects, international travel, music lessons, sports activities – all the high-cost building blocks of the perfect college application – put crushing pressure on the upper middle class and their offspring.
The college applications process can be stressful for parents of teenagers, according to journalist Andrew Ferguson, since it exposes "our vanities, our social ambitions and class insecurities, and most profoundly our love and hopes for our children."
High school counselors
Some high schools have one or more teachers experienced in offering counseling to college-bound students in their junior and senior years. Parents often meet with the school counselor during the process together with the student. Advisors recommend that students get to know their school counselor. The counselor usually works in conjunction with the guidance department which assists students in planning their high school academic path.
School counselors are in contact with colleges year after year and can be helpful in suggesting suitable colleges for a student. Mamlet and VanDeVelde suggest that it is improper for an admissions counselor to tamper with a student's "authentic self." According to their view, ideal counselors have experience with college admissions, meet regularly with college admissions officers, and belong to professional organizations. Counselors do not complete interviews, write essays, or arrange college visits. Most counselors have responsibility for helping many students and, as a result, it is difficult for them to provide individualized help to a particular student; one estimate was that the average ratio for all high schools of students to counselors was 460 to 1. Only about a quarter of public high schools have a counselor devoted to college counseling issues full-time, while almost three-quarters of private schools have a dedicated college counselor. Private school counselors tend to have substantially more contact with university admissions staff than public school counselors.
Fee-based consultants, some available entirely online, can be hired to help a student gain admission, although there are some free programs to help underprivileged youth learn how to fill out applications, write essays, get ready for tests, and work on interviews. Generally, when hiring a college admissions consultant, parents and students try to understand the consultant's philosophy, learn what services are provided, and whether any help will be offered regarding advice about financial aid or scholarships. Consultants can help a student select schools to apply to, counsel them on test taking strategies, review scores, help with essay preparation (but not writing), review applications, conduct mock interviews, provide logistical planning, and collaborate with others such as athletic coaches. Consultants try to keep a low profile; however, one admissions dean explained that she can "sniff out when there has been some adult involved in the process," and admissions personnel may detect varying quality regarding writing samples when one part of an application is polished, while other parts are less polished. Assistance by consultants or other adults can go to extremes, particularly with hard-to-check variables such as the college essays; according to one view, plagiarism on admissions essays has been a "serious problem," particularly on applications to private universities and colleges. Another risk in hiring a consultant is overpackaging: the applicant appears so smooth and perfect that admissions officers suspect the person is not real but a marketing creation.
College admissions staff
A typical admission staff at a college includes a dean or vice president for admission or enrollment management, middle-level managers or assistant directors, admission officers, and administrative support staff. The chief enrollment management officer is sometimes the highest-paid position in the department, earning $121,000 on average in 2010, while admissions officers average only $35,000, according to one estimate. Admissions officers tend to be in the 30-to-40 age demographic. They are chosen for their experience in admissions, aptitude for statistics and data analysis, experience in administration and marketing and public relations. They serve dual roles as counselors and recruiters, and do not see themselves as marketers or salespeople, according to one view. They are evaluated on how well they "represent their college, manage their office, recruit staff members, and work with other administrators." Michele Hernandez suggested there were basically two types of officers: a first group of personable, sharp, people-oriented go-getter types who were often recent college grads; a second group was somewhat out-of-touch "lifers" who often did not graduate from a highly selective college. Officers are generally paid an annual salary, although there have been reports of some recruiters paid on the basis of how many students they bring to a college, such as recruiters working abroad to recruit foreign students to U.S. universities.
Many colleges and universities work hard to market themselves, trying to attract the best students and maintain a reputation for academic quality. Colleges spent an average of $585 to recruit each applicant during the 2010 year. There are efforts to make increased use of social media sites such as Facebook to promote their colleges. Marketing brochures and other promotional mailings often arrive daily in the hope of persuading high school students to apply to a college. According to Joanne Levy-Prewitt, colleges send "view books" not because they intend to admit them, but "because they want multitudes of students to apply" to improve the college's selectivity and to make sure that they have as many well-qualified applicants as possible from whom to choose the strongest class. Colleges get access to names and addresses after students give permission to them after taking the PSAT or SAT exams.
U.S. News & World Report compiles a directory of colleges and publishes rankings of them, although the rankings are controversial. Other sources rank colleges according to various measures, sell guidebooks, and use their rankings as an entry into consulting services. College Board launched a website called BigFuture in 2012 with tools to assist in the admissions process.
For those intending to enter college immediately after high school, the admissions process usually begins during a student's eleventh grade when a student meets with a guidance counselor, selects some colleges, and perhaps visits a few campuses. The summer before twelfth grade is a time when many applicants finalize application plans and perhaps begin writing essays. Further, they decide whether to apply by early or regular decision. International students may need to take tests showing English-language proficiency such as the TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE Academic. The twelfth grade is when applications are submitted.
Selection of colleges
Rankings have been the subject of much criticism. Since much of the data is provided by colleges themselves, schools can manipulate the rankings to enhance prestige, such as Claremont McKenna misreporting average SAT statistics, and Emory University misreporting student data for "more than a decade," as well as reports of false data from the United States Naval Academy and Baylor University. There is hypocrisy surrounding rankings: some colleges pretend to loathe the guidebooks that rank them, yet if they get a good write-up, they "wave it around like a bride's garter belt."
The choices made by colleges to boost their rankings have been criticized as destructive. Rankings may not take a college's affordability into account, factor in the average student indebtedness after college, or measure how well colleges educate their students. Rankings have been accused of tuning their algorithms to entrench the reputations of a handful of schools while failing to measure how much students learn. Some admission counselors maintain that rankings are poor predictors of a college's overall quality.
In 2007, members of the Annapolis Group discussed a letter to college presidents asking them not to participate in the U.S. News & World Report "reputation survey." A majority of the approximately 80 presidents at the meeting agreed not to participate, although the statements were not binding. Members pledged to develop alternative web-based information formats in conjunction with several collegiate associations. U.S. News & World Report responded that their peer assessment survey helps to measure a college's "intangibles" such as the ability of a college's reputation to help a graduate win a first job or entrance into graduate school.
Advisors and college counselors typically ask students to consider four types of colleges to create a balance between maximizing the chance of admission and achieving admission to a student's most desired schools:
- Reach schools provide a slim chance of acceptance, such as a 5% or slimmer chance.
- Possibles (or high matches) have greater chance of rejection than acceptance.
- Probables (or low matches) have greater chance of acceptance than rejection.
- Solid or safety schools seldom reject candidates with similar academic credentials. A safety school can also be one from a financial perspective - one that is affordable even without financial aid.
An online service called Naviance can help a student gauge the likelihood of admission to a particular college, using a student's grades and test scores in comparison to the admissions results from students from previous years applying to that particular college (see diagram). Naviance uses a scattergram to graphically illustrate the chances for a student from a particular high school being admitted into a particular college or university.
Admission selectivity at the most competitive schools has increased markedly since 2001 (see accompanying table). Analyzing Common Data Set and other college data from the 56 most selective schools with an admit rate below 25% for the Class of 2023 (freshmen in the 2019–2020 year), a continuous increase in applications can be seen between 2001–02 and 2019–20 of almost 200% over the 18 years, for an enrollment size of 100,000 which is only 25% larger. The number of offers of admission from these schools has been gradually declining since 2014-15, however, despite the number of available places and of applications both trending higher. This decline has contributed to the lower admission rate, proving indeed that admission has become much more difficult at the most competitive schools. In aggregate, the number of total Fall 2019 admits at the most selective private universities as a group was the lowest it has been since 2001. This pattern is also repeated in the number of total Fall 2019 admits at the most selective liberal arts colleges as a group. The higher number of total admits from the entire group of 56 selective institutions going from 2001-02 to 2019-20 exists only due to the higher number of admits at the six public universities in the 56. When the increased use of Early Decision is factored in, the effect has been an even bigger squeeze in the number of admits at the Regular Decision stage for many of the schools in this group.
|Total (56 institutions)||27 private universities||6 public universities||23 liberal arts colleges|
|Ivy League, Stanford, MIT, Chicago, Duke, Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Johns Hopkins, Rice, USC, WUSTL, Tulane, Tufts, Georgetown, Carnegie Mellon, Notre Dame, Emory, NYU, BU, Northeastern||UCLA, UC Berkeley, Georgia Tech,
UNC-Chapel Hill, Michigan Ann Arbor, Virginia
|Pomona, Claremont McK, Swarthmore, Bowdoin, Amherst, Williams, Colby, Barnard, Pitzer, Bates, Harvey Mudd, Colorado Coll, Middlebury, Wesleyan, Hamilton, Haverford, Carleton, Davidson, Wellesley, W&L, Colgate, Grinnell, Vassar|
Return on investment
Most economists and researchers argue that a college degree is worth the cost. A 2014 Federal Reserve report finds that workers with a bachelor’s degree on average earn well over $1 million more than high school graduates during their working lives.
Fit and prestige
Fit is a highly subjective measure, but a student will more likely thrive at a college where there is a mutual fit. Considerations include campus size and setting, athletics, access to research and faculty, courses on offer, diversity and inclusion, and sense of community. They can also include a student's long-term goals, values, and style of learning. One admissions dean likens "fit" to a friendship:
I draw the analogy of friends to explain why fit is so important in considering a college. You like your good friends for some reason. It may not be an objective reason. It's often subjective. There's some sense of compatibility, a kind of intuition, a match, a common sense of values, what you like to do, how you think – those are the things that really bind people together. It's similar with college. You don't want to spend four years with a college who isn't really your friend.
Prestige is also subjective. Indicators of prestige include a college's rankings, history, academic quality, prominent alumni, endowment size, and admissions selectivity. The most prestigious colleges can often also be the most affordable, offering generous financial aid programs.
Sticker versus net price
Most colleges and universities, particularly private ones, have an artificially high and unreliable sticker price while charging most students, by awarding grant and scholarship money, a "discounted price" that varies considerably. For example, in 2011–2012, the average sticker price for tuition, fees and living expenses at private colleges, was $38,590 while the average actual cost was $23,060; at public colleges, the average sticker price was $17,130 and the average actual cost was $11,380. The average full-time undergraduate gets $6,500 in grant aid along with $1,000 in tax-based aid to offset tuition and fees.
Sticker price is the full price colleges list in their brochures and on their websites. Net price is the price students actually pay. Net price accounts for the fact that many students receive grants or scholarships. So it can be considerably lower than sticker price.— Jacob Goldstein, NPR, 2012
Discounting began in the 1970s and was dramatically expanded in the 1990s. Sticker prices are set at much higher than the real costs for most students, sometimes more than double, sometimes only one and a half times as high. Estimates are that 88% or 67% get some form of discount. The average first-year student may be paying 48% less than the sticker price. Generally, the sticker-to-net price discrepancy is greater at private colleges than public universities.
Colleges use high sticker prices to give themselves wide latitude in how to use funds to attract the best students, as well as entice students with special skills or increase its overall racial or ethnic diversity. The most sought-after students can be enticed by high discounts while marginal students can be charged full price. Further, the high sticker price is a marketing tool to suggest the overall worth of a college education by encouraging people to think that "schools that cost more must provide a better education." While there was growing concern about escalating college prices, most Americans believed that their personal investment in higher education was sound. But discounting adds complexity to decision-making, deterring some students from applying in some instances based on a false sense of unaffordability. Students from low-income backgrounds may be discouraged from applying or driven to attend less challenging colleges as a result of undermatching. Many schools now recruit students who pay full cost to subsidize those who can afford to pay much less, resulting in the financial makeup of the student body at some colleges skewed towards mostly affluent students and low-income students but few students from middle-class backgrounds. In 2015, however, there were several instances of private colleges reducing their tuition by more than 40%.
Net price calculators
In the fall of 2011, colleges were required by federal law to post a net price calculator on their websites to give prospective students and families a rough estimate of likely college costs for their particular institution, and to "demystify pricing." A student or family could go online, find the calculator at a college's website, and enter the required financial and academic information, and the calculator will provide a personalized estimate of the likely cost of attending that college. The first online calculators were started by Williams College. The online calculators look at financial need and academic merit to try to estimate the likely discounted price offered to a particular student from a particular college, using information including details from tax returns, household income, grade point averages and test scores. Schools vary in terms of their pricing formulas; some consider home equity as a factor while others disregard it.
There are numerous potential problems with the calculators. Some are difficult to find on a college's website; others require specific financial numbers, possibly leading to errors by parents or students; some are difficult to understand and use; some may be manipulated by schools to increase applications or to make it seem as if a college is "more affordable" than it is. Accuracy of calculator estimates may vary considerably from college to college. Ultimately aid decisions will not be made by calculators, but by humans in the admissions offices.
Another tool is the College Board's expected family contribution calculator that can give families an idea of how much college will cost, but not for any particular college.
Types of financial aid
- Need-based aid is offered according to the financial need of a student. Generally colleges at the "top of the pecking order" dispense aid in terms of need using "fairly predictable formulas." The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that elite colleges had made little progress in helping poor students get need-based aid, and that less than 15% of undergraduates at the nation's 50 wealthiest colleges received Pell Grants in 2008–2009, which are offered on the basis of need to promising yet less affluent students. About 30 elite universities have "coffers deep enough to meet all student need" and consequently only offer need-based aid.
- Merit-based aid is scholarships and grants awarded to top academic performers or others with special talents. Academic scholarships tend to be few, are usually awarded by the admissions office and are "highly competitive." Colleges awarding merit-based aid may use merit scholarships, based on high scores or grades or other accomplishments, to lure students away from a competing college, but many of the most competitive schools do not award merit scholarships.
Colleges may award aid using a mix of both. Further, student loans can lessen the immediate difficulty of large tuition bills but can saddle a student with debt after graduation; in contrast, grants and scholarships do not have to be paid back.
According to US News in 2014, 62 out of 1,137 colleges, which responded to a survey, claimed to meet 100% of the demonstrated financial need of students. "Demonstrated financial need" is the gap between the "expected family contribution" (based on tax information, family size and assets) and the cost of attendance (tuition and fees, dormitory, food expenses, and so forth.)
Applying for financial aid
There are many reports that many applicants fail to apply for financial aid when they are qualified for it, with an estimated 1.8 million students in 2006 qualifying for aid but failing to apply. Applying for financial aid is recommended by almost all college admissions advisers, even for middle- and upper-class families applying to private colleges. Each college has its own criteria for determining financial need and loans. One advisor counseled against letting the sticker price of a college dissuade a student from applying, since many of the top colleges have strong endowments allowing them to subsidize expenses, such that the colleges are less expensive than so-called "second tier" or state colleges.
College advisers suggest that parents keep financial records, including tax forms, business records, to use when applying for financial aid, and complete the FAFSA online, using income and tax estimates (usually based on previous years), early in January of their college-bound student's twelfth grade. Admissions officers can see the names of up to nine other colleges a student has applied to. According to several reports, some colleges may deny admission or reduce aid based on their interpretation of the order of colleges on the FAFSA; accordingly, several sources recommend that colleges be listed alphabetically on the FAFSA to obscure any preferences. The earliest that the FAFSA form can be filled out is January first of twelfth grade; in contrast, the CSS Profile can be filled out earlier during the preceding fall. There are reports that many parents make mistakes when filling out the FAFSA information, and mistakes include failing to hit the "submit" button, visiting an incorrect FAFSA website, leaving some fields blank instead of properly entering a zero, spelling names or entering social security numbers or estimating tax data incorrectly. Since FAFSA formulas assume 20% of a student's assets can be used for college expenses as opposed to 6% of a parent's assets, advisors recommend moving funds from student to parent accounts before filing the FAFSA, including moving funds to a parent-controlled 529 plan tax-advantaged account. Filing taxes early is recommended, but using estimates for FAFSA from previous years is possible provided the numbers are updated later after taxes are filed. There are no fees for applying on the FAFSA site. According to one source, the best time to begin searching for scholarships is before the twelfth grade, to guarantee meeting deadlines. Several reports confirm that it is important to file aid forms such as the CSS Profile early in the school year.
In addition to cost factors, increasingly colleges are being compared on the basis of the average student debt of their graduates, and US News has developed rankings based on average student indebtedness. A report in the Utne Reader chronicled substantial student indebtedness, and suggested that 37 million Americans in 2009 held student debt, and that nine in ten students used an average of 4.6 credit cards to pay for some educational expenses. The report chronicled an increase in average indebtedness from an average of $2,000 in 1980–81 to over $25,000 in 2009, as well as substantial decreases in Federal aid and Pell grants during that time period.
US News and others suggest another factor overlooked in terms of financing college, which is the length of time it takes to earn a degree. Finishing a year early (in three years) lops off a substantial portion of the overall bill, while taking five years compounds the expense and delays entry into the workforce. Jacques Steinberg suggested that many college-bound students calculate how much debt they were likely to incur each year, and he suggested that debt for all four years of college should total less than the graduate's expected first year's salary after college, and preferably under $40,000. A handful of schools have "free tuition" policies for low income students, so that they graduate loan-free.
Selecting colleges by type
Most educational institutions in the U.S. are nonprofit. Colleges and universities in the U.S. vary in terms of goals: some may emphasize a vocational, business, engineering or technical curriculum while others may emphasize a liberal arts curriculum. Many combine some or all of the above. Another consideration is the male-female ratio; overall, 56% of enrolled college students are women, but the male-female ratio varies by college, year, and program. Admissions guidance counselors can offer views about whether a public or private school is best, and give a sense of the tradeoffs.
Two-year colleges are often county- or community-oriented schools funded by state or local governments, and typically offer the associate degree (AA). They are generally inexpensive, particularly for in-state residents, and are focused on teaching, and accept most applicants meeting minimum grade and SAT score levels. Students commute to school and rarely live in dorms on campus. These schools often have articulation arrangements with four-year state public schools to permit students to transfer. Consultants suggest that community colleges are reasonably priced, and after two years with solid grades and academic performance, many colleges are willing to accept transfers.
Four-year colleges offer Bachelor of Arts (BA or AB) or Bachelor of Science (BS or SB) degrees. These are primarily undergraduate institutions, although some might have limited programs at the graduate level. Graduates of the tuition-free United States service academies receive both a Bachelor of Science degree and a commission.
Universities have both undergraduate and graduate students. Graduate programs grant a variety of master's degrees as well as the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). Medical schools award either the MD or DO degrees while law schools award the JD degree. Both public and private universities are usually research-oriented institutions.
Liberal arts colleges are four-year institutions that emphasize interactive instruction, although research is still a component of these institutions. They are usually residential colleges with most students living on campus in dorms. They tend to have smaller enrollments, class sizes, and lower student-teacher ratios than universities, and encourage teacher-student interaction with classes taught by full-time faculty members rather than graduate students known as teaching assistants. There are further distinctions within the category of liberal arts colleges: some are coeducational, women's colleges, or men's colleges. There are historically black colleges; in addition, while most schools are secular, some stress a particular religious orientation. Most are private colleges but there are some public ones.
State colleges and universities are usually subsidized with state funds and tend to charge lower tuitions to residents of that state. They tend to be large, sometimes with student bodies numbering in the tens of thousands, and offer a variety of programs. They are generally less selective in terms of admissions than elite private schools and are usually less expensive, sometimes half or a third as much as a private institution for in-state residents. There are reports that due to recent budget shortfalls, many state schools are trying to attract higher-paying out-of-state residents. In the past few years, competition for spots in public institutions has become more intense, with some state schools such as the State University of New York reporting record numbers of students accepting their offers of admission. There are reports that tuition at state universities is rising faster than at private universities. Flagship state universities are usually the most prominent public schools in a state, often being the oldest and most well-funded.
Engineering or technical schools specialize in technical and scientific subjects. Some programs can be more competitive and applicants are often evaluated on the basis of grades in subjects such as mathematics (particularly calculus), physics, chemistry, mathematics, and science courses.
The consensus view among guidance advisors is that it is a good idea to visit colleges, preferably when college is in session and not during a summer break, with a chance to meet an actual student in the form of a tour guide, and taking notes for reference later when applying. Sometimes a college will waive the application fee based on the college visit. A benefit is seeing a school as it really is—not just glossy pictures from a brochure or a promotional video from a website. Another suggested that students should ask themselves, when visiting a particular college: "can I see myself here"? Reporter Jenna Johnson in The Washington Post suggested that students contact a professor in an area of interest at the college before visiting, and try to meet with them briefly or sit in on one of their classes. Reporter Brennan Barnard in The New York Times recommended that student visitors should ask good questions (by avoiding factual questions better answered by the college's website), and ask for complimentary passes for dining or free food. Barnard recommends going beyond the usual tour to ask random strangers about life on campus and reading the student newspaper. He recommends arranging to speak with a professor in the department of interest as well as athletic coaches and music directors, possibly by emailing them in advance of the visit, to try to meet them even briefly. A follow-up "thank you" note to the host is a good idea.
Counselor Michael Szarek commented on the importance of campus visits in dispelling false impressions:
Half of all college classes are not outdoors. Half of all college classes are not gathered around an electron microscope. Sometimes the leaves are brown, or even fall to the ground. So, use the viewbook to get a sense of the institution and what the college thinks are its strengths. But always rely on the campus visit.— Michael Szarek, 2011
However, one account suggested colleges structured the campus visit with the same boring format, which rarely includes a faculty member:
First there is an "informational session," conducted by an admissions officer. This is followed by an hour-long campus tour, which is led by a student with a talent for walking backwards .... On the campus tour, we are always shown a dorm room and a dining hall. We are always taken to a library and told how many volumes it contains. We are informed how many students study abroad (a lot), how many student clubs there are (ditto), and how small the classes are (very small.)— Carl Elliott in The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2012
There are conflicting views about student participation in extracurricular activities. A popular position is that colleges are looking for "well-rounded bodies of individual specialists," suggesting that it is better for a student to be deeply involved in one or two activities rather than nine or ten superficially, that students should not "overdo it," and that parents should not become overconcerned about their child's extracurricular activities. Applicants who achieve a leadership position in an extracurricular activity are regarded more highly than applicants who merely participate in many activities. Advisors recommend that a student should choose extracurricular activities they genuinely care about and pursue them with "gusto" and "joyful commitment." Too many extracurricular activities may look suspect to admissions officers, particularly if it seems unreasonable that any person could be as active and succeed scholastically at the same time. Jobs, including part-time service jobs, are generally viewed favorably by admissions committees since they suggest that a student has learned to handle time management, accept responsibility, and developed people skills. A less dominant position is that it is helpful to be involved in a "variety of activities," including jobs, internships, and community service. Some universities, such as the University of California, have formal programs for spot-checking applications for accuracy, such as sending a follow-up letter to the student asking for proof about an extracurricular activity. Advisors recommend that extracurricular activities should never interfere with a student's overall academic performance. A student with many extracurricular activities in twelfth grade, but few in preceding years is suspect; this suggests an applicant is being coached, and may reflect negatively on an application (see the section on consultants). Advisors warn against "overscheduling" students with too many activities or courses.
Number of applications
There are differing views on how many schools a student should apply to. Several reports suggest that applying to too many schools caused unnecessary stress and expense and hampers a student from targeting applications to a few select schools. However, other advisors suggest that applying to more schools increases overall chances for acceptance. Mamlet and VanDeVelde suggest applying to eight to ten schools is best, and that applying to too many schools is counterproductive. There are reports that the average number of schools that students are applying to has been increasing, perhaps because of greater use of the Common Application. In 2008, applications to Harvard University had increased to a record number at 27,278, a 19% increase from the year before. Since 2008, applications to Harvard have continued to increase, reaching 43,330 in 2019. One effect of the increase in application numbers is decreased yield percentages. Average yield has dropped from 46% to 38%, according to one account.
Some reports revealed that some college admissions departments have scrutinized applicants' personalities online, such as Facebook or MySpace profiles. As a result, admissions officers urge students to remove "sarcastic jokes, bad pictures, or political cartoons," and also to become wary about their friends' social media posts. One concurring report suggested that some offices have employees tasked with "checking out applicants' Facebook pages"; however, a contrasting report from another college recruiter states that their policy is not to examine Facebook profiles, and that "Facebook is reserved for students on a recreational basis." The same caution applies to email addresses. One advisor cautions against using provocative email addresses such as "Spicychick@gmail.com," instead encouraging applicants to use their real name since it can ease colleges' searches for applicants' records. A report in Inside Higher Ed in 2018 suggested that admissions officers believe that an applicant's social media profile is "fair game" to examine for admissions purposes, although the proportion of officers who actually examine social media profiles is small and declining, according to one survey.
Choosing how to apply
|Wash & Lee||5855||21.2%||50.5%||-||18.1%|
Applying in the fall
Many schools offer Early Decision (ED) or Early Action (EA) plans, or both, usually with a deadline in mid-October to early November of the student's senior year to lighten the load on students and admissions officers. Early applicants are urged to submit applications in September and October, and not wait until November, so staff more time to consider the application.
In the decade leading up to 2019, there has been a notable increase in the use of early admission plans by applicants. Some colleges fill up more than half of their freshman class through the ED applicant pool. For example, Tufts University admitted 957 ED applicants in 2018-19 when it enrolled 1,484 students according to its Common Data Set for that year. Students may also find it attractive in applying ED to schools which have a high admit rate for their ED plans: for example, American University admitted over 80% from its ED pool in 2018-19 for the Class of 2022. The majority of schools offering ED have a higher admit rate for the ED pool compared to the Regular Decision (RD) pool. As the college admission process has become more competitive, students have used early application plans where the perceived advantages outweigh the disadvantages relative to the RD application. Because a favorable admit decision in ED is binding unless exceptional circumstances apply, ED helps to increase the admission yield rate for the college.
A direct consequence of the increased use of early application plans is a lower admission rate for RD applicants.
The main advantage of early application is to give the successful applicant certainty early on in the college admission process with the decision usually released in December of senior year, eliminating the need to apply to multiple schools during the RD round. Early application may not be the best strategy for students who need the extra few months in their senior year to evidence more achievements (more demanding classes, better grades, higher standardized test scores, more extracurriculars) to make a stronger application by delaying, or who need more time to visit the colleges. It therefore favors the very well-prepared and polished students. The biggest financial disadvantage in ED is the lack of opportunity to compare competing aid packages from different schools, but to an extent this can be mitigated if parents and students ask the college for a fairly firm estimate of expected costs before applying by an early method. As a result, ED plans, which are binding, favor students from wealthier families. Candidate pools were "much more homogeneous" with most applicants being affluent white students.
An Early Decision application involves a binding commitment to attend a school if the applicant is accepted, unless exceptional circumstances apply (such as inadequate financial aid). The application is generally due in October or November, but some schools offer a second round commonly known as Early Decision II. The rate of acceptance for the early decision pool is generally higher compared to the regular decision pool, although this may be a reflection of better qualified applicants in the early decision pool.
Generally early action is similar to early decision except the decision is not binding. The time frame is similar: apply by early November to get a decision by mid-December, although specific deadlines vary by school.
The Early Action plan is offered by fewer schools compared to Early Decision, but a number of schools offer both Early Decision and Early Action.
Regular admission is a good choice for students who are unsure where they would like to go. One advantage is that it can help students who have improved their grades substantially in the fall of their senior year, since decisions are not made until March of that year. Students may provide updates such as grades or significant achievements. In addition, it offers students more time to make their decision about a college under somewhat less pressure than an early method. Regular admission can be expected to result in higher offers of financial aid, particularly if students are admitted to several institutions that present different aid offers. Accordingly, one offer can be used as leverage to try to get a better offer at another institution, particularly if there are competing multiple acceptances. Several reports suggested that a "growing number of colleges" including Harvard, Cornell, and Carnegie-Mellon have stated publicly that they will consider matching offers from competing colleges. Kim Clark explained:
If you want to go to Cornell ... and you don't think your family can afford the full sticker prices ... you are likely to get bigger scholarships if you also apply—and get in—to wealthy and more competitive schools. ... Cornell will now adopt Harvard's definition of "need," which, in many cases, will mean bigger scholarships.
However, a dissenting view in The New York Times suggested that only one to two percent of colleges adjust aid packages based on offers from competing colleges, and that most colleges do not get into bidding wars over specific students.
Some colleges offer this type of admission, typically used by schools with large numbers of applicants, which means that colleges are continually receiving applications and making decisions, typically within four to six weeks after application. It allows prospective students to apply at any time between the fall and spring and to receive their result a few weeks later. One benefit is that if a student is accepted early in the school year, there is less anxiety about acceptance for the rest of the year. Rolling admission schools are also beneficial to students who are rejected from all the schools they applied regularly to, yet still wish to enroll without taking a gap year. Guidance counselors suggest that rolling admissions should not be used late in twelfth grade since financial aid money may have already been distributed, and few slots may be left for September. One advisor suggests that if a college offers rolling admissions and is on a student's list, then it should be applied to as soon as rolling admissions becomes available for that year. Another report suggested that rolling admissions was more characteristic of noncompetitive colleges.
Test preparation courses
There are conflicting reports about the usefulness of test preparation courses. Mamlet and VanDeVelde suggest that "most students don't need a coach or a class" and that the single largest factor was "familiarity with the test." Another report agreed that SAT/ACT prep courses were a waste of money and that taking a few practice exams, and understanding how each test works, was all that was needed.
Standardized admissions tests
In 2003, according to one estimate, 1.4 million students took the SAT and 1.4 million also took the ACT test, paying about $50 per test. Generally counselors suggest that students should plan on taking the SAT or ACT test twice, so that a low score can possibly be improved. One advisor suggested that students with weak SAT or ACT scores could consider applying to colleges where these measures were optional. One suggested retaking the tests if there are "subpar test scores" in September and October (if applying early admission) or November and December (if applying regular admission.) Generally over half of eleventh graders retaking the SAT or ACT tests during the twelfth grade saw improvements in their scores. Colleges vary in terms of how much emphasis they place on these scores.
A consensus view is that most colleges accept either the SAT or ACT, and have formulas for converting scores into admissions criteria, and can convert SAT scores into ACT scores and vice versa relatively easily. The ACT is reportedly more popular in the midwest and south while the SAT is more popular on the east and west coasts.
|ACT test||SAT test|
|Content-based test||Tests reasoning ability|
|Emphasizes higher math||Emphasizes vocabulary|
|Longer questions||Trickier questions|
|More popular in south & midwest||More popular in east & west|
|Science reasoning section||Vocabulary section|
|No penalty for wrong answers||No penalty for wrong answers|
|Greater choice in selecting which scores to send to colleges||Fewer options|
|Difficult questions randomly interspersed||Difficulty progresses within each section|
Regarding whether to choose the SAT or ACT, the consensus view is that both tests are roughly equivalent and tend to bring similar results, and that each test is equally accepted by colleges. Reporter Jacques Steinberg in The New York Times suggested that admissions deans repeatedly inform him that colleges view the ACT and SAT tests equally and do not have a preference. At the same time, small differences between the tests may translate into a slight benefit for the test-taker. One report suggested that the SAT favors "white male students" from upper income backgrounds. Another report suggests that the ACT has more questions geared to higher levels of high school mathematics, suggesting that students who do well in math may perform better, but that the SAT is a better choice for students with an excellent vocabulary. According to one view, the SAT is more focused on testing reasoning ability while the ACT is more of a content-based test of achievement. In addition, according to this view, some SAT questions can be trickier and harder to decipher while some ACT questions may be longer; question difficulty progresses within each SAT section while difficult questions are randomly interspersed in the ACT; the SAT has a separate vocabulary section while the ACT has a separate science reasoning section. In 2016 the SAT was updated to remove the penalty for random guessing; the College Board advises that test-takers will benefit by guessing.
SAT Subject Tests
Many colleges require, recommend, or consider SAT Subject Tests in the admissions process. One described them as "true equalizers" in admissions, suggesting how strong a high school is, and elaborated that some admissions officers consider them to be a better indicator of academic ability than high school grades. Another suggested that selective colleges emphasize SAT Subject Tests, while public colleges place less emphasis on them.
Advanced placement tests
There was a report that scores on Advanced Placement exams could be helpful in the evaluations process. One report suggested there was a limit on the number of AP tests that should be taken, such that taking 12 AP tests was not as helpful as taking five and doing well on those five.
Common vs. college's application
The advantage of the Common Application is that it is the same for numerous colleges, and can save time and trouble for a student. It is accepted at 488 colleges out of several thousand, but only a third of the 488 use it exclusively, meaning that two-thirds allow an applicant to submit either the Common Application or the school's specific application form. According to Hernandez, many admissions officers complain that the Common Application stifles creativity and encourages "dull responses," and she recommends that students use the college's particular application when there is a choice.
There are differing recommendations about the importance of interviews, with the consensus view that interviews were overall less important than college admissions essays, but should be done if they were offered. One advisor suggested that visits by college admissions personnel to the high schools were a waste of time for colleges, since there was not enough time to get to know specific applicants. In addition, she felt that personal interviews were generally overrated, though she noted that many Ivies have alumni interviews, which can help in borderline situations. One counselor suggested that if an interview was offered by a college admissions program, then it was not really optional but it should be seen as a requirement, that is, not going to such an interview could be detrimental to a student's chances for admission. Another suggested that a student should try to get an interview, even if it was not required, since it might help "exhibit character strengths" that might not show up via grades on high school transcripts. Several reports noted that most Ivy League schools have abandoned the interview requirement, but that if there is an opportunity for an interview, even with an alumnus of the college, then it is a good idea to do it since not doing it signals a lack of interest in the school. Knowing a college can be helpful during an interview, so that an applicant can say something specific about the school, or a professor who teaches there, or a subject or internship opportunities, since it shows sincere interest. Interviews (if offered) may be more of a factor at small liberal arts colleges:
Our advice is that if offered an interview, a student should take it ... And they should dress as if they are going to dinner with their grandparents. The biggest faux pax comes in inappropriate dress for both sexes. Spaghetti straps, buttons that pop open. For boys a rumpled T-shirt ... If you look in the mirror and you think you look good, change your clothes. This is not a date.— Mamlet and VanDeVelde
One suggested that a goal of interview preparation should be to present oneself as "comfortable with spontaneous conversation" and be able to talk about interests without sounding like the answers were prepared in advance, and suggested it was important to show intellectual passion and a love of learning with a deep excitement, and show "social maturity" with sensitivity, empathy for others unlike oneself, and concern for issues larger than personal career ambitions. An applicant should have an attitude that was not be what can the college offer but what can the student offer the college, and he or she should avoid asking questions about facts better answered elsewhere, and show an openness to new ideas, an ability to work cooperatively with others, ambition, and caring about others. Interviewees should be ready for sometimes provocative questions to test social sensitivity; if an interviewer asks a "baiting or leading question," an applicant should respond by laughing while politely disagreeing with the perspective, and to keep trying to enjoy the conversation with the interviewer. Another advisor suggested that students must be prepared to answer the question What is your biggest failure in an interview. Applicants should avoid sounding snide, annoyed, contemptuous, and avoid describing oneself as humiliated, bored, depressed, angry, shy, inhibited, anxious, frightened, and frustrated, and should be upbeat but avoid going for the hard sell. Another report suggested that shy or timid applicants were at a disadvantage. Another advisor suggested that a student try to find a common bond with the interviewer, and send a brief follow-up letter afterwards.
There are differing opinions about the importance of the college essay. The consensus view is that the essay is less important than grades and test scores, but that an essay can make a difference in some instances, often at highly selective colleges where they can "make or break your application." There was one report that essays were becoming more important as a way to judge a student's potential and that essays have supplanted personal interviews as a primary way to evaluate a student's character.
The Common Application requires that personal statements be 250 to 650 words in length. Although applicants may strive to reach the word limit, college admissions officers emphasize that the most important part is honing and rewriting:
Writing is easy; rewriting is hard. And essays deserve to be rewritten several times. Lots of kids think the objective is to write about something that will impress the admission office. In part that is true, but what impresses an admission officer is an essay that conveys something positive about the applicant; that allows the committee to get to know the kid just a bit from those few pieces of paper. The essay is an opportunity to provide a different perspective about the applicant, a reason to accept a kid. It is an opportunity not to be wasted.
Advisors suggest that the essay should be concise, honest (with no embellishments), coherent, not boring, accurate, and visually evocative. The essay should reveal a likeable and intelligent individual. It should approach humor and controversial topics with caution and balance. Other tips include avoiding jargon or abbreviations, overly emotional appeals, profanity or texttalk (example: Schools H8 2 C texttalk), or artiness (e.g. poetry in an application) or cockiness.
Former guidance counselor for students at Andover and college admissions authority Donald Dunbar suggested that essays must emphasize personal character and demonstrate intellectual curiosity, maturity, social conscience, concern for the community, tolerance, and inclusiveness. He advises to not merely "be yourself," but show your "best self." Dunbar furthermore claims that demonstrating class participation suggests a "willingness to go beyond selfishness" and shows enthusiasm for learning. Alan Gelb suggests that the only "no-no" is "shameless self-promotion." Topics to avoid[according to whom?] include babysitting experiences, pets, encounters with illegal drugs or alcohol or criminal activity, excuses to explain a low grade, stories about a former home or big brother or sister, a simple listing of achievements, expressing thanks for being chosen as a leader, talking about a "wilderness leadership course," general complaining or whining, racism or sexism or disrespect for groups of people, bad taste or profanity or vulgarity or bathroom humor, early love or sex experiences, criticism or disrespect for parents, telling only jokes, excessive bragging or too many instances of the "I" pronoun, personal health information about yourself or a friend or a family member, and copy-and-pasting a term paper in the essay form such as about global warming or the European debt crisis. Applicants should refrain from express opinions too strongly as if no counterviews were possible. The topic should be something the applicant cares about, and should show leadership in the sense of "asserting yourself to help others have more success." According to Dunbar, leadership is not necessarily about being in charge such as being the team captain or school president. Applicants should present a broad perspective and avoid simplistic words such as never, always, only, or nobody, which suggest narrow thinking. Dunbar advised against the standard "tell 'em what you've told 'em" essay formula but doing something different, interesting, and exciting.
Former admissions director Michele Hernandez agreed, and suggested that the best essay topics were a slice-of-life story with poignant details, in which the writer shows and does not tell. She suggested that a student show their essay to a literate friend and ask if would they admit this person to the college. She recommended that applicants not try to come across as a "preppy well-off kid" but downplay parental status. Advisors Mamlet and VanDeVelde suggest that students proactively try to explain an unusual grade, such as a low grade in a core course. There are online databases available to help students write cogent essays.
Many colleges ask for teacher recommendations, typically from eleventh or twelfth grade teachers of core courses who know the student well. A counselor recommendation is often requested as well. One report suggested that having more than four recommendations was a mistake, as a "thick file" indicated a "thick student" to admissions personnel. Teacher recommendations are becoming less important as a rating measure, according to one report. In addition, a few colleges are asking for recommendation letters from parents to describe their child:
You might think they do nothing but brag ... But parents really nail their kids. They really get to the essence of what their daughter is about in a way we can't get anywhere else.
Advisors counsel that applicants should meet deadlines, spend time researching colleges, be open-minded, have fun, communicate what "resonates" to the applicant about a particular school, not fall in love with one or two colleges, follow directions precisely and make sure to click the "submit" button. Rudeness towards staff members, feigning enthusiasm, and being pretentious are other turnoffs reported by admissions officers. There is strong consensus among counselors and advisors that starting the college search early is vital. One recommends starting early in the twelfth grade; another suggests that even this is too late, and that the process should begin during the eleventh grade and summer before twelfth grade. And sources suggest that students who begin the process earlier tend to earn more acceptance letters. Another advantage of beginning early is so that applications can be proofread for mistakes. Advisors suggest that emails should be sent to specific persons in the admissions office, not to a generalized inbox. Advisors suggest that applicants sending in paper applications should take care that handwriting is legible, particularly email addresses. Advisors counsel that mistakes or changes should be explained somewhere in the application; for example, an adviser at Grinnell College suggested that a record need not be perfect but there must be an "explanation for any significant blip." Advisors suggest that applicants should "own up to any bad behavior" such as suspensions since schools are "dutybound to report them," and suggest that a person should "accept responsibility and show contrition for "lessons learned," according to one view. Disciplinary actions are usually reported to the colleges by the high school as a matter of course. Advisors suggest that the application should help a student position themselves to create a unique picture. It helps, according to one advisor, if a person knows himself or herself, because that enables an applicant to communicate effectively with a prospective school. A report in The New York Times in 2016 suggested that some universities were considering changing their admissions guidelines to be more inclusive of less affluent applicants, to put less emphasis on standardized test and AP scores, and to put more emphasis on determining "which students' community-service projects are heartfelt and which are merely window dressing"; the report suggested that college admissions policies were often "cited as a culprit in sleep deprivation, anxiety and depression among students."
International students form a large and growing percentage of applicants to American universities. According to Andover counseling director Sean Logan, applications to American universities from foreign students have increased dramatically in the past decade. International applications are typically similar to domestic ones but with additional complications. Most international applicants do not receive a GPA score or transcript from their school. Most will not normally take SAT or ACT exams, so these must be arranged. Most American universities are happy to accept international qualifications such as the International Baccalaureate and A Levels, although it is often up to the applicant to elaborate on the meaning of these qualifications. Non-native English speakers may be asked to provide English language qualifications such as TOEFL or IELTS scores. If a university requires or offers an interview, these can normally be conducted over the phone or with alumni residing in the applicant's country. International applicants often must cope with higher tuition fees and less available financial aid, although this varies significantly by college. Further, international applicants must also apply for a student visa, which can be a complex and time-consuming process.
How colleges evaluate applicants
|Grades in college prep courses||83%|
|Strength of curriculum||66%|
|Admission test scores||59%|
|Grades in all courses||46%|
|Essay or writing sample||27%|
|Student's demonstrated interest||23%|
|Subject test scores||10%|
|SAT II scores||5%|
|State graduation exam||4%|
|Source: 2010 survey by NACAC|
College admissions officers are generally looking to build a well-rounded class and look for students who will complement each other. Consequently, many schools are looking for students who are passionate and excel at particular things, and candidates who fulfill certain institutional needs rather than a "well-rounded kid."
Colleges are looking for ... the well-rounded class. Colleges put together their entering class as a mosaic: a few great scholars for each academic department; a handful of athletes; some musicians, dancers, and theater stars; a few for racial and economic diversity; some potential club leaders, etc. Colleges want a kid who is devoted to – and excels at – something. The word they most often use is passion.— Steve Cohen in The Washington Post, 2011
Colleges want students who have demonstrated through their actions an ability to see and connect with a world that is larger than they are.— Robin Mamlet and Christine Vandevelde, 2011
Institutional needs include athletics and music as well as geographical, cultural, racial, and socioeconomic diversity (Pell Grant recipients, first-generation students).
Some schools, particularly public universities, will use admissions criteria which are almost entirely formulaic in certain aspects of admission. For example, they may be required by statute to admit a minimum number of in-state students, or to guarantee admission to students graduating the top 6% of their high school class, or to guarantee admission to valedictorians. Many admits, however, are made on the basis of subjective judgments regarding the student's "fit" for the institution.
Admissions offices must read through thousands of applications, each of which include transcripts, letters of recommendation, and the application itself. In 2009, the average admissions officer was responsible for analyzing 514 applications, and officers have experienced an upward trend in the number of applications they must read over time. A typical college application receives only about 25 minutes of reading time, including three to five minutes for the personal essay if it is read.
Larger admissions offices will have specialists assigned to cover different regions, and individual officers may act liaison for a regional set of high schools developing a deep understanding of their curriculum and rigor. The reading and preliminary admit / deny decision may be divided up into committees of readers, and borderline candidates are then discussed more collectively. Some admissions offices use a scoring system in an effort to normalize the many applicants. Criteria include standardized test scores (generally ACT and/or SAT), college prep courses, grades (as shown in the high school transcript), strength of curriculum, class rank, degree of extracurricular involvement, and leadership potential. A combination of these can be used to derive an academic index. For example, at Dartmouth College, data goes into a master card for each application, which leads to a ready sheet, where readers summarize applications; then, an initial screening is done: top applications go directly to the director of admissions for approval while lackluster ones go to another director. Dartmouth uses "A" for accept, "R" for reject, "P" for possible, with "P+" and "P-" being variants. A committee might spend a week with the "P" ones, of which they only accept about a sixth.
Many colleges also rely on personal essay(s) written by the applicant and letters of recommendation written by the applicant's teachers and guidance counselor. One principal benefit of the essay lies in its ability to further differentiate students who have perfect or near-perfect grades and test scores. Institutions place different weight on these criteria: for example, "test optional" schools do not require or even accept the SATs for admission. Some factors are beyond a student's control, such as a college's need in a given year for diversity, legacy applicants, or athletic recruiting.
Some colleges hire statistical experts known as "enrollment consultants" to help them predict enrollment by developing computer models to select applicants in such a way as to maximize yield and acceptance rates. Some of these models take into account factors such as an applicant's "zip code, religion, first-choice major and extracurricular interests, as well as academic performance." Some colleges extract information from the federal FAFSA financial aid form, including names of other schools the applicant is applying to.
High school grades, rigor of curriculum, and college prep courses
High school academic performance is generally the single most important factor in winning admission. Maintaining high grades is particularly important for the fall semester of twelfth grade. Academic performance in core courses is especially important. An ideal academic record is one of increasingly better grades in courses of progressive difficulty. Ninth grade grades generally do not count much, but trends are important—an upward trend in grades was a positive factor, a decline a negative one. Public universities are more likely to evaluate applicants based on grades and test scores alone, while private universities tend to be more "holistic" and consider other measures.
Colleges also evaluate applicants by examining how a student has successfully exploited what a high school has had to offer. The strongest candidates will have been challenged by the most demanding courses his school has to offer . Where AP courses are offered, having a high grade point average based on good grades in AP-level or honors courses will be looked upon favorably, but dropping a hard course will be seen negatively.
The college admissions office usually will know schools well enough to understand that not all schools offer AP-level courses so candidates from those schools are not put at a disadvantage. On the other hand, the admissions office will have a high school profile and takes into account such data as curriculum offerings, demographics, and grade distributions at the high school.
ACT and SAT scores
These are read in conjunction with the high school academic record, but their importance varies from school to school. Some schools are test-optional where applicants do not need to submit scores. Schools typically release information on the range of scores from their candidate pool as well as accepted student pool to make applicants aware of their student profile. Some schools will consider superscore results or superscoring when an applicant has taken the SAT multiple times by combining the highest score from different test subsections, although superscoring is rarely done for the ACT  because of difficulty processing five separate rounded numbers.
A survey of admissions officers revealed that 28% agreed that their school had accepted athletes despite having lower grades and test scores than others. A survey by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that schools with strong athletics departments tended to have athletes with lower SAT scores than non-athletic students. Athletes get better treatment even at elite colleges, according to one academic study. A report suggested that some applications by athletes go first to a special committee for review by coaches, who may then, in turn, advocate for particular players. Recruited athletes who play in-demand or "revenue" sports (i.e. generate ticket sales) such as football or basketball can have a "significantly greater advantage in admissions" than others. Some Ivy League coaches, seeking to improve the average academic performance of their teams, would admit mediocre athletes with top academic skills as a means to balance out the stellar athletes with below-average academic ability. To fix this "average score" arrangement in which there had been a temptation to admit an extremely poor student with great athletic ability, many schools went to a banding arrangement. For example, coaches would consider all wrestling applicants within a specified range or band of academic performance, and coaches could admit more wrestler-applicants who showed greater scholastic promise. Howard and Matthew Greene report that coaches do not make admissions decisions, but they can advocate for a particular applicant. And they report that committed athletes should explain in their applications how much time they have used towards perfecting their athletic ability:
We often talk with highly involved athletes who have little time for other activities outside of their sports. In many cases their grades suffer. Most student-athletes are not "recruited" to colleges, but colleges will respect their commitment and drive.— Howard and Matthew Greene, 2003
Some colleges are more likely to admit students with in-demand skills, such as writing, debating, theater management, music, and leadership.
Admissions personnel look favorably on applications where it is clear that the student appears to be firmly in control over the application process; the appearance of pushy parents or coaching can have a dampening effect. One admissions dean explained:
Students who really manage the show on their own, fill out the application on their own, make their own appointments for interviews, correspond with you on their own email account – these students get extra points because they're managing their lives.
This can be an important factor in some situations, sometimes a "driving factor," since a college may be more likely to say yes to a student likely to matriculate. Accordingly, it has been advised to become knowledgeable about schools being applied to, and "tailor each application accordingly." College visits (including overnight ones), interviews, attending College Fair days, comments in the essay, contacting college faculty members, answering and opening emails, place position of the college on the FAFSA form or its FAFSA position, and other indications of interest can be a factor for many colleges concerned about their yield—the percent of students who accept an offer of enrollment. According to Andover's college counseling director Sean Logan, it is important to have numerous contact points with colleges to show demonstrated interest: visiting, phone contact, emailing, visits to websites (including number of clicks as well as length of time on the website), whether a college visit included a tour and interview, and whether a college-recommended off-campus personal interview was done. Schools such as Connecticut College and Emory University have been credited as "popularizing the yield game" by refusing well-qualified students who failed to show much real interest in attending, as a way to boost their yield scores. One top high school student was waitlisted at a "likely" college for showing lack of interest:
We assumed they weren't coming, because we didn't have much contact from them. We know they're probably using us as a back-up and they haven't done much to show any sincere interest, so we decided to waitlist them.— Andover college counseling director Sean Logan, remembering a comment from a college admissions director.
One report suggested that colleges seek students who will be actively involved on campus and not spend every day studying alone. As a result, they look recommendations from teachers that suggest active participation.
Weeding out difficult people
Admissions officers often try to screen out difficult people. According to Dunbar, many colleges are "afraid of aggression." He recommends avoiding "harsh humor" and signs of severe emotion, anger, or aggression. Admissions evaluators look for signals that might indicate a difficult person, such as disrespectful criticisms of others and evidence of substance abuse.
Analysis of essays
Michele Hernandez suggested that almost all admissions essays were weak, cliche-ridden, and "not worth reading." The staff gets thousands of essays and has to wade through most of them. When she worked as an admissions director at Dartmouth, she noticed that most essays were only read for three minutes. Some too-common essay types were the "outward bound" essay about how a person discovered their inner grit while hiking tough mountains or the "community service" essay about how a student discovered, while working among disadvantaged peoples, that "all persons were the same." Admissions officers seek to learn how a person thinks, what kind of person they are, and their level of intellectual promise.
Ability to pay
Half of admissions officers at both public universities and a third of officers at four-year colleges were actively seeking students who did not need financial aid, according to one survey of 462 admissions directors and managers in 2011. Admissions officers from public universities sometimes actively seek out-of-state and international students, since they paid higher rates for tuition. By contrast, a number of very elite schools practice need-blind admission, meaning that a student's ability to pay is not a factor in their admissions process. All of the Ivy League schools are need-blind for domestic students, with Harvard, Yale, and Princeton being need-blind for international students as well.
Reports vary about whether the financial neediness of applicants impacts admissions chances; one suggested that applicants with strong academic credentials or talents are more likely to get financial aid, but that depending on the college, "borderline admits" needing money were most vulnerable. George Washington University was involved in a scandal in which it was more likely to waitlist financially needy applicants despite claiming to use need-blind admission. At some schools, the amount of aid can depend on how a specific applicant compares with other applicants:
What this means is that your financial aid package from a reach college may not be as attractive as the package from one of your target, or well matched, colleges. If you are looking for generous scholarship aid, you need to look at colleges and universities where your academic profile is strong compared to that of the average admitted student.— Hannah Serota, college counselor
One view was that state schools strive to admit students from "all parts of a state," which suggests that applicants who live farther away from a given school had a better chance of admission. But a contrary view was that geographic location of the applicant matters perhaps only slightly, if at all; Hernandez looked at acceptance ratios to Dartmouth for different geographic locations, and found that geographic distance was not a factor influencing admittances.
Race and ethnicity
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A survey of admissions personnel suggested that two-fifths had admitted minority applicants despite their having lower grades and test scores than other applicants. Rulings by the Supreme Court have upheld the use of race as one factor in college admissions as long as it is not an overriding factor. Some Asian-Americans hesitate to reveal information about their ethnic background, fearing that admissions offices discriminate against them because of their ethnicity and consider them incorrectly to be "boring academic robots," according to several reports. A 2009 study suggested that an Asian applicant requires an SAT score 140 points above that of a comparable white student on the 2400 scale, and considerably higher than that of a non-Asian minority, to have a similar chance of admission at elite colleges. According to Hernandez, Asian applicants have to be much better students than the typical white applicant to be admitted. She wrote that it benefits an applicant to be African American, Latino, or Native American, since colleges can advertise their diversity as a result. The admissions practices of Harvard and Princeton have been investigated for possible discrimination against Asian-American applicants by the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.
On July 3, 2018, the Education and Justice Departments under President Trump rescinded federal affirmative action guidance which had encouraged colleges to consider race in admissions. The two policies rescinded were written in 2011 and 2016.
There are differing views about how important it is to have a family member or relative who also attended a college. It is clear that it is a factor; one report suggested that having a family member who is an alumnus gives "a leg up" for applicants. One report suggested that siblings do not count as legacies. In some cases, a parent's attendance at a related graduate school counts as a legacy, but most colleges do not count this. Many selective private colleges have a higher admit rate for alumni children as a way to "keep the larger set of alumni happy and giving," and being a legacy applicant can mean as much as "100 or 200 points on the SAT."
Legacy admissions have had a history of controversy; economist Peter Sacks criticized the practice of legacy admissions as a "social reproduction process" in which "elite institutions have an implicit bargain with their alumni ... 'You give us money, and we will move your kid to the front of the line.'" Another agreed that legacies perpetuated a "hereditary aristocracy." But an opposing view is that all colleges, to varying extents, make choices as part of the admissions process, including state schools that charge in-state residents (with taxpaying parents) a lower rate than out-of-state residents, and it was argued that there was not really much difference between taxpaying parents contributing to a state school as well as alumni contributing to a private school—both with the possibility that it will help their offspring get into college. Consultant Donald Dunbar suggested that admitting legacies encourages future donations, and in turn these incoming money flows help the school subsidize the education of more minority students; another source suggested that alumni gifts were important in helping a college pay for financial aid and need-blind admission. Legacy admissions was criticized by Daniel Golden in his book The Price of Admission.
In certain cases, the family wealth of applicants is considered, based on potential to make a substantial donation to the school (beyond paying tuition and separate from considerations such as ability or fame). These candidates are known as development cases and are intended to bolster the finances of the university, especially to further its mission. The practice is not widely discussed by universities but is reported to be used by a number of top-ranked schools, including Duke University (which acknowledges its use) and Brown University (which does not comment).
Counselors and admissions directors tend to agree that in a few selected cases, personal connections can be important. A report based on a survey of admissions directors suggested that "whom you know does matter," since high-level administrators as well as prominent alumni and trustees can exert pressure on admissions offices to admit certain applicants.
There was a report that more colleges are resorting to computerized fact-checking software, as well as anti-plagiarism tools such as Turnitin, which checks documents for unoriginal content on the web, possibly as a response to well-publicized scandals in which a student won admission to Harvard University by fraudulent means. Supplementary materials generally carry "no weight" in college admissions, according to one view. A report in Time Magazine suggested that many elite colleges used a vaguer measure of institutional fit to decide who is admitted, which is based on nonacademic qualities and may favor "underrepresented minorities and students who demonstrate exceptional talent." Students who take a "gap year" between high school and college can benefit if the year was enriching and developing and helped the student mature.
Acceptances, rejections, and waitlists
Regular decision applicants are notified usually in the last two weeks of March, and early decision or early action applicants are notified near the end of December (but early decision II notifications tend to be in February). The notification of the school's decision is either an admit, deny (reject), waitlist, or defer. Notifications as an online status update are becoming more common, although a few schools still send notifications by email or regular mail (in which case a "fat" envelope is usually an acceptance whereas a "thin" envelope is usually a rejection or waitlist).
Letters of admission typically require the admitted student to maintain good grades and good conduct before matriculation. Teachers and college counselors of seniors advise students against "senioritis." Schools do rescind admission if students have been dishonest in their application, have conducted themselves in a way deemed to be inconsistent with the values of the school, or do not heed warnings of poor academic performance; for example, one hundred high school applicants accepted to Texas Christian University, whose grades plummeted in the spring of their twelfth grade as a symptom of senioritis, received so-called "fear of God" letters from an admissions dean asking them to explain themselves and threatening to rescind offers of admission.
Admitted students may also be awarded financial aid and notification of this is made around the same time. Students who are dissatisfied with an aid offer can appeal for the offer to be improved.
Rejection letters from most schools will mention that there is no appeal process but many schools, especially public universities such as the University of California have a formal appeal process requiring "new and compelling" information from the appellant.
Wait list considerations
About half of schools use a wait list, particularly those that accept fewer than half of all applications. Schools use the wait list as an enrollment management tool because they are uncertain how many of their original admits will enroll, but the exact implementation varies widely among colleges. Some schools put a large number onto the wait list (relative to the class enrollment size) even though this puts many wait-listed students in "limbo" and gives most of them only false hope, the "basic equivalent of purgatory." With a class size of only around 2,500, Penn put 3,535 applicants on its wait list for the Class of 2022 (of whom 2,327 remained on the wait list) but accepted only 9. In the same year, Tulane put over 10,000 applicants on its wait list but admitted only 2. By contrast, the University of Oregon with a class size of 4,000 offered wait list status to only 264 and admitted 69 of them. However, many schools do lose a small number of admitted students due to a phenomenon sometimes called summer melt: students, even those have sent in a deposit, will not show up in the fall, and this "melt percentage" can be as high as 5% to 10% of persons who have paid a deposit.
The admission process is a complicated dance of supply and demand for colleges. And this spring, many institutions have accepted fewer applicants, and placed more on waiting lists, until it becomes clear over the next few weeks how many spots remain.— Jacques Steinberg in The New York Times, April 2010
|Wait list |
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Schools can also use the wait list as a yield management tool. This strategy involves admitting too few applicants in the regular admissions season to appear highly selective and then accept more wait-listed applicants later, or deliberately wait-listing over-qualified students who are likely to be accepted and to enroll elsewhere. Vanderbilt typically gets a tenth of its first-year class from the wait list, and admitted 243 from its wait list for the Class of 2022.
Because the use of the wait list varies from school to school and from year to year, there is a very high variability in the number of wait list admits and low predictability in the chance of admission from the wait list pool. One survey suggested that 30% of wait-listed students are eventually accepted, but this is an average figure for all wait-listed students, and the percentage is dramatically lower at elite or prestigious schools. Much depends on how an institution executes on its admission strategy that year. A less selective school may have many applicants and a high number of admits, and end up placing few people on the wait list and taking none year after year (e.g., Holy Cross had no wait list admits for the Classes of 2021 and 2022), while a very selective school may put many on its wait list and also end up taking many admits or no admit from its wait list.
Students who are wait-listed can "work the wait list" by staying in touch with the admissions office to make sure the admissions office knows the student will attend if accepted, and possibly take steps such as forwarding new grades and making a subsequent visit, or send a one-page letter or 60-second video describing a strong desire to attend and the reasons. A former dean of admissions at Franklin and Marshall College suggests that students not view the wait list letter as a "polite denial" but rather as a possible opportunity. Wait list activity in the summer can generate a domino effect across multiple schools with students accepting a wait list spot at one institution and opening up a spot at another institution.
A downside to wait lists is that by the time a student is accepted, there may be much less money available for scholarships or grants.
While most college admissions involves high school students applying to colleges, transfer admissions are important as well. Estimates of the percentage of college students who transfer vary from 20% to 33% to 60%, with the consensus position being around a third of college students transfer, and there are many indications that transfer activity is increasing. One report suggested that nearly half of all undergraduates in the nation were attending community colleges. Media coverage of student transfers is generally less than coverage of the high school to college transition. A common transfer path is students moving from two-year community colleges to four-year institutions, although there is considerable movement between four-year institutions. Reasons for transferring include unhappiness with campus life, cost, and course and degree selection. There are no consistent national rules for transfers, and requirements vary by college. Many community colleges have articulation agreements with four-year schools, particularly flagship state universities, so that matters such as the transfers of credits are handled appropriately. There are indications that many private colleges are more actively seeking transfer applicants. Still, transferring can be difficult; transfer students have been described in the past as "academic nomads."
- Mamlet 2011, p. 109.
- Robin Mamlet and Christine VanDeVelde, College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step, Three Rivers Press, 2011, Retrieved January 6, 2016
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Previous admission experience ... statistics/data analysis ... higher education administration ... marketing/public relations ...
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... They are counselors, but also recruiters. They use marketing techniques, but many don't like to use the "m word." ...
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... but college admissions officers typically fall into the 30-to-40 age demographic ...
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... rising costs ... impact of the web ... social media such as Facebook or YouTube that admissions offices need to master.
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... Prestigious Emory University intentionally misreported student data to rankings magazines for more than a decade ....
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One of the perverse aspects about the rankings is that turning out thoughtful, articulate young men and women, who can write cogently and think critically won't budge a school's ranking up even one spot.
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Rankings Perversion – ... US News & World Report's college rankings doesn't ... bestow demerits for being unaffordable. ...
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... U.S. News rankings don't measure how much students learn; ...
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... The annual rankings of undergraduate colleges and universities by U.S. News and World Report generate negative opinions among professionals who work most closely with students and families ...
- Note: this "reputation survey" makes up 25% of the ranking.
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- Note: associations include the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities and the Council of Independent Colleges.
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- Excludes military academies and small specialized schools - Caltech, Olin College, Cooper Union, Babson University, Curtis Institute of Music, Juilliard School.
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... Discounting in higher education began in the 1970s, as college admissions officers copied the pricing systems used by airlines and other businesses. The approach of charging as much as people would pay was novel in the academy. ....
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While community college tuition posted a sharp 8.7% gain, it's still a bargain: only about $3,000 a year for full-time tuition.
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... Just under 15 percent of the undergraduates at the country's 50 wealthiest colleges received Pell Grants in 2008-9, ...
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2012 edition; various authors and rankings; pages 19, 20, 30, 62, 63, 68–70, 78, 84, 86, 88, othersCS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
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- CBS News, Lynn O'Shaughnessy, October 30, 2013, Be careful what you share on the FAFSA, Accessed December 12, 2013, "... The order, however, could also be hurting students who list their favorite school as No. 1. If a teenager shows too much interest in a school, the admission office may decide to offer the applicant a lower award because it is assumed that the child will enroll anyway ..."
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- Note: there are impostor websites similar to the official government website, sometimes asking for fees; the official FAFSA website is free; see FAFSA for further information
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Never have I seen such careful attention to landscaping. ...
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- Data sourced from Common Data Set published by colleges for Fall 2018 admission (2018-2019)or college news releases and student publications
- Admission rates at public universities are much lower for out-of-state applicants. The higher admit rate for in-state applicants may be set by law or regulation as a minimum or defined by how certain in-state applicants must be admitted (e.g., those meeting a certain class rank or GPA). The numbers in the common data sets provide a blended rate for the entire class regardless of residency of applicant or admitted student.
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- "Tufts University, Office of Institutional Research, 2018-19 Common Data Set". Tufts University, Office of Institutional Research. Retrieved August 29, 2019.
- "American University, Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, Common Data Set 2018-19" (PDF). Retrieved August 29, 2019.
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- Hernandez 2009, pp. 33.
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According to Gandara and Lopez (1998), SAT scores will be weighted anywhere from "almost not at all" to "heavily" in the admission decision, depending upon the college or university.
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 57.
- "ACT vs SAT: Key differences between the ACT and SAT". Studypoint.com. 2012. Retrieved June 22, 2012.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 92.
- Renee Dudley, September 21, 2016, Reuters, Despite warnings, College Board redesigned SAT in way that may hurt neediest students, Retrieved October 12, 2016, "...no penalty for guessing wrong, ... encourages students to answer every question ... simply earn points for the questions you answer correctly..."
- Note: SAT updated in 2016
- Jacques Steinberg (September 12, 2010). "Q. & A. College Admissions; ACT vs. SAT: Deciding Which Exam to Take". The New York Times. Retrieved May 15, 2012.
- Sarah Gonzalez (November 10, 2011). "SAT Tests Favor White, Male Students, Book Argues". NPR Florida. Retrieved May 15, 2012.
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 59–65.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 94.
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 97.
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 115–116.
- "All Members". The Common Application. Archived from the original on October 31, 2012. Retrieved November 1, 2012.
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 107.
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 153–156.
- Dunbar 2007, pp. 29, 36, 38, 83–96.
- Dunbar 2007, p. 62, 66, 67.
- Dunbar 2007, p. 93.
- Sanjay Solomon, January 30, 2015, The Boston Globe, Can a Failure Resume Help You Succeed?, Retrieved January 30, 2016, "... "Asking 'what is your biggest failure?' is an opportunity [for an interviewer] to get a reality check and to put a little pressure on this person"...."
- Dunbar 2007, pp. 110–122.
- Hanley, Thomas A., Jr. (January 1, 2005). "Shyness and the College Admission Process: Who is Being Left Out?". Journal of College Admission. Archived from the original on January 25, 2013. Retrieved August 20, 2012.
... If two applicants appeared academically equivalent on paper and both were interviewing at a top tier school, the gregarious, self-confident candidate would most likely be perceived more favorably than the timid and self-conscious one ...CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- University, Undergraduate Admission at Stanford. "How to Apply : Stanford University". admission.stanford.edu. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
- Jeremy S. Hyman; Lynn F. Jacobs; Jonathan Reider (September 15, 2010). "10 Tips for Writing the College Application Essay". US News. Retrieved December 12, 2011.
- Dunbar 2007, p. ix.
- Dunbar 2007, pp. 11–21.
- Dunbar 2007, p. 25.
- Gelb, Alan (May 14, 2012). "The College Admissions Essay: Finding a Topic". The New York Times. Retrieved May 15, 2012.
For your college admissions essay, you will be asked to write 500 flawless words ... As far as I'm concerned, the only taboo is shameless self-promotion.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 207.
- Dunbar 2007, p. 34.
- Dunbar 2007, pp. 67–68.
- For example: "I did this, I did that, then I did this" and on and on ...
- Dunbar 2007, p. 50.
- Dunbar 2007, p. 54.
- Dunbar 2007, p. 136+.
- Dunbar 2007, p. 147.
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 130–136.
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 6–9.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 58.
- Anders, George (December 1, 2014). "What Essays Thrill Elite Schools? These Teens Will Show You". Forbes. Retrieved March 17, 2015.
- Bonnie Rochman (March 26, 2012). "The Latest Trend in College Admissions: Parents Write Letters of Recommendation: Some colleges are starting to ask Mom and Dad to put in a written plug for their progeny in the college admissions process". Time Magazine. Retrieved May 18, 2012.
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 153.
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 137.
- Frank Bruni, January 19, 2016, The New York Times, Rethinking College Admissions, Accessed January 19, 2016
- Lisa Heffernan and Jennifer Wallace, January 20, 2016, The Washington Post, To get into college, Harvard report advocates for kindness instead of overachieving, Retrieved January 20, 2016, "...Parents, educators and college administrators have long wrestled with the unintended negative side effects ... intense focus on personal achievement and the unfair advantages of more affluent students...."
- "International Student Enrollments Increase in 2010/11". Retrieved September 29, 2014.
- Sally Holm (interviewer) Sean Logan (interviewee) (Winter 2013). "Inside College Counseling with Director Sean Logan" (PDF). Andover Magazine. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 10, 2015. Retrieved February 24, 2013.
- "Apply to uni in the USA – The Student Room – The Student Room". The Student Room. Retrieved September 29, 2014.
- Halls, Andrew (September 29, 2011). "The American dream: How to apply to a US university". The Daily Telegraph. London.
- "US Admissions Criteria – Undergraduate Study in the USA – US-UK Fulbright Commission". Retrieved September 29, 2014.
- "Study Abroad Grants – Study Abroad Funding – University In The USA". Archived from the original on December 25, 2014. Retrieved September 29, 2014.
- Wallis, Janette (October 7, 2011). "Why study in the US could be a bright idea". The Daily Telegraph. London.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on January 24, 2013. Retrieved January 14, 2013.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- NACAC (2010). "Survey". Summit High School.
(from a handout by the SHS guidance department); note: percent is those colleges agreeing that each factor exerted "considerable importance" in their decision to admit students
- Jenny Anderson (August 5, 2011). "For a Standout College Essay, Applicants Fill Their Summers". The New York Times. Retrieved December 12, 2011.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 69.
- Kayla Webley (April 12, 2012). "How Colleges Really Make Admissions Decisions". Time Magazine. Retrieved May 17, 2012.
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 104.
- Dunbar 2007, p. 6.
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 66–71.
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 110–111.
- Unigo.com, Author (July 13, 2018). "10 colleges that don't require SAT or ACT scores". Unigo.com. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 57.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 53.
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 146.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 13.
- Mamlet 2011, p. 41.
- Note: quoting William Fitzsimmons, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Harvard University.
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 139.
- Peter Van Buskirk (June 9, 2010). "9 Testing Tips for College Applicants". US News. Retrieved October 15, 2012.
... Keep the "superscore" in mind: At most colleges, admissions officers look at the best combination of scores.
- Devon Keefe (August 17, 2009). "Develop a Testing Strategy.(Kaplan)(presenting SAT Reasoning Test scores for college application)". Newsweek via Questia Online Library. Retrieved October 15, 2012.
Even many schools that have "opted out" of Score Choice have suggested that they will continue to "super score" students' test scores (i.e., take the highest sectional score from each test and combine them).
- Valerie Strauss (June 9, 2010). "Do colleges superscore ACT and SAT equally?". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 15, 2012.
... most schools superscore both the ACT and the SAT. While many schools do, many more do so for the SAT than the ACT.
- Daniel de Vise (February 8, 2012). "College, Inc". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 15, 2012.
Not many superscore the ACT, because they'd have to work with five separate numbers, including a composite that often has been rounded up or rounded down ...
- "Athletes get break on college admission standards". Charleston Daily Mail. Associated Press. December 31, 2009. Archived from the original on April 9, 2016. Retrieved August 20, 2012.
... A review of admissions data submitted to the NCAA by most of the 120 schools in college footballs top tier shows that athletes enjoy strikingly better odds of having admission requirements bent on their behalf. ...
- Rebecca R. Ruiz (November 15, 2011). "Debating Legacy Preferences in Admissions". The New York Times. Retrieved December 12, 2011.
- Dunbar 2007, p. 155.
- Steve Cohen; Anne Dwane; Paulo de Oliveira; Michael Muska (2011). "Getting In! The Zinch Guide to College Admissions". Wiley Publishing. ISBN 9781118048566. Retrieved May 3, 2012.
(see page 197)
- Mamlet 2011, p. 121.
- Note: colleges can tell whether emails are opened or not by a prospective student.
- Note: admissions officers can see all colleges applied to that are listed on the FAFSA form, and there are reports that some colleges interpret being first or second on the FAFSA list as a sign of demonstrated interest
- Note: "likely" meant there was an estimated 80% chance of acceptance by the college
- Dunbar 2007, p. 55.
- Dunbar 2007, p. 56, 57.
- Dunbar 2007, pp. 69–82.
- An admissions staffer at Gettysburg College (who requested to remain anonymous) agreed most application essays were boring.
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 130–131.
- Tamar Lewin (September 21, 2011). "Universities Seeking Out Students of Means". The New York Times. Retrieved December 12, 2011.
- Stacey Kostell (November 23, 2011). "Does Financial Need Impact College Admissions Chances?". US News. Retrieved May 18, 2012.
- Jeremy Diamond, Sarah Ferris, October 21, 2013, The GW Hatchet, GW misrepresented admissions and financial aid policy for years, Accessed December 13, 2013, "... Administrators now say the admissions process has always factored in financial need. But that contradicts messaging from the admissions and financial aid offices that, as recently as Saturday, have regularly attested that the University remained need-blind ..."
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 209–210.
- Claudio Sanchez (March 1, 2012). "Case Renews Focus On Race In College Admissions". NPR. Retrieved May 18, 2012.
- Valerie Strauss (February 22, 2012). "College admissions: How diversity factors in". Washington Post. Retrieved May 18, 2012.
- Pete Williams and Erin McClam, NBC News, June 24, 2013, Supreme Court raises bar for affirmative action in college admissions, Accessed December 31, 2013, "... it amounts to a warning to colleges nationwide that the courts will treat race-conscious admissions policies with a high degree of skepticism ..."
- "Some Asians' college strategy: Don't check 'Asian'". USA Today. Associated Press. December 4, 2011. Retrieved December 12, 2011.
- Daniel E. Slotnik (February 8, 2012). "Do Asian-Americans Face Bias in Admissions at Elite Colleges?". The New York Times. Retrieved May 15, 2012.
- Kara Miller (February 8, 2010). "Do colleges redline Asian-Americans?". Boston Globe. Retrieved January 2, 2011.
- Andrew Lam, January 30, 2017, The New York Times, White Students' Unfair Advantage in Admissions, Retrieved January 31, 2017, "...There's ample evidence that Asian-Americans are at a disadvantage in college admissions..."
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 201.
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 118.
- "Trump administration dials back Obama-era affirmative action guidance".
- Green, Erica L.; Apuzzo, Matt; Benner, Katie (July 3, 2018). "Trump Officials Reverse Obama's Policy on Affirmative Action in Schools". The New York Times.
- "Trump administration revokes Obama-era guidance on race in admissions".
- "Trump Administration Will Roll Back Obama-Era Guidelines Encouraging Colleges to Consider Race in Admissions Process". July 3, 2018.
- Hernandez 2009, pp. 121–122.
- Neal Conan (January 15, 2004). "Analysis: College admissions and legacies". NPR Talk of the Nation (via Highbeam Research). Archived from the original on April 9, 2016. Retrieved August 20, 2012.
... it can mean as much as 100 or 200 points on the SATs, ...
- Dunbar 2007, p. 166.
- Golden, Daniel (September 9, 2006). "How Lowering the Bar Helps Colleges Prosper". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved June 10, 2012.
- Jacques Steinberg; Katie Zezima (May 18, 2010). "Campuses Ensnared by 'Life of Deception'". The New York Times. Retrieved May 15, 2012.
- "Georgetown moves to expel two students in aftermath of ..." Retrieved September 21, 2019.
- "Yale rescinds admission of a student whose family paid $1.2 million to get her in". Retrieved September 21, 2019.
- "Stanford expels student admitted with falsified sailing credentials". www.stanforddaily.com. Retrieved September 21, 2019.
- "Harvard rescinded admission for racist comments. It wasn't the first time". www.cnn.com. Retrieved September 21, 2019.
- "Harvard Rescinds Acceptances for At Least Ten Students for Obscene Memes". Retrieved September 21, 2019.
- Tanya Caldwell (June 18, 2012). "University Sends 'Fear of God' Letter to Students With Senioritis". The New York Times. Retrieved June 22, 2012.
College-bound seniors beware: ... failing grades ... your university may soon threaten to rescind your admission ...
- "On College: Think hard and rationally before appealing a UC school's denial of admission". Retrieved September 21, 2019.
- "Admissions Decision Appeal". admissions.wvu.edu. Retrieved September 21, 2019.
- Note: figure for Fall 2010 admission cycle was 48% of colleges using wait lists.
- Jacques Steinberg (April 13, 2010). "For Students, a Waiting List Is Scant Hope". The New York Times. Retrieved December 12, 2011.
- Lynn O'Shaughnessy (April 9, 2010). "Getting Off a College Wait List: 5 Things to Do Now". CBS News. Retrieved December 31, 2011.
- Zach Miners (April 9, 2010). "You've Been Put on the Wait List for College. Now What?". US News. Retrieved December 31, 2011.
- "University of Pennsylvania Common Data Set 2018-19" (PDF). Retrieved September 21, 2019.
- "Tulane Common Data Set 2018-19". Retrieved September 21, 2019.
- "University of Oregon Common Data Set 2018-19" (PDF). Retrieved September 21, 2019.
- Scott Jaschik (April 4, 2011). "The Other 'Summer Melt' in Admissions". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved December 12, 2011.
- Scott Jaschik; Kevin Kiley (May 5, 2011). "Private colleges try to round out fall's enrollment into summer". USA Today. Retrieved December 12, 2011.
- Note: wait list admits are the number of students initially put on the wait list, who were eventually offered admission and who accepted this offer.
- "Vanderbilt 2018-19 Common Data Set" (PDF). Retrieved September 21, 2019.
- Tracy Jan (April 18, 2009). "Students hope to beat college waiting list". The Boston Globe. Retrieved December 31, 2011.
- David Moltz (February 18, 2010). "More private colleges court community college transfers". USA Today. Retrieved May 19, 2012.
- Lynn O'Shaughnessy (November 16, 2010). "Transfer Students: 8 Things You Need to Know". US News. Retrieved May 18, 2012.
- Bill Schackner (March 28, 2012). "Transfers a hot commodity for colleges". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved May 18, 2012.
- Roman, Marcia A. (January 1, 2007). "Community College Admission and Student Retention". Journal of College Admission (via Highbeam Research). Archived from the original on January 25, 2013. Retrieved August 20, 2012.
Community colleges enroll nearly half the undergraduates in the U.S.
- Kim Clark (January 16, 2009). "Obama's Lessons for Transfer Students: His former roommate talks about what he and Obama learned about switching between colleges". US News. Retrieved May 18, 2012.
- Tim Barker (February 5, 2012). "Meet the transfers – they are academic nomads: Schools, government seek to streamline system to help more students make switch to four-year colleges, keep credit hours they have earned". St. Louis Today. Retrieved May 19, 2012.
- Coates, Ken; Morrison, Bill (2015). What to Consider If You're Considering College: New Rules for Education and Employment. Dundurn. ISBN 978-1459723726.
- Dunbar, Donald (2007). What You Don't Know Can Keep You Out of College. Gotham Books. ISBN 978-1-59240-302-8.
- Hernandez, Michele A. (2009). A is for Admission: The Insider's Guide to Getting into the Ivy League and Other Top Colleges. Grand Central Publishing. ISBN 978-0-446-54067-4.
- Mamlet, Robin; Vandevelde, Christine (2011). College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step. New York: Three Rivers Press. ISBN 978-0-307-59032-9.