More Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Better in the Application Process

By Elizabeth LaScala, PhD

As a college admissions advisor in Lafayette I am often asked “If 10 percent of applicants are accepted to the most selective schools, doesn’t that mean I will have a better than 1 in 10 chance of getting into one of them if I apply to all of them?”

Many college-bound high school students would like to think this was true, but unfortunately, applying to more highly selective schools (schools with ultra-low acceptance rates) does not increase your chances of being accepted to one of them. If we college advisors could dispel the “more is better” myth and guide students toward selecting colleges that are their best matches, families would enjoy far less stress and far better results every spring.

College admissions rates have little to do with the probability you will be admitted to any school. If a college has a 10 percent admit rate and someone applies with a 3.7 GPA or even a 4.0, middling essays, a few extracurricular activities but nothing remarkable, and no legacy, athletic or other “hook,” he would not have a 1 in 10 chance of admission. This student likely would have a zero chance of admission. No matter how many schools with low admit rates that student applies to, there is very little chance of admission. A 10 percent admit rate does not mean every applicant has a 1 in 10 chance of admission. It means that 100 (or slightly fewer) of 1000 applicants could be offered admission; 900 will not.

Each college application is unique. Each application to each college that a student has on her list is independent of each of the other applications submitted. Admissions officers at highly selective colleges will expect to see high quality as a foundation to any application. A serious candidate is expected to provide a very strong high school transcript, test scores that positively correlate with the excellence achieved on the transcript, well- written, well-conceived essays that show an authentic voice and respond fully to the prompt, and a sincere, consistent demonstrated interest in their school. Other factors include a very strong record of extracurricular involvements that build upon the applicant’s special abilities and talents (sometimes known as “hooks”) and personal and career-related interests. For the most selective schools, talents and achievements should be recognized beyond the local and regional levels.

It should be noted, however, that each admissions office considers how these achievements and strengths relate to the type of class that college is constructing that cycle. Most highly selective colleges craft classes with eyes towards having a diversity of students with a variety of academic interests and talents. When so many applicants have the same interests — for example, going pre-law or pre-med or pursuing a degree in engineering — it would not be surprising for an admissions office to choose those who present the best credentials as well as the strongest hooks.

College advisors can best help their students by analyzing and understanding admissions trends as well as the cultures at highly selective schools. They can also help them to understand that, even when their credentials are strong, they must present them well and with authenticity in essays and interviews. College advisors can help their students to understand the level of competition that they face from peers nationally and worldwide that they do not know. Most important, independent educational consultants can help their students to understand that their best matches will include colleges where the odds of gaining admission are far more in their favor, and they can enjoy four happy, successful and productive years.

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