Perhaps one of the greatest triumphs for my son as a senior in high school was getting admitted into all five colleges he applied to. The improbability of going five for five was magnified when I learned that so many of his peers were routinely rejected for their first college choice along with their back up selection. Then I realized that my son had strategically selected the colleges he applied to in order to increase his potential for getting admitted. He approached his college selection like an odds maker filling out a bracket for college basketball’s March Madness.
Strategically selecting colleges to increase admissions offers
First of all, my son is smart, but he’s not a genius. He has gotten good grades and did well on the SATs, but those achievements came with the serious cost of virtually no social life outside of cross country or track practice. He routinely does homework until midnight every evening during the school week. He knows his strengths and weaknesses of both his cognitive skills and his personality traits.
What do you want in a college?
When it came to apply to college he did a lot of research on each college or university that he was marginally interested in. Colleges that grabbed his attention were ones that met his four primary attributes he wanted in a college
- Small student to professor ratio
- A good science program
- Course offerings that would allow him to pursue his interest in Jazz music
- Division three athletic schools where his modest running skills would allow him to make the cross country team.
He created a spread sheet that listed twenty plus colleges that fit his criteria. Then he assigned a ranking to each college in a variety of different areas such as class size, location, financial aid, coaching staff, etc. The spreadsheet forced him to give careful consideration to some institutions that weren’t initially at the top of his list, but certainly met all of his conditions.
Investigate the college through social media
Just like an employer doing background research on a new applicant, he reviewed what students were saying about the different colleges online. The research on the student body and the overall atmosphere allowed him to judge whether some schools would be a good fit for his personality. While my some wants to have fun in college, he’s not interested in a party school. Conversely, he doesn’t want to attend a school where the students repeatedly write that the college is where fun goes to die.
Study admission statistics for clues
The most interesting, and I think sophisticated, part of my son’s college application selection was the research on the college’s admissions statistics. He downgraded colleges and universities where it appeared a student of his background and educational achievement would be less likely to be offered admission. For example, at universities where you must declare a major, he might lose out to more qualified students because of the limited number of slots in the major program.
Let your research guide you
My son’s extensive research led him to favor private colleges over public institutions. From a financial standpoint, he knew that if he was offered admission, our family income and resources would trigger a generous offer of aid from the college. (Financial need blind admission was one of the characteristics in his rankings). As it turns out, private colleges are no more expensive than the public California State University or University of California systems in our state.
Diversity cuts both ways
While private colleges may admit students without regard for their ability to pay the tuition, it’s quite obvious that they are not color or gender blind. My son figured out that being a white boy would most likely get him negative points during the admission selection process at the colleges his research pointed him towards. I make that statement with no anger or frustration. Diversity is important on college campuses.
Did you excel in your environment?
To a certain extent, a white middle class male from an excellent school district should be able to demonstrate they took full advantage of their privileges. These young men should have high school grades and test scores that reflect the excellent educational opportunities and community in which they attend school. On paper, their educational achievements should exceed those of minority students, from lower income families, attending schools in communities challenged with crime, gangs and drugs.
College’s have subjective admissions criteria
After visiting numerous college campuses, talking with staff and witnessing the college admissions process in action, my son’s instincts were correct. The selection process is far more subjective than most people understand. What became apparent is that private colleges will lean toward applicants who are willing to commit early or have a probability of accepting admission because of campus visits or correspondence with staff.
How bad do want to attend the college and do they know it?
My son’s real interest in visiting college campuses before Thanksgiving was not to spend time with dear old dad; it was to score admission points on his application. He knew that good grades alone were no guarantee of being offered admission to the colleges on the top of his list. He realized he had the work the system by showing he was performing his due diligence. He had to show the colleges that he had selected them before they would consider selecting him.
Selections that got him admitted
All of my son’s research and work into the colleges paid off with him receiving no rejection notices. All of the time and energy filling out applications, writing essays and arranging letters of recommendation paid off. Every college application he sent out was returned with a letter offering admission. I can honestly say that he did learn critical thinking skills in high school.
He maximized his college application resources with a plan
It’s not important which colleges offered him admission. He did apply to colleges and universities in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania. While some of the schools are well known regionally, none of his choices were either Ivy League or prestigious public institutions. He would be happy attending any of the schools he applied to and being accepted to all of them makes the decision to select only one that much harder. The bigger lesson for him and me was that if you approach applying to college with a specific strategy for maximizing admission potential you will have a higher probability of receiving letters offering admission verses letters of rejection.