Beyond college status symbols

College counselors remind students to, aside from ranking and prestige, consider factors like clubs and programs when making application decisions

National ranking. Acceptance rate. School pride. Intramurals. Internship programs.

These factors, which seniors consider when applying for college, range in their excitement factor as well as their importance to each student. While a top national ranking and a low acceptance rate may be glamorous and while applicants may feel pressured to aspire to a “top” university, things like clubs and intramurals factor more heavily, as they are what will shape your experience both from day to day and overall.

“When it comes to picking a college and deciding where you want to go,” said College and Guidance Counselor Kristin Overton, “you have to worry less about how many students are going to be accepted there and worry more about ‘Is that school going to be able to provide what you want to get out of your college experience?’”

Additionally, just as there are many things that students look at when evaluating a college, there is even more that colleges look at when evaluating students for admission.

In an article for Stanford Magazine, Ivan Maisel writes this, “The goal of this piece is to demystify college admissions at Stanford, because explaining nuclear physics is just too simple. Clarifying Middle East politics, solving the Riemann hypothesis, defining love—anyone can do that. Let’s tackle a subject with some heft to it.”

Though Maisel is exaggerating, his hyperbole draws attention to the fact that the process of college admissions is exceedingly complicated. Stanford itself had a 4.8 percent acceptance rate in 2016.

Clearly, there is much more going on in the admissions departments of many institutions of higher education than can be easily explained. The real trick is to set yourself up as well as possible for success in the admissions process.

“The biggest thing a student can do for themselves is to be as academically rigorous in an appropriate way for them,” said Overton. “I’m not saying take AP [classes] just to take AP, but take AP in classes of interest to you that you’re good at. Participate in extracurriculars, whether that is music or athletics or whatever it may be. Volunteer. That way you are going into it as strong a candidate as you possibly can be.”

However, even if you have done everything in your power – taken challenging courses, done well in them, scored well on standardized tests, have solid extra-curriculars and worked as hard as you can – there are many schools that will still deny you admission.

Regardless of whether you are qualified to attend the school or not, many colleges just don’t have the room to admit all the qualified applicants.

“I went to a Claremont-McKenna breakfast two weeks ago,” said Overton. “And [a representative] said a third of their admits are athletics, another third are international, and that leaves the remaining third for everybody else. Within that third, you take into consideration legacy, you take into consideration donors and then the ‘normal kids’. It is a crapshoot. It just is.”

Claremont McKenna, in Claremont, Calif., is ranked in the top 10 for all liberal arts colleges in the United States and has an 11 percent acceptance rate. That means that 3.7 percent of “normal” students applying there every year have a shot at getting in. After factoring in students with legacy at the school and those whose parents or relatives have donated sums, the fraction is even smaller.

However, there are schools with similar systems and even lower acceptance rates all around the nation.

“The part about it that’s really hard to explain to students,” said Overton, “sometimes it comes across as a comfort and sometimes it comes across as an annoying reality check, which is that a lot of it is out of your control. As long as you set yourself up to be looked at in the best possible light, that is really all you can do.”

So when considering colleges or when reading the letters of rejection that all students are bound to receive as collateral in the admissions process, remember that college is a crapshoot. This does not mean, though, that the student has no control.

If they take into account the various factors that will most benefit them through their college experience and do what they can to look as good as possible in the application process, they will have done everything in their power to ensure that they end up at a college that will work for them.


About Elliot Dorow Hovland

Elliot is a sophomore staff writer and, along with Kenny Kiratli, the co-creator and co-host of the Minnehaha Talon Podcast. Elliot plays on the soccer, hockey, and golf teams and is interested in engineering and the environment.

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