What College

A rare, behind-the-scenes look at the ever-evolving – and sometimes totally random –
world of college acceptances. Duke says no; Harvard says yes. Georgetown says no;
Amherst says yes. Go figure.

I admit, I’m a curious person. Whenever we visit a college and take a tour, I always ask the student tour guide, “What’s the question you get asked most often?”

Their reply almost always is, “Where else did you apply and where else did you get accepted?”

Unfortunately for inquisitive parents, most colleges forbid their tour guides from divulging such information. Evidently colleges fear it might reveal a secret about their admission policy. Or perhaps they want parents to believe that every one of their students had their college as their number one and only choice.

Silly wabbits.

Don’t worry. What they won’t reveal, I will. Below are actual, real-life acceptance/denial reports for six students. Four are from New Jersey, and one is from New York. For privacy reasons, I’m not going to use their real names and hometowns. I’ll give you their GPA and test scores, so you can get a snapshot picture of their academic level.

One important caveat: I’m not including the essay or recommendations—two extremely important factors in the college admissions game. But there’s no way to do that here, and we wouldn’t anyway for privacy reasons. That said, here’s a rare look behind the curtain.

High School Student #1: Alisha (not her real name)
Hometown: New Jersey

GPA: 3.4       SAT: 1440       ACT: 21

Colleges Applied To Result
University of Massachusetts Amherst Attending
Seton Hall University Accepted
Western New England College Accepted
Boston College Denied
Boston University Denied
Clark University Denied
Northeastern University Denied
Ramapo College Denied
University of Vermont Denied

High School Student #2: Chris (not his real name)
Hometown: New Jersey

GPA: 3.4 / 4.5 (weighted)       SAT: 1890

Colleges Applied To Result
Villanova University Attending
Stevens Institute of Technology Accepted
University of Connecticut Accepted
University of Maryland Accepted
University of Pennsylvania Denied

High School Student #3: Diane (not her real name)
Hometown: New York

GPA: 3.34 / 4.24 (weighted)       SAT: 2080

Colleges Applied To Result
Bates College Waitlisted/ Attending
Carnegie Mellon University Accepted
Denver University Accepted
St. Andrews (Scotland) Accepted
George Washington University Waitlisted
Boston College Denied
Bowdoin College Denied
Tufts University Denied

High School Student #4: Rachel (not her real name)
Hometown: TN

GPA: 3.85       SAT: 2320       ACT: 35

Colleges Applied To Result
Harvard College Attending
Bryn Mawr College Accepted
Tufts University Accepted
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill Accepted
Vanderbilt University Accepted
Washington University in St. Louis Accepted
Wellesley College Accepted
Brown University Waitlisted
Duke University Denied
Yale University Denied

High School Student #5: Mark (not his real name)
Hometown: New Jersey

GPA: 3.80 / 4.3 (weighted)       SAT: 2010

Colleges Applied To Result
Washington and Lee University Attending
American University Accepted
Bentley College Accepted
Fairfield University Accepted
Loyola College (Maryland) Accepted
Villanova University Accepted
Wheaton College Accepted
Boston College Waitlisted
Lehigh University Waitlisted
Tufts University Deferred/ Denied

High School Student #6: Dustin (not his real name)
Hometown: New Jersey

GPA: 3.7 (weighted)       SAT: 2230       ACT: 33

Colleges Applied To Result
Amherst College Attending
Bowdoin College Accepted
Claremont McKenna College Accepted
Colby College Accepted
Rollins College Accepted
Rutgers Accepted
University of Richmond Accepted
University of the Sciences (Philadelphia) Accepted
Bates College Waitlisted
Cornell University Waitlisted
Emory University Waitlisted
Pomona College Waitlisted
Dartmouth College Denied
Georgetown University Denied
University of Pennsylvania Denied
Yale University Denied

What lessons can we learn from this cursory glance behind the curtain? Some takeaways to remember:

  • Don’t be intimidated in choosing your “reach” schools… After all, who would have thought that a student denied by Duke would be welcomed by Harvard? Or that a student turned down by Ramapo College would find a home at Seton Hall? When picking “reach” schools, go ahead and reach for the moon. That’s why they call them “reach” schools.
  • Make sure you spend the necessary time preparing each application to give yourself the best chance at acceptance (get coaching if you need to because there is a right way and a wrong way to complete applications). Admission officers really do consider the merits of each and every application. For a most excellent book on the thinking and modus operandi of admissions officers, I recommend Jacques Steinberg’s The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College.
  • Learn the proven, effective ways to showcase your strengths (or hire someone to do this for you) and go with them.
  • People have different comfort levels about the number of schools they apply to. We’ve seen students apply to as few as one college and as many as 20. Narrowing down the field is part of the college preparation process. Applying to 20 colleges is overkill, not to mention costly. We recommend applying to 2-3 reach schools, 2-3 comfort schools and 2-3 safety schools.
  • How do you explain a “yes” from Amherst and a “no” from Georgetown? A thumbs-up from Carnegie Mellon University and a thumbs-down from Bowdoin College? These vagaries indicate just how vital the essay is in influencing your acceptance, as well as recommendations and extracurricular activities.

Copyright © 2011 Complete College Planning Solutions, LLC  -  500 Morris Ave., Suite 205, Springfield, NJ 07081
Ian R. Welham, Certified College Planning Advisor  -  Tel: 973.467.0101