Accept both realities

I suspect that the headline of a recent piece in The Atlantic, “The Two Most Important College-Admissions Criteria Now Mean Less,” will draw plenty of eager eyes from students and parents looking to decode the process and strategize their way to an offer of admission. And unfortunately, they’ll likely ignore these passages that reveal two important college admissions realities.

“When [highly selective] schools with anywhere from several hundred to a couple thousand slots are picking from tens of thousands of applicants, a good amount of deciding who gets in is going to be arbitrary.”

It’s not because the process is rigged or fundamentally unjust. It’s just reached the point where there are too many students with top (or perfect) grades and test scores to offer admission on meritocracy alone.

But there’s good news.

Eighty percent of American colleges accept more than half of their applicants, but at the country’s most selective schools, there is something of a merit crisis: As test scores and GPAs hold less sway, admissions offices are searching for other, inevitably more subjective metrics.”


“More than 1,000 colleges nationwide have come to a similar conclusion about standardized tests, having dropped them as an admissions requirement. That number includes even some selective campuses such as George Washington, Wake Forest, and Wesleyan.”

Reality #1: There is no magic formula for admission to highly selective colleges, including performing with perfection both in and out of the classroom. Not many students can achieve at that level in high school. But those who do all seem to apply to the same colleges.

Reality #2: Most of the colleges in this country admit the majority of their applicants. All that bad news is limited to a fairly short list of schools.

You’ll enjoy a more successful, less stressful college application process if you accept both realities.