Nowadays, we hear about high school seniors who were at the very top of their class and had near-perfect scores getting rejected by top universities, besides being “top students”. This has created a ton of controversy as people wonder what is currently happening in the college admissions process. This is because traditionally, college admission was mainly focused on a student’s academic performance, and many decades ago, perfect academic statistics were almost considered a one way ticket to elite institutions.
This, however, has changed over the years. It is partly because the majority of American universities and colleges have received a huge increase in applicants in comparison to 10 or 20 years ago, and yet most of them continue to have the same slots, therefore lowering the acceptance rate. This is because education is much more accessible now than it was decades ago, and many more people, including international students, are opting for an American education because of the quality of studies, professors and experience. Now, all of these applicant pools have thousands of prospective students with straight A’s. In fact, the US alone has over 26,000 schools, most of which have one or multiple valedictorians. So, as impressive as it is, being a perfect student does not guarantee you’ll stand out during the college process. Therefore, universities take into great consideration all the other aspects of a college application, making it a more holistic process. They’ll look deeply into your personal essays and writing submissions, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities… Each university has different values that they look for in applicants, often leadership, diversity, and integrity. So, if you’re looking for high end results, whether that’s a competitive college or a scholarship, you should be able to show your ambition and drive throughout all or most of the aspects in your application and not only statistically.
One aspect that not many people realize is that quality will always be better than quantity. So many students aim for a dozen AP classes, over 5 clubs, and many volunteering projects, but it's important to note that admissions officers want to see how much impact you've had in a community, so, for instance, one big volunteering project that raised tons of money and helped hundreds of families or people in need will, on the long run, be perceived much better than multiple few-hour volunteering gigs that were not nearly as successful.
The best path to a favorable outcome is not to do what you think colleges will like, but to do what you genuinely like. You don’t need to take an overwhelming amount of advanced classes; taking the ones you are actually interested in and manifesting that interest in a passion project or extracurricular activity is just as good, if not better.
Many people have expressed negativity over this fact as there are so many academically accomplished kids all over the world who have proved to test well and to be in rigorous classes but have not received the decisions they wanted because of this shift in college admission. But it isn’t necessarily bad, in fact, lots of people see it as an improvement. Think about it, colleges care more and more about your history, and about how you see yourself, about what you’ve accomplished outside of an academic setting. This gives students a better opportunity to represent their values and their strengths, as well as showcase their dedication and commitment in their areas of interest. Let’s just say that the C’s or B’s you might’ve gotten throughout your high school career do not automatically fluke your chance at your dream university, as a devoted and impressive extracurricular will most probably make up for it.
Having said all this, it is extremely important to remember that the college undergraduate admission process is widely known for its randomness. A “target” school might’ve been a no, but maybe one of your “reach” schools will come in hand, you really never know. So, our best recommendation is to always go for it, even if it seems like a long shot, but to not have too many expectations or predictions; it is very likely things will get a turn. Also, keep in mind that the school you attend does not define you or your accomplishments and efforts. Always remember that if you don’t get the results you wanted, then maybe it wasn’t meant to be, and that the important part is not the school you commit to but what you make of it, so try to keep your head high, even if things don’t turn out how you imagined. At the end of the day, what makes the change is your mindset and attitude, not the rank of your school.