The Ivy Coach Daily

May 12, 2024

5 Lies Perpetuated by College Admissions Officers

Students sit on the library steps at Columbia.

Previously Published on May 31, 2018:

It’s a refrain we’ve heard so many times before: “But an admissions officer said so.” Oh? If an admissions officer said so, then it follows that it must be the case? No. If p, then not necessarily q. 

You see, admissions officers, even those at our nation’s most elite universities, tell untruths. Sometimes, admissions officers know they’re telling untruths; other times, they’ve told these untruths so often (and been told these untruths by their superiors) that they start believing what they speak. It’s, in many ways, a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Over the years, we at Ivy Coach have not been shy to speak truth to power and to call out admissions officers for perpetuating falsehoods about the highly selective college admissions process. After all, these falsehoods only make the process more stressful for all.

So, what are some of these lies that admissions officers perpetuate? While there are many, we thought we’d zero in on five.

5 Debunked Lies Preserved by College Admissions Officers

1. The “Need-Blind” Lie

We do not consider your ability to pay when weighing your case for admission.”

If a college truly did not consider a student’s ability to pay when weighing their case for admission, then why do these same schools ask on their supplements if students require financial aid? Why would this not be on a separate document that the admissions officers weighing a student’s case for admission could never see?

Also, if a school was genuinely “need blind,” they’d risk dipping into their endowment and eventually going broke. After all, colleges — even those with the largest endowments — rely on tuition dollars. At many of our nation’s elite schools, even the total cost of tuition doesn’t cover the expense of four years of educating a student.

So, imagine if a school admitted a class in which most students needed financial aid — a risk they’d run if they were genuinely need-blind. They’d be in quite the pickle. But colleges would never be in such a pickle, and that’s because need-blind admissions is a total, absolute, utter lie. Should we add an exclamation point to drive our point home?

2. The Legacy Lie

 “The edge for legacy applicants is essentially a tie-breaker. If two students are equal in all areas and one student is legacy and one is not, only then will the legacy earn admission over the non-legacy.”

Nonsense! When around 20% of Early admits to so many highly selective universities that consider legacy admission are the sons, daughters, and grandchildren of alumni, the tie-breaker argument rings false.

If legacy status in admissions were truly inconsequential, then surely a fifth of all Early admits to highly selective universities would not be the children and grandchildren of a school’s alumni base.

And let us not forget that flagged and tagged development cases are often legacy applicants, too. The notion that the child of an alum — an alum who has donated tens of millions of dollars to a university — is on more or less equal footing with a non-legacy applicant is laughable.

From atop Ivy Coach’s soapbox in college admissions, we’ve been calling for an end to the practice of legacy admission for many years. We don’t plan on backing down anytime soon — especially with hope on the horizon.

After it was announced in July 2023 that legacy admission at Harvard was under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education, the school announced in October 2023 that it would consider eliminating the practice. And while Harvard has, as of the time of this writing, yet to do away with legacy admission, where Harvard goes, the rest of our nation’s top schools tend to follow.

3. The All High Schools Are Created Equal Lie

“It doesn’t matter where a student attends high school. It’s all about the student and how competitive they are as an applicant.”

That’s funny. A high school’s relationship with a given college matters a great deal. After all, all high schools are not created equal. A student with perfect grades from a high school that doesn’t place a whole lot of students at top colleges isn’t on equal footing with one from a top school — public or private — who also happens to have perfect grades.

The student from the top school has the edge. If this were not the case, so many students from schools like Exeter, Harvard-Westlake, and Stuyvesant would not earn admission each year to America’s elite institutions (although side note, some of their students get some terrible advice — it’s why we at Ivy Coach have worked with so many students from these schools over the years).

4. The Demonstrated Interest Lie

Students don’t have to visit to show interest. We don’t measure Demonstrated Interest.”

Uh huh. Just about every highly selective college is insecure. These schools want to ensure that an applicant loves them over all other schools. After all, a low yield will adversely impact a school’s all-important US News & World Report ranking.

If a school has an Early Decision program, that’s undoubtedly one way of showing interest — but there are other ways, too (e.g., citing specific after specific in Why College essays, visiting the school in person).

The only school in America that can credibly make the argument that they don’t care about whether or not you express interest in them is Harvard. And that’s because Harvard knows that students tend to go to Harvard if they get into Harvard. Harvard’s secure like that. It’s Harvard. The most insecure school? That would be Emory in our book. Sorry, Emory.

5. The Asian American Discrimination Lie

Asian American applicants don’t face discrimination in the admissions process.”

Riiiiiight. While we’ve very publicly disagreed with how some Asian American groups have tried to combat this discrimination (through the courts rather than through the populace), we have shouted from atop our soapbox in college admissions for many years about the very real discrimination too many Asian American applicants face in the process. 

The fact is admissions officers so often don’t even realize it when they’re stereotyping an applicant.

When so many Asian American applicants present similar profiles to college admissions officers — and they so often do — admissions officers weigh one Asian American applicant up against the next. And that shouldn’t be.

Of course, our Asian American students at Ivy Coach don’t face this problem since our students present as wonderfully weird. They certainly don’t present with profiles similar to those of many other Asian American applicants. When they zig, our students at Ivy Coach — Asian American and otherwise — zag.

Ivy Coach’s Assistance Navigating the Lies of Admissions Officers

Ivy Coach’s Strategy Session is a good place to start if you’re having difficulty understanding what’s true and what’s not true in the highly selective college admissions process. In many ways, our Strategy Session is a reality check and an optimized go-forward plan for your child. If you’re interested in learning more about Ivy Coach’s Strategy Session, fill out our complimentary consultation form, and we’ll be in touch.

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