The Ivy Coach Daily

June 1, 2024

College Admission and Luck: How Random Is Admission?

Students with backpacks walk through a hallway of MIT.

Increasingly slim acceptance rates at elite universities across America are bound to drive some jaded applicants to look for answers. Those who face rejection from their dream schools will buy stock in the idea that admission to highly selective colleges is essentially a shot in the dark — a random process that picks winners and losers with as much deliberation as a roll of the dice. But we at Ivy Coach are here to dispel this idea. College admissions comes down to a variety of quantifiable factors. An applicant is merely the sum of the different parts of their application. That’s why we at Ivy Coach are able to predict who will get in where with such high accuracy. It’s not easy for some to hear that there is very little randomness in the college admissions process, but it’s the truth!

Which Factors are Major Predictors of Elite College Admission?

Each highly selective college in the nation uses a very similar formula to sift through their immense applicant pools. Take Harvard, for example. The vast majority of admitted applicants in the Class of 2027 — three out of every four, to be exact — had a 4.0 GPA in high school. 92.2% graduated in the top tenth of their high school class. Grades aren’t everything (most schools use terms like “holistic” and “contextual” to describe how they view each applicant with a three-dimensional lens that balances any academic discrepancies with strengths in other areas), but having anything less than stellar grades significantly decreases an applicant’s chances of admission at Ivy League-caliber schools.

Competitive applicants uniformly perform well on standardized tests, take the most rigorous high school coursework available to them (and then some!), have stellar recommendations from their teachers, and write compelling essays that give admissions officers a look at who they really are and how they hope to change the world. The written component is one of the most important aspects of the application, as it is where an applicant’s singular hook must shine through. “Well-rounded” doesn’t cut it. Students matriculating to elite schools have used their time in high school to become experts and specialists of their unique thing, and they mold their entire applications around this passion. 

Which Factors are Left to Chance in the Admissions Process?

Of course, a small degree of luck is required to get an application in front of the most ideal reader. For example, an LGBTQ+ applicant is better off being evaluated by an LGBTQ+ reader, who will root for their admissions case, while the reader who woke up on the wrong side of the bed that morning might bring more scrutiny to whichever applications they happen to read that day. But even this limited variability is checked and balanced by admissions processes that have been specifically designed to cut out randomness.

Let’s say the LGBTQ+ reader is overly exuberant about a mediocre applicant simply because of this shared affinity. Or conversely, let’s take the case of the reader who is overly harsh on one applicant because of the mood they happen to be in that day. In either case, the reader will face pushback from other admissions officers who have read the same application and have a different take on things. Such disagreements are good. They ensure that an application is being handled fairly and objectively. At most elite schools, if two officers disagree over a student’s case for admission, the application goes to the admissions committee in the last couple weeks of the round. The committee will render the most democratic decision possible, and their word is final.

Predictable Admissions Means You Are in Control of Your Destiny

Ambitious high schoolers should receive the news that college admissions is entirely predictable with excitement. It means that it’s entirely within your power to craft the strongest application possible. Ivy Coach has a consistent track record of helping our clients earn admission to the top schools because of this very predictability. We understand what plays well on applications, optimizing a student’s chance of admission to their dream school.

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