The Importance of Ignoring Much of What Admissions Officers Say

Admissions Officers, Admissions Officers Lie, University Admissions Officers

College admissions officers often don’t tell it like it is, though there are exceptions — like the University of Pennsylvania’s straight-shooting Eric Furda (photo credit: Bryan Y.W. Shin).

One of the most common refrains we hear from students and parents goes something likes this: “But an admissions officer said so!” We nod…for quite a while. And we watch, silently. We watch as the parent and student come to the realization themselves that what the admissions officer said doesn’t actually hold true. You see, college admissions officers are marketers. Their task is to try to sway as many students to apply to their institution as possible. And why? The more students who apply, the lower the admission rate will be, and the higher the institution will be ranked in the annual “US News & World Report” college rankings. In the end, it’s all about the rankings. So it should come as little surprise that college admissions officers so often don’t tell it like it is. But, wait, college admissions officers lie? Yes, yes, yes! Of course they lie.

College Admissions Officers Are Marketers

Would a college admissions officer ever articulate that a college cares about its ranking in “US News & World Report”? No. Of course not. Does every college care about its ranking in “US News & World Report”? Yes. Of course. Would a college admissions officer ever say that the children of major donors to a university can have a significant advantage? Likely not. Do they? Of course they can (although there’s more to it than just donating money — there should be a connection to the school, a history of giving, etc.). Would a college admissions officer ever say that Asian Americans are discriminated against in the highly selective college admissions process? Likely not. Are Asian Americans discriminated against in the admissions process? You bet, though not for the reasons that many assert. Are most highly selective colleges truly need-blind? Of course not. If they were, then why are admissions officers privy to the answer to the prompt that asks students if they need financial aid? Bueller?…Bueller?

College Admissions Officers Don’t Know What They Want

When students of ours tell us that they attended an information session at a certain university and the admissions officer expressed how important it is to articulate a certain something in an admissions essay, we often share with these students the story of Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs, the great American innovator, didn’t poll people at the grocery store about how the iPhone should be designed. He didn’t ask people on the street what fonts they prefer on their iPads. He made decisions based on his own experiences, his own intuitions, his own expertise. We don’t pay much mind to what admissions officers say they’re looking for in applications. The fact is — they don’t know what they want and what they think they want is not actually what they want. Our students give them what they actually want. And then our students so often receive handwritten notes from these very admissions officers after earning admission to their dream schools, notes that articulate how much they loved certain parts of their applications.


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