The Gospel According to Admissions Officers

Admissions officers don’t always tell it like it is (photo credit: Bryan Y.W. Shin).

“But an admissions officer said so.” It’s a popular refrain we hear from students and parents. Maybe the admissions officer told you that their university doesn’t take into account financial need when weighing your case for admission. Maybe the admissions officer told you that if your high school doesn’t offer a rigorous curriculum, it won’t be held against you. Maybe the admissions officer told you not to submit a letter after being deferred or waitlisted. Perhaps the popular quote sometimes attributed to Mark Twain that goes, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics” should instead go, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and things admissions officers say.”

It should be noted that admissions officers are representatives of businesses. The businesses, of course, are universities. As Jeffrey Selingo eloquently writes in his book Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside Admissions, “‘Colleges are a business,’ Richard Whiteside, the former admissions dean at Tulane, told me before he died in 2019, ‘and admissions is its chief revenue source.’ While many people initially enter the admissions profession to serve the needs of students, they soon find out that selling the college is a necessity in an increasingly competitive industry. Admissions counselors are salespeople pitching a product to students, employed by colleges that need to meet a bottom line.” Can we get an amen?

So the next time an admissions officer tells you that you will be at no disadvantage for not writing the optional essays or that the university in no way discriminates against Asian American applicants, just think hard about what you’ve just been told. Allow your own instincts to consider if what you’ve been told serves the university. And then consider whether or not it might be true. Admissions officers, of course, do tell the truth from time to time. But they also tell untruths to serve their institutions.

 
 

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