University Admissions Officers

There’s an opinion piece by John McAuliff of “USA Today College” that came out a couple of days ago that paints an interesting perspective of university admissions officers and the highly selective college admissions process. Unfortunately for readers, that picture is entirely inaccurate. You see, Mr. McAuliff seems to think that college applicants to highly competitive colleges with great SAT scores, great grades, and rigorous coursework with limited extracurriculars gain admission and students who devote themselves to an activity with only good grades and good SAT scores are denied admission.

Mr. McAuliff is basing this assertion on statistics from a 2008 National Association of College Admission Counseling survey with this finding: “Extra-curricular activities and work are important to just 6.5 percent and 1.9 percent of officers respectively.” There’s an old saying that goes nicely with this: “Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics.” Any good scientist must know the sampling population from which you’re aggregating your data. The 2008 NACAC survey is not simply a survey of highly selective college admissions officers. At the highly selective colleges, activities sure do matter and students with perfect or near perfect grades and SATs are denied admission all of the time!

College Admissions Counselors, Ivy League Admissions Officers, Ivy Admissions Officers, College Admissions Decisions

Students with perfect or near perfect grades and SATs are denied admission by university admissions counselors year in and year out.

In fact, the following image that Mr. McAuliff puts forth of the student who gets in is entirely false: “So what kind of person does a college admissions officer really want to admit? I’ll try to paint a picture. Student X has fantastic grades, excellent scores and has worked really hard to get there…Their SAT prep class forced them to drop their community service. They’ve never had a job because they’ve never had the time. In fact, student X hasn’t had the time to get out much at all. Every time they find something they’re is passionate about, mom and dad remind student X that the ideal student does nothing but study.”

The student who does nothing but studies in fact doesn’t stand a very good chance at all of getting into a highly selective college. And as for college essays, those matter too…contrary to the “USA Today College” opinion piece by Mr. McAuliff. What a student writes in college essays can mean the difference between getting in and getting denied. A college essay about working on your three-pointer so hard and eventually nailing a big three in OT isn’t going to cut it. Neither is a college essay about your grandmother’s death. And a college essay full of typos – much like the aforementioned opinion piece – says a lot about the student as well!

Read about more mistakes in college essays and check out this post on extracurricular activities.


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1 Comment

  • John McAuliff says:

    Hey Ivy Coach,

    Thanks for reading my article, and to be honest I agree with you! Plenty of college students who get into college are talented in the world of academics, extracurricular activities, and beyond. Anyone who suggests that “a student who does nothing but studies” will get into a top school doesn’t get out much. That much we both know!

    I’m not trying to attack admissions officers or students, and I’m not supporting the omniscient accuracy of statistics, what my article serves to point out is what admissions, in this survey, portray as the ideal student might lead students to do the wrong thing. The survey clearly points out that the most important things are GPA and test scores. Whether admissions officers really believe that, the act of them saying so can give students the wrong idea.

    So in fact the point you make in refute of my argument is actually a more concise way of pointing out the problem I tried to address! Statistics are misleading, and if admissions officers are misleading students, is that not a problem?

    Anyhow, it is really important to engage in discussions on these issues, so I’m glad you took up the perspective of highly selective schools. I didn’t consider the difference between the top schools and the rest when I wrote the article, preferring it to be read by a larger audience.

    Keep up the impressive work, based on your admissions numbers, I’ll be sure to recommend you if I know anyone looking for college consulting.


    John C. McAuliff

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