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!
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!