Cracking the College Code II

Examining the Reasons Behind Colleges’ Admissions Decisions in the Midst of Commitment Season


   As if the college code could not be more complex, it extends to bind the months of April and May in a seemingly impossible firewall that we can try our best to bypass. Even though we now finalize our college commitments and attempt to forget about any troubling aspects of the past, the code exacted its toll on many students for reasons evading common knowledge.

   This year marked the most competitive year on record for applicants whose eyes were set on highly selective schools. Harvard managed a 3.2% acceptance rate, closely followed by Yale at 4.5% and Brown at 5%. To figure out why, we must again attempt to crack the college code.

   The code begins with moderate generosity, giving us the obvious: selective schools in America are drawing from a larger applicant pool due to the abundance of colleges that stopped mandating entrance exams. Without these exams, more students apply, and students are more closely examined based on grades and extracurriculars instead of entrance exam scores.

   Even admissions officers seem bound to some area of the college code, for they are strapped for time when it comes to reading applications. As one can imagine, more applicants means more applications, which means less time to spend reading applications in detail. Basically, we really had to stand out, even on a quick read, if we wanted a chance.

   Back into the true confusion of the college code, there are certain characteristics of an applicant that certain colleges favor. As students, we likely are not supposed to know which college favors certain races, ethnicities, genders, or socioeconomic status, explaining our confusion regarding our college rejections.

   Children of faculty at given colleges, such as Harvard, account for a disproportionate percentage of all white students admitted to Harvard; so do applicants whose relatives have donated great sums of money to Harvard, according to a study in the National Bureau of Economic Research.

   And Harvard gets more dicey, as a 2013 study by the school itself found “low-income students with top academic scores had an admit rate of 24% compared with 15% for all other applicants.” Who knows, maybe Harvard changed their antics in the past nine years. Or maybe not.

   We can extrapolate these causes for so many applicant rejections to schools outside of the Ivy League club. UCLA received a record 149,700 applications this year, leading to the expected lack of time available for reviewing applications and inherent increased competition among students.

   Even after two attempts at breaking the code, there is no concrete formula for describing what exactly students need to do to gain admission or explaining why exactly students get rejected from their dream schools. But we have an idea, the first step to finding a reliable strategy for navigating the college admissions process.