Institutional Priorities: Why a 'Perfect' Applicant on Paper Might Not Get Accepted

Institutional Priorities: Why a 'Perfect' Applicant on Paper Might Not Get Accepted

While good grades, test scores, and extracurriculars are important for getting into a great college, there's another key factor that plays an important role in admissions decisions: institutional priorities.

While most of us believe that the 'best' applicants are chosen for college, the black box operating behind the scenes makes it impossible for outsiders to guess what makes an applicant appealing to a certain college.

Colleges have specific goals and directives from leadership on shaping each incoming class. These could include:

  • 🌐 Enrolling more students from certain geographic regions
  • ⚽ Recruiting athletes for specific sports
  • 🎻 Admitting students with specialized talents, like in music or unusual hobbies, such as hot-air ballooning
  • 🌍 Increasing racial, socioeconomic or international diversity
  • 💼 Filling undersubscribed academic programs
  • 🔑 Admitting legacies or potential donors
  • 💵 Ability to pay full tuition

These behind-the-scenes priorities can sometimes result in seemingly qualified students being denied, while others getting acceptance letters. These choices are often not a reflection of the applicant, but rather the college's needs for that particular year.

Key takeaways

Institutional priorities are an X-factor you can't fully control. And frequently, it can be impossible to find out what they are. (In general, though, more selective colleges tend to prefer more unique applicants when possible.)

When applying to college, focus on presenting an authentic profile highlighting your unique strengths and interests. With a balanced college list, you're likely to find a great fit aligned with your goals.

While the admissions process has become more complex post-COVID, understanding these priorities can provide helpful context. As you apply, trust that you'll find the right college for you, one that appreciates your unique contributions and aspirations.

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