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Ask the Experts: College Acceptance

By Peterson's Staff updated on Sunday, January 27, 2013

Question If my SAT Math score does not seem to fall into the acceptable ranges of the Colleges I apply to, is there a great chance that I will not be accepted? - Nandita

 

AnswerThere is always a chance you won't be accepted at a college. It is usually hard to nail down exactly the reason you were not accepted — the decision is usually based on a combination of factors, as well as your overall place in that college's current applicant pool. You could be highly qualified on every count and still not make the cut.  

If your math score is significantly below a college's middle-fifty-percent range (the range in which half of entering students score), then that could be an issue for you. Depending on the level of selectivity of the colleges, this could be a reason they find not to admit you from a highly competitive pool. However, if you have many other strong things working for you in your application and background, a low math score usually won't prevent a college from admitting you if you are attractive to them in many other ways. Finally, we believe most colleges care far more about the critical reading, writing, and verbal area scores than they do about the math (provided you're not applying to an engineering or pre-med program, for example!).

 

Question I was wait listed by a school in March that i really want to attend. How long do you usually have to wait to hear from the school when wait listed? - vivek

 

AnswerColleges will usually wait until the May 1 Common Reply Date has passed to officially begin notifying candidates on the waiting list that they have been offered admission. Sometimes they creep in front of that date if they have the sense that their yield will be a little low and that they will likely be going to the wait list. You could hear from a college even during the summer if they have not closed the wait list and are experiencing "summer meltdown" — the loss of enrolled students for various reasons. Make sure to deposit at one school you have been admitted to, prior to May 1, so you don't lose your spot. You cannot count on a wait list admit.

 

Question If your child is not admitted what should be in the appeal letter and is it likely that this will work? - Christine

 

AnswerOnce admissions officers make their decisions, usually an agonizing experience for them when there are too many qualified candidates, they have to stand with this. If you feel that your daughter was well qualified for the college that rejected her, you can ask the high school guidance counselor to call the admissions office and inquire into the reasons for the decision. While it is not the same issue, many students will enroll in their next best choice of college and either be happy for four years or do well enough to be able to transfer to their first choice.

 

Question How does a rejection from a school affect my chances of getting into that school if I reapply a year later? How long do schools hold on to information like that? If I do reapply, what can I do to increase my chances for success the second time around? - Jason

AnswerYou can contact the particular college you want to attend and ask for a review of your application and credentials to determine what were the negative factors in your application that you can improve on. Many students have been successful in gaining admission to the college of their choice in a second attempt. What makes this possible can be the result of a number of factors, but here are the key ones that can make the difference:

1. Spending a year improving one's academic performance by studying in a local college as a visiting or part-time student or enrolling full time in a community college or other institution where the chances are of doing well, and then applying as a transfer student.

2. Working at a meaningful job or volunteering for a worthy nonprofit organization to demonstrate maturity, responsibility, and commitment.

3. Studying and practicing on admissions tests to improve one's scores while also doing either number 1 or number 2.

4. Completing a specific course that is a requirement for the particular department or school within the college to which you applied.

 

Question If I apply to three schools and I am rejected by one, do the other two know that? If so, how does that affect my chances at those schools? - Jason

 

AnswerThe notion that colleges share information with other colleges about applicants and take into consideration where else they have applied is simply not true. The National Association of College Admissions Counselors, a professional, nonprofit organization to which the great majority of colleges belong, has established rules on issues such as this. Sharing confidential information on applicants between colleges is strongly discouraged. Because no two colleges receive the same exact group of applicants in any given admissions cycle, an applicant may be admitted to one college but not to another, even though their general requirements are very similar. So, you will be reviewed and evaluated purely by each college on your own merits and in comparison to the other applicants to that individual college.

 

Question Hi, I've recently applied to two selectively competitive schools. One of them deferred me but called my school and requested that I take more honors classes and send them a copy of my new schedule and report card as soon as possible. The other one also deferred me but said that I had to apply for admission through an alternative process called the College Achievement Admissions Program. Does deferment always end in rejection or do I still have a chance? - Lys

AnswerDeferrals don't always end in rejections. Even the most selective colleges report admit rates of 10 to 20 percent of deferred applicants — about the same as their overall admissions odds. You should not give up, but should continue to communicate with the colleges about your interest level in them, and your ongoing academic and extracurricular work.

The very specific advice you got from your first college is classic. It confirms the fact that curriculum, followed by performance in that curriculum, is the number one thing in which colleges are interested. Good grades through the winter and spring are essential, and the college has given you a clue as to why you might have been deferred, and how you might get out of the deferral pool: consider ramping up your courses, if possible, in the spring. Now, it might not be possible, given the lateness of the year, the offerings available at your school, and your schedule. Make sure to send a letter to the college emphasizing your course choices and why you made them. If it is not possible to switch classes, explain why. 

The second college suggested a particular program with which we're not familiar. Call them for clarification as to what this is, and what it means for your admissions chances and process. Many colleges do offer alternative admissions opportunities, such as colleges of general studies that provide two years of general liberal arts coursework leading up to entrance to one of the professional schools or colleges of arts and sciences at the university. Other schools offer mid-year entrance (such as Middlebury and Colorado College). Others offer entrance after a semester or year of study at another college with good performance in a core curriculum (such as Cornell). You may read up on these possibilities and request to be considered for them at a college at which you have been deferred, or you may be offered something like that by a deferral college or another college during regular admissions.

 

Question No rejection, but deferral. It hurts just as bad to still not have the finality of either decision. What can I do to increase my chances of acceptance or brace myself for rejection? - Neelam

 

AnswerHere are some very important actions you can take: 

1. Send a personal note to the director of admission thanking him/her for considering your candidacy in the first place and indicate your strong continued interest in the institution. If a certain college is definitely your first choice, indicate that this is the case and that you will definitely enroll if accepted in the spring.

2. Reflect on your school performance over the late fall and winter term. Is there the possibility of any new teacher recommendations based on a strong performance since submitting your application in the early fall? Have you taken further admissions tests that you can send? Have you achieved any distinctions or leadership roles in school during this period to describe? Have you completed a significant academic project that you can describe, or even send, to the college? Have you been actively engaged in any new activities outside of school? Keep in mind that the admissions committees will now want to review your academic performance for the full semester, and possibly for the third term of school, so you want to do your best work.

 

Question Are your senior grades very critical in the whole college process? - Alexis

 

AnswerYes, your senior grades, especially the first semester grades are very important in the eyes of the admissions committees. You will notice that virtually every college requires that the first term of senior courses and grades be reported from the applicant's high school.

Because a student is closer to entering college, his or her performance is a major signal to the admissions committees of attitude and readiness for a mature commitment to higher level studies.

The spring term of senior grades can also have an influence on the decision to admit or deny the student. If you were to be waitlisted in the regular cycle of admissions, the committees would ask for your final grades before determining your fate. So, the myth that senior year does not count in getting accepted to college is just that, a myth!

 

Question I lived overseas my freshman, took no honors or AP courses during my sophomore year due to poor counseling and now take a couple of honors and AP courses in my junior year. My high school is not that competitive. How would you evaluate my chances of getting to a selective college? - Emerson

AnswerWe are always sorry to hear from a student that he or she did not get adequate counseling on appropriate academic courses to take over the four years of high school. The good news is the fact that you are taking honors and AP courses in your junior year. Try to put together an aggressive curriculum for your senior year to demonstrate to admissions committees that you are stretching yourself academically to the best of your ability. You can submit a note when you apply formally to colleges explaining the problem in your former high school. If you have some special areas of study in mind for college or your high school has only a limited number of advanced courses for your senior, you could enroll in college level courses over the summer or even in an evening program during the school year. You have ample time left by these measures to qualify for a selective college.

 

Question What is the best way to guarantee your admittance into a college prior to submitting an application? - Alison

 

AnswerThere is no way to guarantee admission anywhere! You can do your best to make sure you are in a college's ballpark in terms of courses, grades, and standardized test scores, and have developed a few key areas of interest, and have met or exceeded all of a college's requirements. You can try to talk with admissions officers about your fit for the college to get a sense that you're on the right track. You can write outstanding essays and put together a very good application. You can get outstanding teacher recommendations by trying your hardest in your classes. You can show a lot of interest in a college. But, you cannot guarantee admission, so you'll still need to consider a balanced list of colleges to apply to, all of which could fit you well and fulfill your interests.

 

Question i only want to go to this one school. I am applying for early decision. Now if I apply to this one school exclusively, will admissions take this into consideration as an example of my desire to attend the school? - nola

 

AnswerYou may be setting yourself up for a major disappointment. No college is going to take into consideration your decision to apply only to that particular college. If asked about this, an admissions officer would counsel you strongly to apply to a number of colleges. By applying on an early decision plan, you are making a clear statement to the college that it is your first choice and that you are committed to enrolling if accepted. The college will appreciate this commitment.

However, the committee can decide to take one of three courses of action: admit you (then you are safe), defer you and reconsider your qualifications in the regular application pool, or reject you outright. Many selective colleges now reject early decision candidates who they judge will not have any chance for acceptance later on. It is your responsibility, not the college in question, to safeguard against being left with no choice. So look for a group of colleges that have all or most of the characteristics of your first choice college.

 

Question Does it hurt your chances of getting in, if you do not apply early in the year for rolling admission? Does the school look at it as though you do not care as much? - john

 

AnswerYes. Colleges and universities utilizing rolling admission fill spaces as they progress through the year. Since the majority of students in America (some two-thirds of four-year college students) attend public colleges and universities, and these are the institutions that tend to use rolling admission, and many students who apply to their state's public universities identify that school as their top choice, and once those students are admitted they tend to put down deposits as early as possible in order to get preferential housing and other perks, and...well you can see that by January, let alone March, many of the more selective schools have filled most if not all of their spots. Some, like Wisconsin, for example in recent years, have then closed off new acceptances for part or all of the remainder of the year. So, it's best to get your rolling admission application in as soon as you can, provided that you have your test scores in good shape and are not depending on a huge increase in grades during senior fall.

 

Question Does coming from a private prep school in and of itself increase my chances of getting into highly selective colleges, all other factors aside? - Chantel

 

AnswerIndependent schools became known as prep schools in earlier generations because all students were "prepped" for admission into the more selective colleges. Some of the most elite colleges and universities once enrolled as many as two thirds of these prep school students. But with the growth over time of a much larger population of students entering college and the public schools providing a competitive college preparatory curriculum, the selective colleges did away with their own entrance exams and now rely on the SAT or ACT national testing as part of their admission criteria. Thus, private school students today compete for limited spaces in the selective colleges with well prepared public school students.

The admissions committees do not automatically give greater weight in acceptance to the prep school candidate. They are in the fortunate position of being able to accept the outstanding applicants from both categories. You may be more successful if you done well academically and taken advantage of the many outstanding resources of a good private school, and show signs of adding real value to the particular college's community.

 

Question Both of my parents went to USC. If I apply there, how much does that up my chances of getting in? - Doug

 

AnswerPretty significantly if you look at overall odds. You are a rare "double legacy." Your odds at USC are likely at least double those of the average applicant. USC does not have an ED program, so there is no formal way to express your interest in USC other than writing to them to indicate your level of commitment (total, likely, etc.) if you are admitted. That can also make a difference. More than half of legacies won't get in overall, so you still need to be in the ballpark with scores, grades, and courses, in order for your legacy status to be a tipping factor in helping you gain admission.

 

Question I really want to go to Stanford, but, only three of the 15 students that applied last year from my school got in. (And many of them had excellent grades, etc.)  Does this mean that because of the school I go to, I may be at a disadvantage of getting in? Do colleges set quotas for the number of students they'll accept from one high school over another? - sarah

AnswerActually, that's a pretty good record for Stanford admissions, given their admissions rate of about 10 percent total. Colleges like Stanford don't have annual quotas for high schools like yours, but you can bet they wouldn't want to have 12 of you enrolling next year. Stanford will be looking for students in the top five to ten percent of your class, with all the courses, grades, and SAT or ACT scores they'd expect to be in the middle to higher range of their class. They also may look for "hooks" like athletic prowess, legacy status, or other desirable characteristics. Special academic focus will also differentiate you from other applicants in your class.

If Stanford is a top choice for you, and if you are qualified, then go for it, while making sure you have that overall balanced list. Be sure to express enough interest in Stanford, whether through their single-choice Early Action program (non-binding) or continuing communication through the year. They will want to admit the students from your class who not only are strongest, but also likely to attend if admitted.

 

Question My uncle went to Cornell Engineering and I would also like to go. Do I have a better chance of getting accepted there because of my uncle's alumni status or is it just for school's your parents went to? - sarah

 

AnswerDifferent schools handle the "legacy" admissions factor in different ways. Cornell will likely give you legacy status, meaning a slight advantage in considering you for admission, but they have made it pretty clear that you should apply Early Decision for them to grant you that advantage. The University of Pennsylvania is the only other college we're aware of that has made that distinction so specifically. Many universities do only grant legacy status to a student whose mother or father has attended the institution as an undergraduate. It is best to look through a college's admissions materials, and possibly call the school to ask their policy on legacy admissions as well as Early Decision.

 

Question I heard that you should contact the schools on your list as early as junior year, to let them know that you are interested, and should continue to keep in touch. But, how do you know who to contact? And also how much contact is too much contact? - john

AnswerContacting colleges and remaining in touch with them is important. This year, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) started surveying colleges about whether they used "demonstrated interest" in making their admissions decisions. That is, does an applicant's expressed and shown interest affect their likelihood of admission.

The answer from a large group of colleges was that demonstrated interest matters, and it matters more at smaller, private, and more selective institutions. Colleges won't care if you started expressing interest in ninth grade versus late in 11th grade, but they will care if you: interview on campus if it's offered, or with alumni if offered; visit campus; pay attention to application supplements; submit all required and optional materials; connect with your area's admission representative when he or she visits your high school or region, and possibly when you visit campus; send letters once or twice during senior year to update the college on your interest and activities.

Too much contact becomes stalking. Too little becomes lack of focus. When you call a college, you can ask for the admission representative responsible for your area, and ask to talk with or meet with him/her, and/or when he/she is visiting your area. If you are an international student, you can ask for the international admissions officer, or if you are a member of an underrepresented minority group, you can ask for the admissions counselor responsible for minority/multicultural/diversity recruiting.

About the Author

Peterson's has more than 40 years of experience in higher education, and the expert staff members here are all ready to leverage their considerable knowledge and experience to help you succeed on your educational journey. We have the information, the know-how, and the tools -- now all we need is you!

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