This may come as a surprise, but the college acceptance process doesn't include tossing applications down the stairwell and accepting those students whose folders reach the bottom step. It's more like chefs with big mixing bowls — and you're responsible for providing the right ingredients. Admission professionals are looking for the right students to ensure a great outcome for everyone involved, so they take this part of their jobs very seriously. They strive to be as fair and thorough as possible, but with all the factors involved in making a decision, it may seem sometimes that the results are unpredictable. However, that's not the case.
How an admission decision gets made
As with any recipe, you have to start by gathering all your ingredients — and by ingredients, we mean paperwork! Everything that you and your high school (and anyone else) sends to each school is filed into a folder with your name on it. Every scrap of paper which bears your name, from supplemental essays to phone message slips to thank you notes, is likely to end up there. Then, each folder is read carefully before an admissions decision is made — so long as it's complete. If it isn't, it will stay on the figurative shelf to collect dust, and you'll be wondering why no one has gotten back to you with a college admission letter.
Who exactly will be looking over these folders? At small schools, the entire admission staff may evaluate your application at great length; at larger institutions, a single official may be the sole judge of your future, perhaps with a little help from the computer. At many places, decisions are made by more than one person, including admission officials, faculty members, and other administrators.
Which committee gets your application may be determined alphabetically, geographically, departmentally (e.g., school of business applicants), or by the date your application is completed. The person who interviewed you, visited your high school, or spoke so reassuringly to you on the phone may or may not be among the decision-makers. It's pretty normal for committee members to examine each folder independently and to assign it an overall rating before the committee meets to make final decisions and send out college admission letters.
College acceptance relies on variety of factors
There are many things included in your application and each one of them will be evaluated to determine who you are and what kind of student you will potentially be. Some schools may prefer a bigger pinch of certain things than others, but they all usually require the same ingredients — it's just a matter of how much of each they wish to add. For each school it's a matter of individual taste and they are looking for just the right mix for them.