3 years ago
Admissions Advice

Are college admissions rigged?

Hello everyone, I am a sophomore heading into junior year. I have had soooo many recent discussions with friends and family about college. First off, I know these seniors who are friends of mine that have worked their butt off for their four years of high school. One of them has done varsity soccer, multiple APs, class committee, and USB/ASB, and even became a position at a clothing company on Instagram, yet she only got accepted to San Francisco State University (SFSU). She didn't want to make this her desired college, and I know this is not a bad college nor a top tier college. However, why didn't she get accepted to a top UC college, or IVY League? Plus, another friend of mine who just graduated is going to a community college. He was in tears after being rejected from UCs and IVY League schools. And since we both live in California, he even got reject from CalState and CalPoly universities. Plus, he even had an outstanding SAT score. It just boggles me of why both of them worked so hard to only get accepted into these types of colleges. Plus, what does that make me? Am I wasting time of what I am doing? Does your race matter? Does the place you live and school you go to affect your admissions? If so, these college admissions are really bogus and unfair. Please, anyone have thoughts about this? Anything will help! :)

~ Kasian


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4 answers

3 years ago[edited]

The college admissions process is not rigged however if you are a recruited athlete, legacy, development candidate, or VIP candidate, you will have a greater probability of getting into that particular college.

Why so many applicants are frustrated, disappointed, and depressed is that many of them were unaware that there would be a mad rush for so many HS students to apply to all the top schools. Whether you live on the East Coast or West Coast, all high schools saw and felt similar results which are that very few got into their colleges of choice.

This of course was prompted because all colleges during the last cycle were test-optional and this gave the green light to many more applicants to participate. They all said the same thing including Harvard which is that "Students who do not submit standardized testing this coming year will not be disadvantaged in the application process." They also made similar statements about not having the ability to participate in HS ECs and/or perhaps not having grades to report but rather pass/fail grades. "However, students who find themselves limited in the activities they can pursue due to the current coronavirus outbreak will not be disadvantaged as a result, nor will students who are only able to present pass/fail grades or other similar marks on their transcripts."

So these types of statements made HS students feel they were going to have a fair shake at getting into the top colleges because a purely holistic approach would be used.

So let me recap. The colleges said your admissions would not be disadvantaged by a lack of 1.) test scores, 2.) ECs, and 3.) grades.

The other factor that very few HS applicants were keeping track of was the actual number of spots available at the top colleges. Why is this important? You see, during last year's admission cycle, up to 20% of the incoming freshman at schools like Stanford, Yale, Harvard, etc decided to take GAP years and defer their admission to this year. So if Harvard accepted 1980 for the Class of 2024 and had a yield rate of 84% then the Class of 2024 would matriculate 1663 students. However, 349 students who accepted the offer decided to take a deferred admission.

Therefore for the Class of 2025, there were fewer spots to hand out because they knew that they had to accommodate the 349 students that were going to start next fall instead of this fall. Plus they knew the yield rate would go down again because many students may not take the offer because of COVID-19 concerns. The 1968 students that Harvard accepted don't really explain the breakdowns for the Class of 2025. I believe within the numbers are the 349 deferred admissions so they really only accepted 1614 students this cycle which is 3.43% versus 4.92% last cycle. However, if you remove the deferred admissions, the implied admit rate is only 2.81%, or nearly twice as hard as 1 year ago.

What the admit rates do not tell this year's class was the following.

1.) Those who submitted test scores had an advantage.

2.) Those who had impressive ECs had an advantage

3.) Those who had full sets of grades had an advantage

4.) And those who knew that deferred admits were going to make it more difficult so they should have applied to more schools had an advantage.

At my HS, we had about 1/2 to 1/3 as many top students getting into their schools of choice. This cycle we had matriculations to (1) Stanford, (1) MIT (1) Columbia (1) Dartmouth (1) UPenn, (2) Barnard (2) USC (2) Georgetown. Last year we had (4) Stanfords alone. We have about 330 Seniors.

So if you are a 10th or 11th grader reading this be aware that the holistic process doesn't mean equitable, fair, and inclusive. What it means is that if you submit an application with 50 key data points you will be review with 50. But if you submit an application with 40 data points you will be reviewed with 40. Therefore the more data points you have to submit the more impressive you will appear to the person reading your file. The idea that less is more or equal never should be taken as a path of getting into your dream college.

The last thing I have to comment about is to be very careful about what you write in the "additional information" section. Why? Because if you already know that the admission rate is going to be say 5% and they have 50,000 applications, then they are going to reject 47,500. Do you really want to use that space to say you struggled and are still struggling? Or do you want to say yes I struggled but I did something about it? Or do you want to skip that extra essay and let your best statements and data points speak for themselves? 3.7 million high school students struggled this cycle but only 15,500 matriculated into Ivy league schools so you can immediately see that there is way too much focus on getting into an Ivy because 99.6% of HS students will not be going to one.

3 years ago[edited]

This actually highlights something not enough students know about. Especially in recent years, many colleges have been using something called holistic admissions, meaning they look beyond your GPA and your test scores. Instead they focus on things like your essay.

Schools see thousands of applicants with 4.0s and they can’t accept everyone. They also know that perfect grades doesn’t mean the individual would be a good fit for their school.

Unfortunately, many applicants have focused too much on grades and test scores and not as much on extracurriculars and their essay.

In other words, the system is not rigged. Instead it is the opposite. Rather than simply accepting everyone with perfect grades and test scores and amazing internship opportunities (all of which may be more associated with someone of a higher socioeconomic level), colleges look at who the applicant is as a person beyond their transcript.

Hopefully as a rising junior, you can use this information to your advantage, putting you in a better position than your peers by focusing on extracurriculars and your essay over your 4.0 or perfect SATs.

I hope this clears everything up


Admissions are not rigged unless you look at legacy and multimillionaire applicants (Operation Varsity Blues on Netflix is fun to watch for that). Write good essays to impress the admissions officers more than a 4.0 and perfect SAT score will ever do. Good luck in your applications!

3 years ago

Well, first off, life isn't fair. Legacy and rich students are preferred because there is a higher probability of them donating to the school, nationally-ranked athletes are wanted because schools want great teams, and geniuses are preferred because...you know. The list goes on. Your friends' applications may not have fit the "desired student" niche each of those schools wanted. College admissions counselors have to painstakingly comb through each application...they're aware of the impressive stats your friends have. But others might've had more impressive stats. You shouldn't go to a college just because "they're lit and ivy." You should see where you actually fit. "These types of colleges" is your perspective. Success isn't primarily based on where you go.

3 years ago

This huge glut of applications and bodies has also affected Early Decision applications. I have spoken with several middle-very hard to get accepted by institution AOs, who have confirmed that they may or may not take a greater percentage of ED applicants, but if you are turned down for ED there is no point to continuing your application (some even say it outright) because there are SO many excellent candidates, they are willing to take a chance on not getting a guaranteed excellent candidate because there are thousands more out there who would all be wonderful fits.

It is very stressful and depressing, honestly.

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