Six Things You Didn’t Know About College Admissions

By Tara Fowler

I know what you’re thinking: There probably isn’t much you don’t know about college admissions. Or at least that’s what I believed. But since this weekend sees the opening of Tina Fey and Paul Rudd’s “Admission” (her first movie since “30 Rock,” you guys!), I decided to look into the dreaded process to see if it’s changed any in the five years since I went through it.

Check out what I learned below! Fair warning: Chances are, your admissions officer won’t be Tina Fey.

1) Acceptance letters just don’t cut it anymore: When I read about “likely letters” on Buzzfeed, I was sure they couldn’t possibly be real. I mean, a letter sent to potential college students advising them of their likely acceptance? That sounds utterly ridiculous. Isn’t one letter to worry about enough? Alas, no.

In an effort to stake their claim on the most promising students, some colleges will send out these letters a month or so in advance of the actual acceptance letters as a way of helping these students “to think fondly of the college in question before they receive decisions from competitor schools.” The worst part? The letters are completely arbitrary. So what if you have a 6.8 GPA and spend your weekends building houses for the homeless while drafting plans for a space elevator? If you’re at the bottom of the pile and admissions hasn’t gotten around to reading your application come time for likely letters, you’re not getting one.

2) A student’s GPA means less than it used to: Mary Beth Marklein of USA Today writes that admissions officers “barely look at an applicant’s GPA.” Why? Between AP classes and other college prep courses, the important thing is not a candidate’s grades, but whether they challenged themselves academically. And with grade inflation, one’s GPA is not the indicator that it once was. Still, getting a C in an AP class will get you nowhere. Better for a potential college student to “know their capabilities and [not] bite off more than they can chew.”

3) Making a cell phone call while touring a school can affect your admission: Thought you were anonymous? You thought wrong. Some tour guides at colleges are actually given the names of their tourees (as I used to affectionately call them), which allows them to report you if you behave in an “unseemly” manner. Think twice before wearing your brother’s old UCONN shirt on your next college tour. You might not appear committed.

4) Colleges admissions officers like you to be funny: But not too funny. Take for example this brilliant admissions essay from an aspiring Stanford student. When asked to pen a letter to their future roommate, this person wrote a laundry list of reasons they’d make a great roomie, including the fact that they’d once “told tourists that if they ’pee in the ocean,’ they’ll attract great white sharks.” This kid got in. Unfortunately, the poor person who joked about one of his personal goals being “to never have to do his own laundry” was not as lucky.

5) You can get rejected for something as silly as food poisoning: In this Daily Beast exposé, one admissions officer admitted (ha) to rejecting all applicants from Buffalo after he fell ill from eating at a restaurant in upstate New York. The same officer confessed to rejecting candidates on the basis of his mood: “If the [Pittsburgh] Steelers lost a game and I read your file the next morning, chances were you weren’t getting in.”

6) When in doubt, learn to juggle: While speaking to an admissions officer from Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, one prospective student lit a few tiki torches ablaze and started juggling them, all while continuing to carry on a conversation with the officer in question. If that’s not gonna get you in, nothing will. That said, I leave you with this:

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