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The Role You Play in the Admissions Process by mitblogs

by Jenny Rifken, Director of Recruitment and Associate Director of Admissions @ MIT.

I often hear students say that colleges control their destinies and that the admissions process is all about whom the colleges admit and not about the students’ choices. With all respect to these students, I disagree. There are three major decisions in the college admissions process and you control two of them.

You really can have a great deal of control over the college admissions process and, in the end, be very happy with the results. You decide where to apply and, ultimately, where to enroll. Colleges do decide whom to accept, but if you are smart about where to apply (I’ll explain this in a minute) and honest with yourself in your college search, you will likely have at least two great enrollment options.

When I thought about where to apply to college, I started first with the list of “deal breaker” variables. Who was I and what was important to me? What did a school need to have in order for me to be happy there? I thought about general location, proximity from home, school size, academic programs, extracurricular options, diversity of the student body, social atmosphere, religious opportunities, etc. I also thought about how selective a college was because I knew that some would be harder to get into and others easier. I wanted to apply to a range of places so that I could be assured of some admissions offers, but I didn’t count on being admitted to all of the colleges on my list.

I was also really lucky in that parents really trusted me and my decisions. Sure, they talked with me about the college process, and sometimes they encouraged me to take a second look at a school not already on my short list. Their advice was helpful to me and forced me to challenge any assumptions I might have had about a particular place. In the end, though, they let me choose the best schools for me, rather than pushing me to apply to the schools they thought were right for me.

This required a lot of work on my part, but it was important if I was to find the right matches for me. I couldn’t rely on rumors or stereotypes. I also didn’t limit my search to a particular set of rankings or someone else’s list of “best” colleges. A school missing from that ranking could have been the perfect place for me and if I applied myself and brought energy and enthusiasm to any college, I knew I could be really successful. This was about where I could be happy, not someone else’s definition of a “good” school. Certainly there were schools I liked more than others, but if couldn’t envision myself there, I didn’t apply.

I also did research on the selectivity of the colleges (and this is what I mean about being smart in the admissions process). I knew that some schools were really hard to get into and others less hard. For that reason, I made sure to apply to some schools that I considered reaches (meaning that I didn’t know if I would get in or not) and I applied to some places where I was pretty sure I’d get accepted. I certainly wasn’t going to put all of my eggs in one basket nor was I only going to apply to very, very, very selective schools. Because I wasn’t held back by someone else’s ranking of schools, I could apply to a range of places (in terms of selectivity).

By being so thorough in my search and by being really honest with myself about what would make me happiest in a college experience, I made good decisions at the front end of this process. This meant that I was in a great position come enrollment decision time. I was happy with all of my options and that kept me in the driver’s seat when deciding where to matriculate. I had the control over where I ultimately enrolled. I hope you can, too.

13 responses to “The Role You Play in the Admissions Process”

  1. Clark Poland says:

    The problem is that after sifting through the 4000 some 4 year colleges in America, having the fate of your #1 choice rest in someone else’s hands is a hard feeling. And then even when you send in the app, you start second guessing about whether or not you did the app to the best of your abilities.

    Though, knowing that you conducted a thorough search beforehand and that all the other schools on the list will be fine is a bit of a comfort.



  3. The previous comment is quite profound. The capital letters also add a nice touch.

  4. S M Nawaz says:

    Admission process: what i believe is that three things control our admission 1st:-effort you put in learning new things in your life,

    2nd:-the ambition and the challange to un brakeable challanges, and 3rd:-Money!!! well guys the truth is money matters,,, if you dont have you are nothing.

  5. Edward says:

    I totally agree with Bernard

  6. Rachel says:

    I also would love to go to MIT. The fact of the matter is will they accept me. I also loved the capital letters in Clark’s post. Is adds a bit of personality. Realize Clark that all of us want and NEED to go to MIT that is why all of us have a my MIT account.

  7. Rachel says:

    oops it was Bernard’s post with the capital letters. Sorry.

  8. Chandresh says:

    It’s quite splendid that you’ve put your advice here. That way, you know I’ve read it. You’ll eventually know me -and when you do, you’ll know I know some things I know -and I now know what you have let me know, with the details I knew before…

    You will admit me… all of you.

    There’s plenty we don’t know, but we don’t know what they are.

  9. SHAMMI says:

    Everything sounds so much more true and simpler when u’ve crossed the river. Then we can go we oh i did this and that, what was right and wrong, but when you are the in the middle of it all, gasping to breathe, drowning with confusion and insecurity, it’s really hard to believe that you hold the reigns to anything!!

  10. Alejandro says:

    I really liked what you are saying here. The MIT is my dream school and I know is going to be hard to get in, but I won’t loose anything if I don’t try, don’t you think? anyways thanks for writting you experience.

    Alejandro Viera

  11. Osei says:

    Well this is your expressed opinion.I also disagree with the facts presented by a single person(U) as u did with the rankings of a single person.Remember its less tougher giving advice than taking it.