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.