Admissions Office

The Visitor and Undergraduate Admissions Center, where the Office of Undergraduate Admissions is located, in the afternoon, Sept. 30, 2016.

The lack of time with friends and family made a breakdown more than a weekly occurrence for myself. I did it all for one thing. I did it all for my college application. I put in the work for where I wanted to go but where I wanted to go didn’t agree.

For those who desire to attend college, the many years of schooling prior to senior year of high school all lead up to the most crucial juncture of their secondary education: the college admissions process. It seems daunting, and certainly is, when you need to present who you are as an academic and as a unique individual to gain admission to your top choice schools.

This task is more daunting for some than it is for others. For those students who are applying to schools with a more rigorous admissions process, the entire ordeal can be all the more frightening. For many, college is the gateway to their careers, hence, the importance of attending an accredited school and graduating in good standing. Oftentimes the phrase “reach schools” is used to describe schools that might be a stretch for a student to get into, but are not necessarily unrealistic for them to apply to.

Why is it that students who are well within the qualifications for admission are receiving rejection letters? Supposedly, admission officers are looking for the whole package: They want “well-rounded” students to be a part of the student body. Universities want to see how you as a student will contribute to the community.

Factors that contribute to a supposedly well-rounded application are your GPA, test scores, essays, interviews, leadership roles, sports, clubs, community service and employment. Pressure is being put on students to build outstanding resumes in order to compete in an ocean of applicants.

To be that well-rounded student, I overexerted myself in all aspects in order to include it in my college application. In addition to taking all of the AP courses I could handle, I spent four hours a week at a test prep center, even during the summers, to help increase my standardized test scores for my target schools. I joined all the national honor societies I was qualified for and was president and vice president of the National English Honor Society and National Honor Society, respectively. I was a leader on the school’s literary magazine staff and was the president of the equestrian club.

Outside of school extracurriculars, I dedicated hours each day training and riding on an equestrian team, had a job and volunteered after school. After all of these commitments were fulfilled, I finally started homework at about 8 at night. Leading this lifestyle took its toll on me. Being at a competitive high school, I certainly wasn’t the only one with this kind of schedule either.

Despite my struggling, I enjoyed these experiences and opportunities and they were vital in building the person that I am today. However, it was at at the expense of other aspects of my life. I was getting four hours of sleep on a good night and wasn’t spending time with friends or family because of my investment in school — all for my college application.

Of course, each individual is unique in their own way, but being tremendously different on paper compared to thousands of other applicants applying to the same school as you is increasingly difficult. Students keep hearing the same tired advice, and as a result, crafting a unique application proves to be more difficult.

Factors outside applicants’ control are also being considered in the process. A large portion of schools talk about the importance of inclusivity and diversity. In order to meet university goals for diversity, admission officers admit a certain number of minorities to schools. Yes, colleges are certainly looking at the academic aspects of student’s application packages, but they are also considering the state you attended school in, the quality of the education you received at that school, your race and gender. Some schools have a higher number of females, and in an attempt for schools to even out the numbers, it is more difficult for female applicants to be admitted. The role that gender plays in admissions goes the other way as well.

These days to get into top universities it seems as though a top contending GPA, high test scores, standout college essays, a solid interview, leadership roles, being a star athlete, participating in clubs, volunteering and having a job is simply just not enough to guarantee yourself a spot at your No. 1 choice.

Students may choose where they apply, but where they end up is often left in the hands of admission officers. College admission officers are human beings, too; they are not evil people conspiring to keep certain individuals out of a particular college. However, coming off as heartless and cold is undoubtedly a consequence of trying to push the school’s agenda to meet certain gender and race quotas.

The college admissions process is not a perfect system and needs reform. The process is subjective and therefore inevitably has flaws. As of now, there is no objective system for college admissions that would prove itself anymore fair than the present model. However, colleges should prioritize making improvements to level the playing ground and put the focus back on education rather than the university’s personal agenda.

College admissions seem to get more and more competitive with each passing year. Imagine what it will be like 15 or 30 years from now. The subjectivity of the admissions process has serious flaws. Even the objective part of applications, such as GPAs and test scores, are biased because not all schools have the same grading scale. How can you compare students on completely unrelated scales? Schools do factor in the difference of GPA scales in the admissions process; however, the reliability of this system is still questionable.

As far as standardized test scores go, they often do not even reflect a student’s true ability to perform well in college. It is really about how you fit into the college’s vision for what they want their school to look like, not whether you deserve to be there or not. Colleges and universities are looking for students who fit the mold that will build their school’s vision.

It is easy to say we need to step back, but then we would be behind and less competitive compared to other applicants in our desired career fields. It is easier said than done when we are all a part of a rat race with one another. Where the line lies between achieving and quality of life, I have still not deciphered myself.

However, what I have discovered is that instead of attempting to align ourselves with a particular college’s vision or potential employers, students should focus on personal development rather than resume development. In the long run, college aside, it is who you are as a person that will carry you through to your goals.