A reaction to one student's letter to the colleges that rejected her:
Suzy Lee Weiss, I hope you’re listening because as of this writing it's 7:22 p.m. and “The Real Housewives” isn’t on.
The college admissions process is one that often leaves heads scratching and tears flowing. Rejection letters, the cause of these reactions, raise a painful question for applicants: “how did they decide?”
Universities across the nation have preached that they take a very holistic approach during their selection process. High school students are told to “be yourself,” and grades and test scores are not a reflection of you as a person. Yet, even though many students are qualified, some don’t gain admission into their dream schools. Does this mean the mantra of “be yourself” doesn’t gain admission into your dream school? No, and don’t be discouraged, but think of it this way: would you want to go a school that doesn’t want you for you?
Think about it this way. If universities did not uphold high school students to a high degree of academia, would Boston College, for example, be one of the top-tier universities in the country? The answer is no. The fact that the school has students who were at the top of their class and had great standardized tests scores makes BC an elite school, but it isn’t the only criteria an elite school looks for in its students. If you go on the College Board website and look for BC, you will see not everyone who attends our school had stellar SAT scores. Students who did not get great scores most likely did well in the classroom. I had a pretty low SAT score (below 1800), but I worked hard in the classroom and maintained a relatively good GPA. Was I valedictorian? Even in the top 10? No.
Universities say to get involved as much as you can in high school especially with leadership positions, athletics, extracurriculars and even volunteer work. Now some may say this is where the selection process hits a gray area. However, recall the university is looking for the best interests of the school. If they see an applicant has high grades, but has no interests in extracurriculars, the applicant offers no growth to the campus community.
Now I know you’re saying, “but I did extracurriculars and volunteer work and I still didn’t get in.” In this case, it depends on how long you were involved in an organization and this is where recommendations and your college essay come into play. Believe it or not, your essay is your best opportunity to “be yourself.” If your essay isn’t genuine or doesn’t offer a sign of who you are as an individual, admissions officers can easily identify the impersonal nature. For those individuals who I know didn’t have stellar SAT scores or a high GPA, their college essay was the forum to exponentially increase their chances. The college essay shows colleges how well you can market yourself because in turn, it will show how well you can take advantage of the immense opportunities colleges offers, market yourself for positions on-campus and in the workplace, and most importantly for colleges, market the university.
The penultimate stage: letters of recommendation. An admissions officer once told me that the thicker the paperwork, the thicker the person, which means if it takes more paperwork to sell yourself, it doesn’t reflect well on who you are. This letter reflects how your teachers and advisors see you as an individual. Colleges stress the importance of choosing faculty you know well to write your letter. I went to the people who knew me best: my basketball coach and my mentor from sophomore year, who witnessed my growth both inside and outside the classroom. My high school also had a director of college guidance, who wrote a recommendation for me. He witnessed my growth through my time in high school. Without his recommendation, I may not have made it to BC.
Lastly, there is the diversity issue. Many individuals who have sour grapes make the argument that a person of color gains admittance into college due to their race or ethnicity. This couldn’t be farther from the truth because being a minority is already a disadvantage from birth and something out of the applicant's control. Many minorities have dealt with much tribulation and have had to work incredibly hard for the opportunity to apply to colleges.
Let us not forget that “legacy” helps candidates gain admittance into a university. Sadly, this issue falls under the table. I’m certain if a minority candidate wrote a satirical piece similar to Ms. Weiss, there would be more controversy than the appraisal Weiss has received. But the issue of diversity isn’t just about socio-economic status or race, but also with the college campus. Imagine if BC did not have the many backgrounds it does. Would it be such a successful institution? Granted, there are some things I dislike, but in comparison to other universities, BC fosters a good amount of diversity in academics, extracurriculars and the people who grace this institution.
So there you have it. Colleges do their best to take a holistic approach. Some students may or may not make it, but in the end, you can see a lot goes into the decision. One criterion doesn’t take precedent over another, but offers the opportunity to complement the applicant as a whole. If you don’t get into the university of your choice, let it not discourage you, but motivate you to take advantage of the vast opportunities at the university you end up attending.
Lastly, Ms. Weiss, we are always in control of our destiny and one decision that is hyped to be more dramatic than it is should not deter our future. College is just one part of our life and while it does matter where you go, what matters most is the work you do in the classroom and what you do to better the campus community.