Numbers & the College Admissions Process: The Cold, Hard, Comforting Truth

Numbers and the College Admissions Process:

The Cold, Hard, Comforting Truth


We spend a lot of time talking about numbers in the college admissions process, and for good reason. You work hard for an excellent GPA on your transcript. You study and prepare for the SAT and ACT so you can get a high score. You strive to stay at the top of your class rankings. Numbers play a big role in the admissions process, and it would be naïve to pretend they don’t. However, this is your friendly (and blunt) reminder that numbers are not everything when it comes to the college admissions process. Numbers tell half the story and, quite honestly, that half of the story can be very unfair.


Richard Clark is an admissions counselor at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. As you can imagine, Clark receives a lot of emails and phone calls after the admission decisions are announced – and no, it’s usually not happy students and parents thanking him. Devastated students and confused parents contact Clark regularly to ask the predictable questions: Why didn’t I make the cut? Why did I get rejected when my SAT scores are better than the average? Why on Earth did my son/daughter get a “no” when my neighbor’s lackluster kid got a “yes”? In Clark’s May blog post, he confirms one fact you may already know… “It’s NOT fair. You’re not crazy.”


Numbers and the College Admissions Process


As humans, we want things to be fair. We want to know that if we work hard, do the right things, and achieve a certain score, GPA, rank, or whatever, we will be rewarded appropriately. We want this cause and effect. To admit that this process can be wildly “unfair” and unpredictable would mean to accept that we aren’t in control. We cannot micromanage the admissions process, as much as we may try. This fact might be extremely depressing at first. However, it can be an extremely comforting thing if you simply change your mindset.

Here’s why. College rejections do not mean you are unqualified, less than, or dumb. You might have better grades than half of their incoming class, with 1,000 more volunteer hours on the side. However, college admissions counselors aren’t choosing the best individual student; they are choosing the best possible incoming class. They can’t take all of the math whizzes, or every single brilliant writer. They can’t take every aspiring doctor or future teacher. They want to build a class with students of all kinds.


Most importantly, college admissions counselors want to choose students that fit their institution. In the words of Clark, “Ultimately, choosing the right school should not just be about ‘can I get in?’ from a statistical or quantifiable standpoint, but ‘do I align with their mission?’’ A rejection doesn’t mean, “Your numbers weren’t good enough.” It means, “After holistic review, you aren’t the best fit at our school.” And if you aren’t a perfect fit… well, do you really want to spend the next four years there?


Numbers and the College Admissions Process


Stay ambitious, and keep working hard for great numbers. Set yourself up for success, and apply to the schools that catch your eye. And then, at the end of the day, remember that numbers are not the only factor at play in this crazy journey. Numbers are black and white, accepted or rejected, and that will make this whole process seem very gray and very unfair. You will end up at the school that’s right for you. Trust the process!