Reasons You Might Not Get In to Your Top College

By Patricia Gorden Neill - April 23rd, 2013

To err is human, and admission officers are human. Life is not fair. These two items you should keep in mind while waiting for the Big Answer from the colleges to which you applied. Even with a sterling high school career, straight As in Advanced Placement classes, playing on the varsity team, volunteered at the local food bank and an appealing personality, and you still might not get into your first choice college. Some reasons for this situation include:

  • You’re not the right “fit” for the college.
  • The college already has many thousands of applications just as stellar as yours, but only so many spaces in the freshman class.
  • You’re not the right race, sex, ethnic background, state or region or other demographic determined by the school.
  • You are not in the legacy, alumni, big donor, politically-connected, faculty-related, celebrity’s kid or athletic categories.
  • You applied in the regular admission pool, but admissions had already lined up 40 percent of its freshman class from the Early Decision pool and so there was no room for you.
  • Your essay put half of the admission office to sleep.

These are a few of the main reasons you might not get into your top choice school. Colleges and universities believe that diversity remains an important academic concern and thus promotes affirmative action decisions. However, in reality, affirmative action decisions do not have a huge impact on the makeup of the student body. The categories of legacy, athletic, donor, alumni, faculty and celebrity in admission decisions are a bit touchier, but they make real world sense. After all, everyone is connected to other people and we all respond to pressures on those connections. Honestly, does anyone in their right mind expect a college to turn down the kid of the college’s biggest donor?

Then there’s a 2009 article from the Daily Beast that discusses the “dirty secrets” of admissions, such as one college admission officer who got food poisoning at a restaurant in Buffalo, so the next day all Buffalo applications were denied or another’s favorite sports team lost and the next day’s applications were all turned down. Still another admission counselor at another college had to narrow down the pile of applications on her desk. She reread all the essays the students had written and one student’s essays were slightly more boring than the others. That student was cut.

While these things happen, it’s doubtful they happen often. After all, there is accountability in the system, and at certain times of the year, everyone’s eyes are laser-beamed on the admissions office. More than one person reads each application, and usually two to four individuals read the same file and comment at length on it. Decisions are made in committee and then reviewed by the top admissions people, directors and deans. Students and parents can rest assured that if one admissions officer in a bad mood wants to deny admittance to a student, other admissions officers still have a say in the process and can counter that decision.

Still, when your application wends its way into the admission office, it’s out of your control, and there’s nothing you can do to change it. One thing you do have control over for the most part, and that’s your attitude about the situation. If you have one dream college, and you don’t even apply to other colleges, then you’ve set yourself up for one of life’s great disappointments. Try not to get too set on any one particular college when you’re devising your college list. Instead, pick schools you think you’d like to attend, that attract you because of its English department or state of the art computer lab or even its lovely tree lined campus. Find something you like about every college on your list. Then when you get into one but not the top choice, it won’t be so devastating.

Thousands of students don’t get into their first choice colleges, and almost all of them end up loving the school they end up attending. There they’ll form lifelong friendships, take classes that change their lives and quite a few will fall in love. They’ll meet inspiring professors, attend thought provoking lectures and create memories with their friends that will have them on the floor laughing when they’re fifty years old.

If you can harken to one piece of advice, remember this: It isn’t the name or prestige of the college that determines the quality of your education. That quality is made by you, what you put into your college education is what you’ll get out of it. No matter where you go, attend that college with verve and dedication, hard work and creativity and your education will be the finest the universe can offer.

About the Author

Patricia Gorden NeillPatricia Gorden Neill edited medical and scholarly journals for over 20 years in the ivy-covered halls of the University of Rochester. She is a freelance writer, often covering higher education and the concerns of college age students, and is regularly published on a variety of websites.