top of page

My Smart Kids are Not Being Recognized: How Institutional Priorities Affect Applicants

It's April, complete with showers, flowers and possibly some sunshine. Still inside, I look at what's open on my laptop. The start of a draft for LINK for Counselors: "Is Your Student Laser-Focused on Highly Selective Colleges? Managing Expectations in the Test-Optional Era." A partially updated chart with 2023 admissions stats for my students' target colleges. And a message from a parent who had just been through this process for the second time:

"My smart kids are not being recognized."


What happened this application season? Last Thursday was the dreaded Ivy Day, a name that just fuels the anxiety of my already anxious students. As if we hadn't seen enough deferrals and waitlists, some of the most selective colleges in the world dropped their results, disappointing many applicants who had done seemingly everything right. I agree with the mom who emailed me; her delightful, brilliant and goal-oriented son was not recognized that evening. Why didn't things go his way? Were the results just random? We know he was competing in the largest applicant pools ever, fueled by test-optional applicants and traffic from around the world. But more was going on behind the scenes. Colleges use the phrase institutional priorities.

Here's how Georgia Tech's Rick Clark explained the phenomenon:

"At the beginning of the year, all admission deans are given a target number of students to enroll: 500, 5000, etc. Right on the heels of that information are subgoals…the numbers within the numbers…the IPs . . . "Yes, holistic admission means more than the academic numbers, but it also means other numbers play in, i.e. IPs. This is what admission deans mean when they say they are looking to 'select' or 'shape' a class.”

Take a look at Brown's announcement. "Amid the largest applicant pool to date, there was an 8% increase in the number of applicants from Rhode Island, a 3% growth in students from rural areas and small towns, and the largest admitted group of student veterans to date." So that tells us that those groups (RI, rural, veterans) were among their institutional priorities. Certainly, none of my students fell into those groups.

"Yes, holistic admission means more than the academic numbers, but it also means other numbers play in, i.e. IPs. This is what admission deans mean when they say they are looking to 'select' or 'shape' a class.” -Georgia Tech Admissions

What about the many fine colleges that notified students prior to last Thursday evening?

  • There was Boston University, which accepted only 11 percent of applicants this cycle, down from 14 percent. According to Admissions Blog, BU's director of admissions stated, “ . . . since we have been significantly overenrolled for each of the past two years, it was absolutely critical for us to plan for yet another increase in yield. As a result, we had no choice but to significantly decrease the number of students to whom we offered admission.”

  • Tufts accepted a mere 9.5 percent, who, according to JT Duck, dean of undergraduate admissions, "shared stories about building inclusive communities, about political involvement, about entrepreneurial ventures." (Note: An unCommon applicant who was admitted to Tufts was involved in community building and student activism.)

  • UVA accepted 12 percent of out-of-staters compared with 27 percent for VA residents.

  • NYU's rate of admission was 8 percent. In an announcement, we learned that rate was under 5 percent for three of NYU's colleges (not specified) and that "the admitted class represents a median SAT score of 1540." So you're test-optional, but citing testing . . .

There's always a small possibility that a student might get off a waitlist, but students are advised to accept their best offer. To remain on a waitlist, they must comply with the college's instructions. Get in touch with me if you have questions about communicating with colleges about waitlists. USC doesn't use a waitlist at all. Instead, some students are offered the chance to start in the spring. According to Admissions Blog, "If after May 1 USC has room in its fall class, it will invite some spring admits to change their term to fall. All students who submit their spring Intent to Enroll form by May 1 will be considered for any available space.”


Is it worth the price of admission? Ah, Brunonia. You accepted under 4 percent of your Regular Decision candidates and jacked up your price. As noted in Bloomberg, Brown's "cost of attendance (tuition, room, board and fees) is almost $85,000, well above what the typical US household earns.”

What should your student get from the college investment? You've likely heard me carry on about the importance of communications, problem-solving and data analysis, which can be garnered from nearly any field of study. Recently, I listened in on Jeff Selingo's Remaking the Bachelor’s Degree for a New Economy webinar, which praised the liberal arts for building leadership, project management and communications skills. Students should be "broadly educated and digitally skilled," stated guest Lydia Riley, Director of Academic Affairs, University of Texas.


What about next year's applications? In the last post, I mentioned that the Common App is bringing back the same prompts for the 2023-24 application cycle. Now, counselors are discussing changes to supplemental essays in light of an upcoming Supreme Court ruling about race and ethnicity in college admissions. A town hall meeting at Brown included the general counsel, who explained that ". . . essay questions would hinge on an applicant’s 'identity' as admissions officers attempt to learn more about the applicant.”

Meanwhile, Penn is changing its approach to legacy admission. The Daily Pennsylvanian reported that Penn supposedly has done away with Friday drop-in admissions meetings for legacy families and no longer specifies that a legacy applicant is "given the most consideration through Early Decision." According to the article, 16 percent of last year's graduating Quakers were legacies.

As Dean of Admissions Whitney Soule reminded us in her blog, "This year, every applicant wrote a thank-you note to someone as part of their application to Penn." Thanks, Penn, for not sharing your admission statistics publicly.

How many did Penn accept? They won't tell!


Tonight, the March Madness officially comes to an end. And this week, many juniors are off and touring colleges while seniors are arranging to attend accepted students' days. The smart kids who weren't recognized last Thursday night? Fortunately, they all have colleges who will be happy to have them. So do their moms and college counselors!

Enjoy your holidays, and set up a meeting if you have questions about your student's future candidacy.


bottom of page