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The Secret to Getting Into a Great College? Hint: It’s Who You Know


Most prospective students have heard rumors about the effects on favoritism on college acceptance. Now, a new study that surveyed just over 400 admissions officers from the nation’s top colleges appears to bolster those accusations, apparently showing that getting into a top-tier college has less to do with academics, and a whole lot more to do with who you know.


(Photo Credit: Justin Marty/Flickr)

The Kaplan Test Prep study unveiled that nearly 25 percent of the admissions officers surveyed admitted that they “felt pressured to accept an applicant who didn’t meet [the] school’s admissions requirements because of who that applicant was connected to.” Additionally, 16 percent of the survey participants said that applicants applying to universities where their siblings or family members are alumni have an advantage over those who don’t have any relations to alumni, which is an “open secret in the college admissions process,” confirms Seppy Basili, Vice President of College Admissions and K-12 programs at Kaplan Test Prep.

Do You Know What You're Worth?

The college admissions game is being taken a step further this year, and some top-tier colleges are targeting certain students and extending their application due dates in hopes of attracting a more elite bunch of freshmen. Bloomberg Business reports that “at least a dozen elite colleges, including Chicago, Duke, Dartmouth, and Columbia, have offered extensions of once-sacrosanct January admissions deadlines,” with such deadlines only being offered in emergencies, such as natural disasters and major technical difficulties.

However, many claim that extending application deadlines for a select (targeted) few penalizes those responsible students who have submitted their applications on time. After all, isn’t that the point of a deadline, especially one for college (a.k.a. the beginning of your “responsible” adult life)? If certain students aren’t responsible enough to meet the original application deadline, what’s to say this isn’t how they’ll handle their collegiate course deadlines, as well?

While colleges offering these extensions claim that they are doing so to give students more opportunity to apply and receive scholarships, the overall consensus is these colleges are using these extra numbers to up their application numbers, increase their rejection rates, and build a reputation as one of the most sought-after and prestigious colleges in the world. Some colleges (more like all of the top-tier colleges, if we’re being honest) go above and beyond to attract the ideal student by “waiving application fees, making essays optional, and counting incomplete entries in application statistics,” and even buying names of students who had top scores for their SAT or ACT exams and soliciting them.

The University of Illinois was caught red-handed when it was uncovered “that hundreds of students benefited from special consideration made because of their connections,” as reported on Education Drive. The article goes on to say that, as a result of this fiasco, “The president of the university system, the chancellor of one of the campuses, and seven of the nine board of trustees members ultimately resigned in the aftermath.” Another famous case involved the University of Texas at Austin when the college’s president, Bill Powers, was caught going over the heads of admissions officers to admit well-connected students. Although it was found that Powers did not violate any laws, he will be leaving the university this upcoming summer.

The college admissions game seems to be beneficial for colleges and their reputation building, but not so much for students who aren’t as well-connected and have their hearts set on certain prestigious universities. You could argue that college admissions are cut-throat because universities have a certain caliber of reputation to uphold, while others call it favoritism. Whatever the case may be, this is a great opportunity for students to be exposed to what the real world is like, especially in the working world. For instance, landing a job is much easier when you have an internal contact at the company of which you’re interviewing – again, it’s who you know. This isn’t fair, exactly, but such is life. If there’s anything to be learned here, it’s that networking and building relationships is key to your success, regardless if you’re a high school student applying for college, or a businessperson trying to land a dream career. Knowing the right people will open up greater opportunities in your life and your career.

Tell Us What You Think

What are your thoughts on this so-called college admissions game? Do you feel it mirrors the challenges professionals face in their careers? Share your thoughts below in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

Leah Arnold-Smeets
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