Kate McCabe / Gavel Media

College Apps 101: Decoding Decisions

Around this time last year, I was in a constant state of angst and distress. One day I would get a letter from a university telling me how great an applicant I was, and how they hoped to see me next August, only to receive another letter from a different school telling me how competitive their applications were and wishing me the best in my future. To be judged for everything you have done over the course of your last four years is a terrible feeling. Considering your judges are a panel of people who have never met you, and have potentially less than a minute to decide whether or not to accept you, only makes things worse.

Seeing as how early college decisions came out last week, many of you, as readers, may be in a similar position. The entire process is terrible, from the applications asking, “What makes our university different?” to your friends posting where they got in on their Snapchat stories and Instagram bios. Admission officers themselves acknowledge how difficult this process is—so why do we keep it that way? Answering this question will require us to look at the problem from a more comprehensive perspective: the structure of universities themselves.

In recent years, the number of applicants to universities has skyrocketed. According to Pew Research, in 2002 there were 4.9 million college applicants, and by 2017 that number had risen to 10.2 million. Universities are non-profit institutions that cannot handle growth at such a rate, especially during a period that saw arguably the second-largest economic downturn in American history. Most universities simply cannot build more dorms, academic halls, and dining facilities to keep up with the number of qualified applicants that want to attend each year. Universities must strive to keep their admission rates low, in order to gain higher rankings and thereby receive a greater number of donations.

Another reason that universities do what they must is, frankly, many students are not prepared for the institutions to which they apply. For instance, I probably would not perform well academically if I attended MIT or Caltech, as I did not have a strong mathematical background in high school. GPA is a critical way that employers and graduate schools determine who they want to accept, and most of the time it is better to have a higher GPA at a lower-ranked university than a lower GPA at a higher-ranked university.

The most important takeaway is this: relieve the blame from yourself. Remember that you worked hard in high school, and where you go for undergraduate school is not as important as you think it is. If you were accepted to Boston College, congratulations! I hope you decide to come. If you were not, there are plenty of universities that are willing to accept you throughout the country. Most people at Boston College were rejected by other schools, but still found their space here and have made the most of it. Wherever you end up, it will be great for you.