JULY 2018
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Admissions: It’s Not Linear

By Robert LeVine

With America’s best universities, admissions results are not “linear.” Grades, test scores and a sparkling resume do not define which schools will select which students. In a holistic process that incorporates subjective evaluations, we see unexpected results every year: acceptance to Stanford and Duke but not Rice; acceptance to Oxford and MIT but not Northwestern; acceptance to Columbia and Penn but not Washington U; acceptance to Cornell, Georgetown, NYU and Brown, but not UNC Chapel Hill; acceptance to Chicago but not the University of Florida.

This year’s story is Patrick.

Patrick was a good student in high school, but not the top of his class, nor did he achieve perfect SAT scores. Being President of his school, tennis achievements, professional experience in cooking and groundbreaking work growing spirulina were fine efforts, but his resume did not include world-class awards. Still, Patrick embraced Harvard as his first-choice for college.

Patrick worked hard on his essays and prepared well for his interviews. The period waiting for the college decisions was excruciating for his entire family. His mother wondered: “Bob, one of Patrick’s friends got accepted at Stanford in Early Action. Does this mean that Patrick’s chance to get in is almost impossible? I mean, why would Stanford choose two of the same kids from the same school?” I assured Elli that admissions don’t work that way, that Stanford might indeed consider Patrick despite his classmate’s acceptance.

Then Patrick’s results started trickling in. UC-Davis accepted Patrick with a substantial scholarship, a great sign because state universities are not known for giving scholarships to international students. Next up was Rice University, the school that Patrick’s older sister attends. Rejected. That was a hard pill to swallow. Elli texted me. Befuddled: “I feel that Patrick’s Rice essays are ones that he worked very hard for.”

Next up was UCLA, a university that is often considered a relatively safe school for students like Patrick. Denied.

I sent Elli a WhatsApp text. Patrick, she said, “would have chosen UC Davis over UCLA anyway. I’m glad this affected me more than him. I think all moms do over-worry and over-think.” Despite her words, I knew Elli was distraught, so I tried to calm her down via WhatsApp: “I’m sure you are concerned. However, I’m pretty sure that next week you might say (excuse my language) SCREW UCLA! MY BOY IS GOING TO A MUCH BETTER SCHOOL!”

One week later, Patrick heard from Northwestern. This time, Elli texted me. “Northwestern said yes! I’m so relieved. We love Northwestern and told Patrick to apply ED but he listens to you more. We are so grateful. Northwestern’s acceptance rate is lower than Rice, yet he didn’t get in. So it’s not linear, like you said. Now I can sleep better.”

Patrick was thrilled, but he still wanted to see what would happen on Ivy Day, a single date when most of America’s most selective schools announce their decisions. Soaring with hope because of his Northwestern acceptance, Patrick let me know as the results came in one-by-one.

“Did not get Cornell…. Princeton waitlist…. Rejected Harvard. It’s cool. I am okay. With Princeton, it’s a surprise, got waitlisted at least! Go Northwestern Wildcats!”

Later in the day, I received more text messages. “Getting Northwestern is such a blessing for me. I thought it was an impossible feat, so thank you sooooo much for everything you have done. Plus I got waitlisted for Princeton (what!!!?). Have no idea how that happened! BTW – Berkeley said YES! Not going there though.”

The next day I received a phone call from Indonesia. It was Patrick. He was crying and hyperventilating. “STANFORD SAID YES!” After a few dozen utterances of “Congratulations,” I told Patrick to go hug his mother.

The next day, Patrick’s group text read: “Omg I got Stanford! After the Ivies Day, it all seems so depressing, then Berkeley said yes, then Stanford. Still can’t believe this!”

A week later, I asked Elli to share her experience so that others might benefit. “People always ask me what ‘personal project’ Patrick did that got him into Stanford, as if being himself was not good enough. One mom asked me what summer school he did. I nonchalantly told her, well, it was summer break and he did what he liked doing: cooking! I only mentioned cooking to make the point that doing what you love is the best way to do it great. These kinds of questions always come up, but you are right. It’s not all about the resume. It’s not linear.”

Robert A.G. Levine, president of Selective College Consulting Inc., can be reached at (813) 391-3760, email BobLeVine@SelectiveCC.com or visit www.SelectiveCollegeConsulting.com

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