Who Gets In? The key to admission remains a mystery

Wednesday, February 15, 2006
By Eleanor Chute, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Anita Dufalla, Post-Gazette
Contents: Who Gets In? / What’s behind good grades, test scores? / Activities outside class can make a difference / Admissions officers asking race question
Gender can be blessing or curse in college admission / Discipline history should include all explanations / Two-year schools may fit better / They got in / College admissions officials offer their advice on — admissions
One student with top grades and college entrance exam scores gets into Princeton and Yale but is rejected at Columbia University.
Another high achiever is accepted at Penn State but turned down by the University of Michigan.
A third with a grade average teetering between a “B” and a “C” is accepted at Indiana University of Pennsylvania but rejected at Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania.
All of these cases from recent years at Franklin Regional High School raise this question:
Who gets in?
“Along with the Sphinx, the DaVinci code and Easter Island, college admissions is one of the world’s great mysteries,” said Mary Beth Kurilko, associate director of undergraduate admissions at Temple University.
“I see it in the faces of the parents who hover around their children during our information sessions. They’re listening for it, leaning forward in their chairs so as not to miss it — that one thing that will throw open the door to their child’s dream college.”
For Ms. Kurilko, one of the secrets that makes a difference is a strong essay.
“In truth, most students present with the usual host of college-prep courses, activities, clubs and civic involvement. All well and good, but a borderline candidate has a better chance at admission if they write a genuine essay that outlines precisely why they want and need to be admitted,” she said.
This special section focuses on what makes a difference in who gets in.
Admissions officers share their advice, ranging from the essay to the interview.
Other stories look at the effects that race, gender, grades, scores, activities and disciplinary records have on college admissions. Another shows what two-year schools look for. Students who already have been admitted to college for next fall are profiled.
Some of the factors that affect admissions are things students simply can’t change.
“No, you can’t change your color, where you live,” said Susan Williams, Franklin Regional High School guidance counselor.
But she said students can distinguish themselves.
She said the district’s counselors sit down with ninth-graders to talk about a four-year plan to get them focused on the future.
“Here are the things colleges are going to be looking at: academics, test scores, activities. Some of them don’t have anything. That’s when you begin to say, ‘OK, let’s get a little community service. Are you sports minded? Let’s get involved in sports.’ “
And if sports is the first thing that comes to mind, grades and scores still make a difference.
“Your grade-point average in college [admissions] is more important than your points-per-game average,” said Gay Lucci, senior athletic recruiter/senior admissions counselor at Wheeling Jesuit University.
“The first questions our coaches and I ask athletes are not related to their athletic performance. We want to know test scores. Your verbal score? Your math score? It is a wake-up call for many young high school students and their parents.”
Despite a student’s best efforts, rejection still may loom. Even top students sometimes receive letters of rejection.
“Harvard could fill its class with valedictorians and still reject people. That’s what’s really hard for 17-year-old kids to understand. Why don’t they want me?” said Ms. Williams.
If rejection strikes, said Travis Lindahl, associate director of admissions at Mercyhurst College, think about this:
“In the end, remember that if a college does not accept you, it really should not be seen as a measure of who you are or what you can accomplish.
“There are at least 10 students for every yard Jerome Bettis has ever rushed for in high school, college and the pros that have been rejected at one school, only to go on to greatness at another. Explain yourself, market yourself, and show [your college choices] why they should add you to their campus.”
February 15, 2006
Pending permission.
Education writer Eleanor Chute can be reached at echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955.
Read more here.

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