Super Selective, Highly Impacted Colleges: Why didn’t I get in?

As college acceptance and rejection letters start rolling in this month and families begin to fret over statistics and strategies, it’s worth taking note of a few facts.  Over 2 million students take the SAT annually but only about 16,500 Freshman enroll in the Ivy Leagues each year. Clearly, not all who take the SAT even consider applying to the Ivies or even the top 100 selective schools. But, of those who do apply, with admit rates hovering between 3-10%, the vast majority of applicants are rejected.  What’s up with that?

Here’s a blurb written in 2004 by an admissions officer from MIT that’s worth a read. His response to families who play the ‘blame game’ after Johnny or Janey didn’t get accepted to MIT is thoughtful, accurate and applicable to dozens of other highly selective colleges. The comments are also applicable to those applying to colleges that may not be considered ‘highly selective’ but which are ‘impacted’ as well (eg. some CSUs and UCs).

If you cannot read the rest of MIT’s blog below, here’s the best line: “…we could build 2, maybe even 3 perfect classes out of our applicant pool…”.

Taken directly from the MIT Admissions blog:

DEC 16, 2004

There Is No Formula

This whole “is there a formula to get into MIT” thing that’s been dominating College Confidential and the blog comments makes me sad. I understand that people want answers and explanations, but… alas.

Trying to define admissions with a formula is like trying to define life with a formula. It’s like trying to explain poetry using calculus. It would take the human component out of it, which is perhaps the most important part.

Reading through this thread doesn’t make me think of SAT scores or grades. It makes me think of the guy who fell in love with trains as a kid and worked so hard to include the world in that passion that Amtrak noticed and gave him a job before he could even drive. It makes me think of the girl who chose to commute an hour each way to attend a certain school, and the amazing friendship she developed with the bus driver that reinforced her dream of becoming a teacher. It makes me think of one girl’s amazing photograph of a swing and how that image says more about the world than any test ever could.

Of course you need good scores and good grades to get into MIT. But most people who apply to MIT have good grades and scores. Having bad grades or scores will certainly hurt you, but I’m sorry to say that having great grades and scores doesn’t really help you – it just means that you’re competitive with most of the rest of our applicants. MIT is very self-selecting in that regard.

It’s who you are that really matters. It’s how you embrace life. It’s how you treat other people. It’s passion. And yes, that stuff really does drip off the page in the best of our applications. It’s not anything I can explain – you just know when you read an application and a “perfect match” is there.

Please don’t argue about stats, about race, about gender. Katharine got some static along these lines a few threads back. Read her response – in particular the part about what’s important in life. If you don’t see that Katharine belongs here, then you obviously don’t know what MIT is about. (And for the record, Katharine’s application could hold its own against that of any boy.)

Here’s an equally important message: I saw the “perfect match” in a bunch of apps that we deferred. Please remember that we deferred a LOT of people who wholly deserve to be at MIT – folks who are passionate, who love life and the discovery thereof, who genuinely care about the people around them. The absolute worst part of this job is the fact that there are so few spots for so many qualified people, which means we can’t take everyone, even if they belong here.

The best we can do is try to build a perfect class. Not the perfect class, but a perfect class. As Andrew mentioned in a different thread, we could build 2, maybe even 3 perfect classes out of our applicant pool, without question. If you’ve been deferred, there is nothing I can say here to make this fact easier to digest. But trying to pin it on anything else – race, gender, whatever – is just deluding yourself. So please stop harassing Matt; you’re not going to get the answer you’re looking for. I wish we could just give you a perfect black-and-white response, but the real world is never that simple.

If you take nothing else from this post, just know that getting deferred is not a personal reflection on you. At all.

Accepted, deferred, or otherwise – you are all amazing people. As I said previously, you’ll make the world better whether you come to MIT or not. I know it’s not a consolation, but it’s still the truth.


read more MIT blogs here

[editor’s note: This A+ post was written in 2013. I re-post annually as it’s still applicable, just as the MIT post, written in 2004, is still applicable–Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose]