While it is true that, all other things being equal, the better one’s academic credentials, the better one’s chances for admission, it is simply not true that every student admitted to a given college will have higher test scores or a higher grade point average than those who are not offered admission.
Colleges like Princeton are â€œselectiveâ€ in two ways: first, every year, more well-qualified students apply than it is possible to admit, and therefore difficult choices have to be made; second, in setting out to enroll a freshman class that is characterized by a variety of academic and non-academic interests, exceptional skills and talents, experiences, aspirations, and backgrounds, admission officers exercise judgments relating to factors that are not readily quantifiable. Princeton is a relatively small, residential university, with an admissions staff that is well aware that an important part of the college experience of each student is derived from the mix of people he or she will live with, study and play with, and otherwise come to know.
In other words, you should realize that in applying to a college with more qualified applicants than there are places available in the freshman class, there will be some factors affecting the ultimate decision on your application (primarily, the number and nature of all the other applications) over which you have no control. Too often, applicants not offered admission automatically assume that there are specific deficiencies or faults in their applications when in fact that simply isn’t the case. No college enjoys the prospect of disappointing qualified applicants, but applicants who are not in some measure prepared for the possibility of being disappointed are being unrealistic. (When all is said and done, I happen to believe that the saving grace of college admissions as a whole in this country is the fact we don’t all agree on precisely the same students to admit in a given year.)
My final post in this informal series will discuss the importance of keeping perspective.