The Secret Sauce of College Admissions

Dr. Brian Mitchell:

Moody’s issued a report last week pointing to a basic discrepancy in how we view college admissions that underscores the collapse of the college tuition-dependent finance model.

In its report, Moody’s noted that applications to private colleges rose 70 percent from 2004 to last year but the annual total of new high school graduates rose only five percent. The credit rating agency argued that the rise in applications created a perception of far greater selectivity than actually occurred at many colleges and universities.

While the argument made centered upon private colleges and universities, the same may be said for many public sector institutions. Indeed, it seems that the only group isolated from this perception was a handful of the most selective colleges and universities, whether private or public. In these cases, global branding, consumer perceptions, alumni “feeder” and job placement networks, and financial aid policies may play a larger role to assure more broadly-based, genuinely highly selective admission classes.

The truth is that selectivity is often based on how you measure and value it. Many colleges and universities have “carve out,” “conditionally accepted,” or wait list graduates lined up to create the illusion of far greater selectivity than actually exists. Thus, while the aggregate applicants/admit number may be correct, the route to acceptance may vary widely depending on what each candidate brings to the table.