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Confessions of College Admissions Officers

What really goes through the minds of college admissions officers, and what it means for students applying to college.

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(Photo Credit: Anna Gutermuth/Flickr)

There are many prestigious colleges and universities to choose from, each offering promise for a bright future. The people on college admissions boards hold the potential for those futures in their hands, but they are only human. 

They make mistakes.

There may be an unwritten code that admissions officers never admit to making mistakes, but those who are honest with themselves know that they do.

Parke Muth on Quora discusses being contacted by a student that he had rejected. She was the top student in the school she attended, and was hoping to transfer to her original, first choice for higher education. Mr. Muth's surprise must have been quite genuine.

In the end, he says he talked her out of the transfer not for himself, but because this student had prestige and quite a few research perks right where she was. It was an especially good deal for her.

The moral of the story here is that a rejection from any one university does not mean you are not good enough as a student. Wherever you go, do well and prove the naysayers wrong. Sometimes people who make difficult decisions that affect the lives of so many students make mistakes.

SAT scores are important.

There's a lot of talk about working hard to get good grades and having an interesting extracurricular portfolio, but the bottom line is that your SAT scores matter, as well. Some prestigious universities will admit a student with, for example, a 3.0 GPA but extremely high SAT scores. The logic behind this is that the student is obviously capable, and when you put brilliant people in an inspiring environment, they tend to bloom. High school seldom offers inspiration or opportunity to choose a course of study that is of great interest to the student.

Being interesting does matter, and somebody with nothing more to show for their time in high school except for grades and an SAT score is less likely to be chosen over a kid who enjoyed participating in sports, theater, and music, and who writes an essay detailing what she plans to do after earning a degree, assuming she also passed her classes and scored high on the SAT. But when admissions downplays the importance of SAT scores, they may not be telling the whole story.

While it's sad to see how much stress kids sometimes experience over taking the SATs, the naked truth is that those scores do matter to admissions officers.

It's a crap shoot.

You worked hard in school and you did well on the SATs. You are an interesting person who is capable of expressing yourself well in writing. You have dreams and goals. How could you not get in?

There are so many more would-be students than places at most schools, even after admissions has whittled down the applicant pool. Even if you are one of the many perfect candidates for a school, you still might not get in.

This goes back to the first point about admissions officers making mistakes. If you don't get in, don't take it personally. Maybe there were three or four applicants for each placement. Do well, wherever you study and whatever you do.

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What advice do you have for people applying to colleges? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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