The prospective students who attended Days on Campus during the past two weekends are all facing a common dilemma in picking which college to attend. Some applicants knew without a doubt that Columbia was the school for them. But others are deciding between many top-tier schools.
The recent news about Columbia’s undergraduate admissions rate for the class of 2015—6.9 percent, in case you hadn’t already heard—has given rise to a variety of predominantly positive and proud reactions on the part of Columbia’s student body. It’s safe to say that the reactions on the part of those hopeful applicants who were not accepted to the class of 2015, and for the applicants of subsequent and most likely even more agonizing years to come, were not so ecstatic. But rather than focusing on the competitive aspects of schools, I feel that prospective students should evaluate the prestige of different schools’ specific programs or strengths instead of immediately considering the most competitive schools the best.
Whether or not you consider acceptance rates to be a calculable or viable method of evaluating a school’s prestige, there is no denying that prospective students, parents, and college rankings alike attribute a certain degree of respect to colleges based on how absurdly low their rates fall every year. Although U.S. News and World Report changes its methodology for its college rankings every year, admissions rates are always a factor in deciding any undergraduate or graduate school ranking. Yet you may find yourself wondering how an allegedly unbiased and need-blind process can successfully evaluate the lives and accomplishments of some 35,000 mostly qualified applicants.
Last December, in my senior year in high school, on the eve of the early decision admission results’ release by Ivy League schools, our assignment in my Contemporary Social and Political Issues class was to take a group of 12 applicants to the imagined “American National University” and choose six among them to admit, and one to waitlist. During the intense cacophony that was caused by six extremely opinionated students’ arguments for whether to accept the impressively qualified student from Harlem or the equally impressive Midwestern farmer into the imaginary university, I recognized that we were all potentially correct in our evaluations. We all disagreed on whom to accept among these highly qualified and impressive imaginary applicants, with the exception of one who had won an Intel Science Award and had near perfect SATs. But I am certain that similar disagreements still occur in some form or another during the real admissions process. It’s a process that is entirely contingent on a specific school’s agenda and limited resources. It was a reminder of the fact that, in the application pool for highly competitive schools like Columbia, there are too many overly qualified applicants.
I am not trying to insinuate that the ambivalence inherent to such a process makes it illegitimate. But it would be better if people focused more on the specific characteristics of a school, like Columbia’s Core Curriculum and faculty or Georgetown’s strength in international relations, rather than the U.S. News ranking or the admissions rate. College admissions officers have to constantly tailor their admissions agenda to make the process more effective for their respective schools, and I think that prospective students would be more satisfied with their admissions results if they sought out schools that were particularly good fits for them rather than immediately filling out applications for the top ten. I know from the experience of many former classmates that making so-called “prestige” a priority is not the right strategy in picking where to apply, whether it’s a “reach” school or a “safety.” It may seem obvious, but it’s always something to keep in mind.
The author is a Columbia College first-year.