How to Apply to College: Planning Ahead or Taking a Risk?

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Access to higher education has been a hot topic for quite some time. Some say it’s a totally arbitrary system, while others claim that universities use careful planning and strategy. The purpose of this report is to explain whether or not universities employ an arbitrary method of selecting students to enroll. It also includes tips on how to do better on the college entrance exam and increase your chances of getting accepted.

Admissions: Random or Strategic?

Comprehensive Admissions:

In the United States, prospective students are judged on a number of criteria rather than just one. A “holistic” admissions process would operate in this way. Examples include academic performance, standardized test scores, extracurricular and volunteer activities, letters of recommendation, and personal statements. The method is not totally arbitrary, but there is some room for interpretation. Admissions officers at universities are looking for well-rounded students who will contribute in more ways than just the classroom. The worlds of higher education and casinos might not seem connected at first. However, there are some fascinating parallels to be drawn by looking at the randomness in both processes. How do concepts like probability and luck play a role in settings like university admissions and slot machine play? There is an element of chance in both applying to college and playing slot machines. Candidates can increase their chances of acceptance by bolstering their credentials and effort through the strategic and all-encompassing college admissions process. On the other hand, slot machines are controlled entirely by random number generators (RNGs), so player skill or strategy is completely irrelevant. The analogy is meant to be a gentle reminder that, despite appearances to the contrary, people can still improve their outcomes through educated decision-making and strategic efforts, even when randomness and chance appear to be the norm. Read more about the randomness of slot games over at

The Admissions Officer:

A school’s admissions office is responsible for reviewing applications and making acceptance decisions. They know what they’re doing and always follow the rules set forth by the company. This guarantees an extremely random outcome to the process. Taking into account the institution’s values and goals makes the admissions process less arbitrary and more strategic.

Tips to Improve Test Performance and College Acceptance:

1. Successfully Complete Difficult Courses

Colleges value students who have taken challenging courses and maintained high GPAs. The National Association of College Admission Counselors (NACAC) conducted a survey of colleges in 2019 and found that nearly three-quarters of them considered students’ course grades to be very important. According to JBG Educational Group college advisor and executive functioning coach Christina Skeldon, “A good GPA gets you through the first round.” “The next step is to highlight the individual qualities that set this student apart. What did they do when they weren’t in school? Who else do you think they are if not a student? “Over 80% of schools ranked curriculum rigor as at least somewhat important, so try to take as many advanced classes as possible, especially in your junior and senior years. Make a well-considered decision between IB, AP, and Honors courses. According to Skeldon, universities “like to see that students challenged themselves and took higher-level courses in areas that they are strong in.”

2. Score Well on the SAT/ACT

Despite the rise in popularity of test-optional policies in recent years, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, SAT/ACT scores remain useful indicators of whether an applicant will be admitted to a four-year university. More than four out of five institutions surveyed by the NACAC placed moderate to high importance on students’ performance on standardized tests. Even if a particular university doesn’t request standardized test results, you should still submit them anyway. Many students decide whether they need to retake the SAT or ACT in the fall of their senior year by taking it in the spring of their junior year. The best way to prepare for either exam is to use official practice questions and tests, many of which are free of charge. You can also get help in preparing for the SAT or ACT by hiring a tutor, enrolling in a class, or purchasing a book.

3. Write a Powerful Personal Statement

The personal statement is more crucial than ever given that many universities no longer require the SAT or ACT for admission. More than half of the colleges and universities surveyed by NACAC considered the essay or writing sample to be important. The essay you submit is one of your best marketing tools. According to Skeldon, “an outstanding essay reveals who the student is beyond a GPA or test scores.” Spend some time thinking of a unique approach and picking the best prompt. The point is to relate an interesting anecdote about yourself.

4. Be Engaged

The NACAC found that the level of interest shown by prospective students is a deciding factor for admissions at 40% of the institutions surveyed. Visiting a school, taking a tour, and talking to admissions officers are all great ways to demonstrate your interest in enrolling there. Skeldon stressed the importance of a formal visit. Some universities still require interviews, so I believe it looks good when a student reaches out to the admissions office to request one. It is also a good idea to follow the school’s social media accounts, participate in online seminars for prospective students, and get in touch with faculty members in your intended field of study.

5. Get Strong Recommendation Letters

Letters of recommendation provide insight into an applicant’s character that grades and standardized test scores cannot. That’s why it’s crucial to pick references that will speak highly of you and your skills, accomplishments, and character. The standard request for letters of recommendation from teachers and high school guidance counselors is three to five. Use proper etiquette when making your request. Make sure to inquire about a month before any application deadlines. Give your recommender plenty of time to put together a stellar letter of recommendation.

6. Diverse College Applications

All three of a student’s “safety,” “match,” and “reach” schools should be applied to. Inquire with your high school’s guidance counselor about potential colleges to which you could apply and their acceptance rates. If you pick these people as your matches and safeties, you have a good chance of being accepted. Once you’ve accomplished that, it’s time to start thinking about “reach schools,” or schools where you have a lower chance of acceptance. Keep in mind that the vast majority of students cannot afford to attend elite institutions such as the Ivy League or very prestigious private universities like Stanford. If you apply to a large number of schools, you increase your chances of acceptance at at least one of them.

7. Choose Early Admission

Research shows that students who apply early to their preferred schools have a greater chance of being accepted. This is due to the fact that during early decision and early action admissions periods, colleges typically accept a larger number of applicants. Skeldon always stresses the importance of having applications in on time. The optimal time to submit an application for both programs is in early November. The sooner, in December at the latest, a decision is made on your application for admission, the better. When applying for college early, prospective students have the option of either “early decision” or “early action.” The former requires an unconditional commitment to an institution, while the latter does not.

8. Reputation Management

Admissions officers are increasingly checking applicants’ social media profiles to learn more about them and to look for warning signs that might discourage them from extending an acceptance. Before applying to colleges, remove anything embarrassing or inappropriate from your online profiles. Skeldon advised keeping social media profiles private and emphasized the value of using a business-related email address. Do a Google search for your name to ensure that nothing negative has been posted in your name.

9. Ask for Help

It is not advised that you tackle the college application process alone. Consult teachers and counselors who have experience with the admissions process for guidance as you finish up the application preparation process. Advice about the application process and college life can also be gleaned from parents, friends, and older siblings. Finally, you should proofread your application before submitting it. Skeldon stressed the value of getting a second opinion on your work. The importance of using proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation cannot be overstated.