An inside look at how college admission decisions are made

by Grace

College applicants can learn some important lessons from an inside look at the admissions process of a private selective university located in Pennsylvania.

Getting bad grades in senior year, even with a stellar record previously and sky-high SATs, could sabotage a student.

A student with a perfect SAT score could find himself on the bubble if he hasn’t visited campus or shown other real interest.

Having a parent, grandparent, or sibling who attended Lehigh – known as a legacy – can help, but it’s no guarantee of admission.

The student’s high school can have a major influence on admission chances, depending on the rigor of the curriculum and whether a student took the intensive courses.

With so much competition, students must distinguish themselves, whether it’s in the essay, in the interview with a staffer, or through an entrepreneurial activity.

Sometimes pure geography plays a role.

Last spring a reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer was allowed to sit in on discussions among the admission panel members of Lehigh University, which accepts less than 30% of its applicants.

One applicant was a case of high grades but low SAT scores, with a story behind the numbers.

The applicant from Colorado scored a decent 640 on his math SAT, but 460 on reading. Collectively, he got an 1100, well below Lehigh’s profile. Typical scores for Lehigh range between the low 1300s to mid-1400s on reading and math. (Lehigh doesn’t consider the writing SAT.)

But there are exceptions on both ends.

“A kid who is doing everything he or she can in the high school, but just doesn’t test well, we’d take the kid,” Washington said….

Jessica DeSantis, associate director, advocated for the student with the 460.

“He does fine in his English courses and his writing is good,” she said.

The teen had a 3.95 GPA. He’s a legacy; his grandfather attended. And he started his own business. He purchases sweatshirts, cuts them up, and sews differently colored pieces together. He sells 10 to 20 of the sweatshirts per month, cutting and sewing on his own.

“The question is,” DeSantis said, “do we let the critical reading decide this or do we let the other aspects counterbalance it?”

Staff voted 10-2 to admit, with three to wait-list.

Their decision-making included a goal to create a diverse student body, as well as other factors.

When the team finished preliminary decisions, members analyzed the admitted group, paying attention to gender and racial balance, academic quality, and enrollment in majors. Preliminary admissions to business were running high; some were cut.

Related:  Students ‘baffled’ and ‘dumbfounded’ by 2013 college admissions decisions (Cost of College)


2 Comments to “An inside look at how college admission decisions are made”

  1. Favoring students who have done a campus visit seems discriminatory against less well off students.


  2. Supposedly colleges take income level and location into account. But a middle-income applicant living less than an hour from a school might be expected to visit, for example.

    Other expressions of interest are also considered, like college website portals that are never visited by applicants. Supposedly those are tracked by some schools.


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