A large part of what drives admissions decisions at colleges is what’s called institutional priorities.

Institutional priorities can be part of why you may have heard that students with straight A’s and perfect test scores aren’t accepted. When, in contrast, students with lower test scores do get accepted.

We have to remember that colleges are businesses, meaning they have clear directives about how to shape the upcoming freshman class, and what enrollment priorities to focus on as they make admission decisions.

Priorities can involve:

  • Admitting students from a specific geographical area (from a particular state or in-state vs. out-of-state)
  • Test scores to target a specific range
  • Gender balance
  • Filling gaps in athletic teams or majors

Besides good grades and test scores, admissions offices generally seek to produce a well-rounded student body that fits the college’s mission and institutional interests.

So is there a way to determine an institution’s priorities to align with your child’s application decisions?

How To Find Out Institutional Priorities

While it is not always obvious what the specific enrollment priorities are, sometimes we can identify the overarching institutional goals by looking at a school’s strategic plan (which can sometimes be found on the school’s website).

My goal as an independent educational consultant is to work to stay informed about what colleges are prioritizing and understand how that can influence admissions decisions.

As we work with students as they research schools for their college list, here are some things we suggest they consider:

  • Check the school’s website for the school’s mission and strategic plan.
  • Research the breakdown of in-state and out-of-state students at a public university.
  • Review the gender breakdown of the undergraduate population.

Rick Clark from the Georgia Tech admissions office suggests that families ask colleges directly, “What are you looking for as you fill your class next year?” 

Some colleges will be transparent, and others will dance around the question. But you have the right to ask, and it’s better to ask than not. Rick also has a great blog on college admissions that I recommend you follow.

As I mentioned in my last newsletter, knowledge is power, and helping our students gain this knowledge is one of our goals at every single stage of our college counseling.

Empowering students with knowledge helps them better highlight their strengths in their college applications and stand out.

So while there are lots of institutional priorities that we can determine, there is no crystal ball. As outsiders, we often never know the full extent of a college’s enrollment goals.

If your child is denied admission, it often has nothing to do with them as a person or whether their grades were good enough. And that is a harsh reality for many parents and students.

How Can Students Strategize Their Application Process In Light of Institutional Priorities?

So what can students do? 

We tell our students to plan early for what they can control – and start as early as freshman year because their record for college application starts the first day of ninth grade.

Here’s how we advise our students:

  • Try to challenge themselves by taking the most rigorous course load their school offers in which they can be successful.
  • How to best show “demonstrated interest” in a college.
  • How to connect the dots between academic and extracurricular activities.
  • How to use their unique talents and strengths to make their college application stand out among the thousands of other applications.

Given the unprecedented number of college applications this year, we are going to be even more focused on helping students develop a well-balanced plan for their applications. But we will also be much more conservative when reviewing students’ college lists and make sure there is a broad range of schools. And we will continue to be strategic with the decision to send or not send test scores.

We’ll also continue scrutinizing trends and historical data to find schools that admit 50% or more of their applicants and put a few of those on the application list. 

Sometimes these colleges differ from the places with the biggest name recognition. But it is time to start considering some of these schools offering excellent education. Because it’s becoming increasingly crucial to hedge our bets and to have students diversify where they’re applying.

And certainly, that’s a personal goal for us, as independent college counselors, and something we will be talking to families about as we go through this next cycle to ensure we have many choices for our students.

Reach Out To Us If You Need Help

Feel free to contact us if you’d like to discuss this topic further. 

We offer a free discovery call, and we’re happy to discuss more about institutional priorities and how we can help your child build a college list that’s best suited to their unique strengths and talents. We’ll guide you through this next cycle, ensuring a diverse range of options. 

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