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If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.
--Derek Bok


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Getting Admitted Should Not Be A Mystery

When you imagine how colleges decide which students to admit and which to reject, you might picture a table surrounded by faceless, dark figures. You may even fear these anonymous admission officers who have the power to cast away applications simply on a whim. “Too old,” one exclaims as he dumps the application into the trashcan. “Weak academic record,” says another as she crumples and tosses the application onto the floor.

While it would be much more exciting to write about if the above were true, it is, fortunately, not. The truth is that every admission officer who we’ve met (and we’ve met hundreds) has a similar approach to reviewing applications. They are looking for reasons to admit students, not to deny them. Admission officers carefully review every application looking for signs that the applicant is a fit for the college and would make a successful student.

While admission officers strive to be fair and balanced, they have no qualms about rejecting applicants who thoughtlessly scribble answers on their applications and who don’t take the process seriously. For schools where there are more applicants than seats in the classroom, competition can be fierce which means you’ll definitely want to spend time on your application to make sure it is as strong as possible.

The first step to creating a successful college application is to understand how the process works and what admission officers are looking for when reviewing your application. Once you know how the process works, you can begin to market yourself to the college, showing them why you deserve to be there.

How The Admission Process Works

Colleges are a lot like nightclubs. Some are open to anyone who can pay the cover charge. Others have velvet ropes and bouncers to carefully select who to admit. For less selective programs like community colleges or certificate programs, you may only need to complete an application form and meet the minimum requirements, and you’ll be automatically admitted. For more selective programs, you’ll need to complete an application form, which may include writing an essay, getting recommendation letters and even doing an interview.

For these more selective programs, your application will be reviewed by the admission office. Some schools even have special admission officers who specialize in adult applicants. Usually if two admission officers recommend accepting you, an admission director signs off on the recommendations and you are accepted. At other schools, admission officers make recommendations to an admission committee, which then decides as a group whether to accept, deny or defer your application.

In terms of deadlines, some colleges have a single deadline for all applications. Other schools have a priority deadline for students who want to be considered for both admission and financial aid and then a later deadline for students who just want to be considered for admission. Finally, some schools have what is known as rolling admission, which means that the college will accept students until they fill up all of the open spaces. In every case it is critical that you understand when the deadline is, and in most cases, the sooner you submit your application the better.

Putting Together A Compelling Application

Let’s assume that you are applying to a college or university that does not accept every applicant. This means that you will fill out an application that includes lists of your accomplishments, previous educational experience, personal essays and letters of recommendation, and you may even have an interview. It might be useful to think of the entire application as a puzzle. Your job is to fit together the different pieces of your life including your work experience and personal and professional goals to show the college why you deserve to be admitted.