Another story on the randomness of college admissions

First time poster, long time lurker.

There have been many discussions on whether someone can really predict the likelihood of admission, aka “chance” threads. I have an interesting story to share on the subject. There are two kids (one is mine, one is a close friend) who are virtually identical on paper. Same HS, very similar course load, GPA within 0.05 from each other, very close in test scores too. Same demographics – white ethnic, first generation in US, upper middle class. What’s more, their main EC where both are highly ranked nationally is the same, and they compete as a duo, so they share all the awards. Their applications overlapped on five colleges. How did they do?

Harvard – deferred kid A EA and rejected both RD
UChicago – rejected kid A RD, accepted kid B EA
Emory – accepted both RD, gave kid A significant merit money
UMichigan – deferred both EA, accepted kid A later on, kid B is still waiting
UPittsburgh – accepted both, gave twice as much merit money to kid B

So, as you can see from the results, these are two very strong kids, but four out of five schools clearly preferred one over the other, and they were equally split on which one they preferred. The UChicago results might be explained by applications timing, the rest looks like a coin toss.


At which schools did they have an interview?

A lot depends on what the school needs. And if both fit into a bucket, and the college only needs one, at that point it may be a coin toss, or it may be that they read applicant’s A info first and put it in the accept pile, so applicant B who looked just like applicant A wasn’t needed any more.

Essays can play a huge role and be subjectively received.

It’s been stating many times on CC but College Admissions is not random. Different institutions have different needs and 2 individuals are different no matter how similar some of their external characteristics may be. There are essays and LORs and how the total application presents the student.

Shows the importance of essays and LORs. If all you’re looking at is a checklist of GPA, test scores, and list of ECs, then the students looked very similar. Obviously, their essays and LORs were different and showed differing characteristics, strengths, weaknesses, proclivities, whatever.

Also shows the importance of matching what you offer to what the school values and wants. Kid A’s essays and LORs may have shown him/her to be a strategic thinker with a bit of a temper and kid B to be a slow and steady kid who’s a diplomat, for example. Different schools would value or be repelled by those characteristics to the point of accepting one kid and rejecting the other, even though on the surface the kids look identical.

Would have been more interesting if the applicants were identical twins with identical stats.

Essays, recommendations, and (if applicable) interviews are generally opaque to outside observers, and may cause different colleges to value otherwise similar applicants differently. Even when outside observers can see both applicants’ essays and recommendations, their preferences may not necessarily match the preferences of the colleges (and the colleges may not have the same preferences as each other).

The Chicago difference is probably influenced by early versus regular application.

There may be some randomness involved, such as the order of applications being read, or the assignment of application readers (some may “grade” harder or easier, despite training to get them to be similar), or what time of day the reader gets each application.

I think everything said above is somewhat true. But there is definitely a random factor. It could be that the individual person reading the essays at one school personally liked A or B essay more, not necessarily because of an institutional preference. Or Emory and Pitt liked both kids equally, but read the applications in deferent order, so that demographic "slot"was already filled when they read the second application. Or one got read late in the day after a bunch of standout apps, and the other got read at the end of the day when the admissions officer had rejected 30 dud applications in a row and felt more generous.

I know we all want to think it is fair, and I think overall it isn’t bad. But I think you are fooling yourself if you think there is a bright line demarcating the accepted from the denied. Probably most schools have some that were clear accepts and rejects. But i think there is a large group of qualified but not outstanding applications most places, and the admissions for that group will be somewhat random.

Last year, these quadruplet brothers all got into Harvard, Yale, and other institutions. They may not have had the same stats but they are quadruplets.

Adcoms describe lengthy discussions and even arguments about who gets in. When there are two or three or four times as many qualified (by raw numbers) applicants as there are seats, it can surely appear random to us!

There were a couple posts about twins differential admissions this year.

@ccprofandmomof2 , they interviewed everywhere that offered interviews, so Harvard, Chicago, Emory.

I think the moral to this story is wait and see the hand your dealt. It’s neigh unto impossible to predict results. Above all apply to matches and safeties!

When my D was applying to engineering schools she applied to Purdue, U of Kentucky (both OOS) and Case Western and accepted at all of them (rejected at NU and waitlisted at WashU, neither a surpirse). The University of Toledo was her safety. Surprisingly, Case and Purdue were affordable because of scholarships and financial aid. Several of her friends who applied to Purdue received little or no FA or scholarships from Purdue. Kentucky, the school we thought might give her the most scholarships offered $3500 and the rest in loans. We spent a few obligatory moments fomenting against UK but we got over that pretty quickly. She had pretty accepted the idea that she was going to attend Toledo. She’ll graduate from Purdue this May. There does seem to be an arbitrariness to both admissions and financial aid.

Did they apply to the same majors/schools?

@PurpleTitan Same schools within the universities, might have listed different intended majors, although the general direction was similar.

Decisions aren’t randomly made by individual schools. Many many many applicants apply and, as posts on CC demonstrate, seemingly identical applicants receive different decisions. What appears random to applicants and their families is not random to schools. Flipping quarters seems as good as chance me. The applicants did nothing wrong if rejected and nothing deliberately right if accepted. Don’t waste your time on this, please.

Essay and recommendations. Possibly interviews if they did them. Sometimes a “secondary” EC catches an admissions officer’s eye. Maybe one had more typos in a portion of the app than the other.