Jeff Selingo Reveals "Who Gets In and Why" - ASK HIM ANYTHING!

@Jeff_Selingo has been writing about colleges and universities for more than 20 years. He is former editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education, a contributor to The Atlantic and The Washington Post, and author of two New York Times bestsellers.

His newest book is Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions was released September 15. For the book, he was embedded in the admissions process at three selective colleges: Emory, Davidson, and the University of Washington, as well as followed a group of seniors and influencers who pull levers on the admissions process that you never see, such as the rankings, the testing agencies, and financial aid consultants.

The book has already been praised in reviews in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

He will help answer your questions about how colleges craft a class and what you can do as an applicant to improve your chances. Ask him anything.

Jeff has agreed to give away a free copy of the book to the first 15 members that ask a question.

How much of a role does financial aid play in the decision making process? I am having a difficult time really understanding “need blind” and “meets need.” Are students narrowed down to a final list and then, depending on aid, they are admitted based on how much aid is needed?

I get it – the terms are confusing and it’s worth it to ask each school exactly what they mean.

Lots of colleges claim to be “need-blind” in admissions, which means they don’t take financial need into consideration when reviewing applications for admissions (at least as a policy – obviously they see an applicant’s zip code, what their parents do, etc).

But fewer than 60 colleges are BOTH need-blind in admissions and meet full need. What that means is that they promise to meet the full financial need of the student according to their EFC (expected family contribution). The rest of the colleges that are need-blind do something called “gapping.” They give you some money but not all of it and then expect you to figure out how to make it.

Rather than do that, some colleges are “need-aware.” That means at some point in the process, usually near the end, they look at how much the class they want to enroll will cost them. It almost always costs them too much, so they go through the admit pile and shift those that will cost them too much and they may not want for other reasons to the deny or wait list pile (usually schools that are need-blind or need-aware in admissions don’t follow that for the wait list).

Hope that helps. In the book I profile Lafayette College and show how they do need-aware admissions.

What are the biggest trends you see coming from the Covid upheaval? Will tests disappear from college admissions at the most selective schools? And, do you believe at some point, when the lines get too blurred, tests might make a comeback, maybe in a different format I.e., a new test might come on the scenes ala the UC system?

I think tests will come back at the most selective schools (Ivy-plus), but test optional will grow a lot after this because many top schools will remain optional. So that will become the norm. But as I point out in this Atlantic excerpt from the book, applicants who think the test gives them an edge will continue to submit.

But what happens when only students submitting scores are those well above the average? Then any meaning that published scores have is diminished. And that might be the moment when standardized tests die (

Do some schools have a bar students have to cross for their application to be considered? Like they must meet a minimum gpa, course rigor, test score or their application won’t really be considered?
And is there some kind of limit for the numbers of students a school will accept from any one high school?

Regarding where we might end up with test optional, many states still have a HS graduation requirement that juniors/seniors take the SAT or ACT, typically during a school day. In Illinois the SAT is on for this fall for seniors, and again, a graduation requirement.

Colleges know this, so do you think if students get access to tests this way, that might lead to colleges going back to requiring a test for admission? For example, even this year, Georgetown is only TO for students who don’t have a test score. So, if a student has taken a test (including a state mandated one) they can’t apply TO, and must submit any and all test scores.

Adding on to @Mwfan1921, our D will sit for the Illinois SAT and it might be the only test she gets. Would it look bad for her to still go TO if that score doesn’t end up matching the rest of her app?

Also, in regards to need blind, did you get the sense that need blind truly means need blind? One, there’s a question on the Common App that asks if you are applying for financial aid so AOs see that answer and, two, AOs sometimes know the high school well and can make some assumptions that many families there are full pay. Many colleges have a consistent percentage of full pay students and that can’t be an accident. They must seek out full pay students but how is that really done when a college says that are need blind? Selfishly hoping that full pay is a boost even at need blind schools.

How important are AP tests to the admissions process, as opposed to being used for placement after admission?

What makes a successful essay for the student? What are the components of that essay?

How many AP courses do selective colleges expect a student to take? My junior will most likely end up with 5 or so over two years (not available until junior year at our HS).

How accurate do you think schools’ C7 Common Data set data is? I’m struck by the excerpt on the Emory legacy/child of an employee who gets a “yes” despite lackluster academics - when academics is marked very important and legacy status is “considered”.

Jeff, did you work at these colleges? If not, how were you able to gather information about their admission processes? I thought colleges considered their policies (other than the basic admission requirements they post on their websites) as proprietary information. It would be interesting to hear how the book came about and how you were able to gather the information you needed to complete it.

“…promise to meet the full financial need of the student according to their EFC (expected family contribution).”

It’s not the Fafsa EFC. It’s as the college calculates per its formulas. This already confuses many.

Please be aware the answers here refer particularly to 3 colleges. Not all.

@3kids2dogs i doubt any school will say that legacy is “important”! And we know plenty of kids getting into Ivies ahead of better students at our school because, well, legacy.

Do you think ED will become more important at some schools? And do you feel that will hurt first generation, low income and URM student?

Well, all things being equal, sure, take the legacy (or the first gen, desired racial/ethnic status or other “considered” factor). But, it seemed like this candidate wouldn’t have been given a second look without the legacy/employee status. Is this common for all “considered” factors. or does legacy hold a special place among them?

…and none of the schools will say academics is anything less than “important”.

Are there certain colleges that look for “well rounded students” verses “pointed students” and how do know which is which?

Do you think students will be less likely to leave their geographic area post Covid and how will that impact college admissions?

From early 2019, CDS C7 / listings of what admissions factors colleges say they consider very important, important, considered, or not considered: