Just re-read "The Gatekeepers" - What Admissions is really looking for

<p>I just reread "The Gatekeepers." I first read it in 2004, when my son was just starting his Senior year in HS and we did not know yet what schools he'd be applying for. For those who do not know the book, it follows an admissions officer of a very selective school (Wesleyan) through an admissions season, giving an inside look at the process. Now that my son has graduated, and now that I've been on CC since forever, what selective colleges are looking for makes more sense now, and can be boiled down to just a few things:</p>

<p>1. They do not want their USNWR stats to go down, and, if possible, they'd like to see it increase. So how do SAT scores count? The answer is in the previous sentence. One interesting thing: if they got a great crop of Early Admissions people with very high scores, it gives them more leeway to forgive a less than perfect set of scores. But pay attention to the 25%-50% published stats.</p>

<p>2. They really, really, really want leaders and achievers, people who will bring something to the school and who will enrich the environment. For example, they could care less about a long resume of EC's. But they do want to see accomplishments in the EC's you do have, be it a leadership (or founding/leadership) position or in other outstanding accomplishments (academic, athletic, etc). These achievements, both during college and after college, will bring additional prestige to the school, and that is very important. In addition, they see achievers as those who are tackling the most rigorous courses the HS has to offer; it's just one of the indicators. Slackers need not apply.</p>

<p>3. They try to "engineer" the makeup of a class. For example, they do not want their percentages of URMs to decrease in any area from year to year, so that can affect admissions results. They really do think that URMs make a positive difference to the campus community. But this is an outgrowth of filling the "slots" (in a way) they need to fill, whether it's oboe players or basketball players or a capella singers, or WHATEVER.</p>

<p>It is obviously so much more than scores and GPAs (although, see #1 above). The questions you need to ask yourself about admissions are: "What are you going to bring that the school?" "What prestige will YOU bring to the school in the future?" Test scores and GPAs only get you in the door for consideration. From that point on, you'd better bring something very special (that they want/need) other than your lovely self, and you'd better make that known on the application (e.g., via the essays).</p>

<p>They want students, not their parents.</p>

<p>I just have to say though, I do know of many students who are not one-in-a-million exceptional (in a find-it-in-the-newspaper, end-up-becoming-another-Bill-Gates kind of way) who are accepted into very selective schools.</p>

<p>The book was a real eye-opener to me, read it my S's Jr. year and it helped our family manage our expectations. Especially when many said, "oh he'll get in everywhere!!" You have to keep up the mantra in your head that people who say things like that mean it as a compliment, but do not know what they're talking about. Of course, DS didn't get in everywhere, but he's found a very good place for himself.</p>

<p>I agree, fendrock. I know kids who get into the tippy-top schools who really are just bright (but not OMG-brilliant), well-rounded kids, who aren't perfect SAT scorers or state champions or Intel winners, but just nice bright kids with a few EC's.</p>

<p>When I read the book, the big surprise for me was that I had met one of the kids in the book. I used to be friends with his mom, and had stayed in their house when he was a high school freshman. What a small world it is.</p>

<p>S, who is not "one in a million on the way to becoming another Bill Gates," was in the class that was profiled in the book.
His school, while being below the national average in terms of overall statistics, must be well known to the adcom as it seems that every year several students are admitted.</p>

<p>I certainly know the experience of #2 in the OP. I've got to believe that college admissions folks looking at my DD noticed some leadership risks she took in h.s. Example: her performance of an edgy new play about Columbine in front of 7 high school principals, with talk-back following, as they needed to evaluate the script for suitability to perform in their own schools. It shows confidence. It also happened on exam week, and likely caused her a B instead of an A in one course, but those evenings were well worth the trade-off.</p>

<p>At college she developed EC's in circus performance, taught in their peer college, performed in the town with many others in an intermedia circus team. As a graduate, she's employed to help launch a circus theater in Providence, R.I. If successful, her college deserves tremendous credit for nurturing that creativity and giving it academic depth. </p>

<p>The college saw it in her app. All the seed skills were there in h.s.: writing, acting, producing. Her college majors (Religion and Art) are quite relevant and inform her work today, as she designs, writes, markets and performs "Circus Theatrics" for audiences of many backgrounds. There's no formula for this, except to seize upon unique achievement/leadership opportunities as each presents itself, starting in h.s.</p>

<p>I agree with mom in virginia--reading Gatekeepers helped us manage our expectations.</p>

I agree, fendrock. I know kids who get into the tippy-top schools who really are just bright (but not OMG-brilliant), well-rounded kids, who aren't perfect SAT scorers or state champions or Intel winners, but just nice bright kids with a few EC's.

Yes, and upon further review, many students who fall into the same slots don't get into the same school. As one adcom member said, something like, "A tray of really great hors d'oeuvres swings by...why did you take <em>this</em> one instead of <em>that</em> one?" A Yale adcom member told me that Yale could easily admit an entirely different class with very very few overlaps. So VaMom's point: managing expectations.</p>

<p>No, it's not a lottery. But neither is it a completely deterministic process.</p>

<p>If a school only takes 10% of the applicants then you don't need to be one in a million, just one in ten.</p>

<p>Wow, I love seeing the "old" names on this thread. It's just like old times. Let's party like it's 2004!</p>

<p>"I had met one of the kids in the book."</p>

<p>My small world was almost that good. Knowing that my Chinese teacher's daughter went to the same school as portrayed student Tiffany Wang, I told my teacher Tiffany's story of sneaking out at night. My teacher shrieked "My God! She was coming to our house!"</p>

<p>Fabulous book, but not all schools care about the USNWR one-size-fits-none ranking.</p>

<p>A college full of well-rounded kids can be boring.</p>

<p>"A college full of well-rounded kids can be boring."</p>

<p>Perhaps. Still, the top colleges aren't looking just for well-rounded kids. Those colleges want to create a well-rounded class with students with a variety of passions and skills. That can include many well lopsided kids.</p>

<p>I agree, Digmedia. I've been a long time College Confidential lurker ( older son was 2003 hs grad) and it was during his fall senior year I latched onto this site. Didn't sign in for a while. Read "Gatekeepers" that year (I think it was brand new), freaked out because it was just after all the applications went out, but found the book great nonetheless and gave it to our public high school counselor to help the next folks get through.</p>

<p>Son One had great college experience. Always have loved this site and recommended it to others and they have thanked me. Now as Son Two is nearing his 4 year college experience, I wonder why I still occasionally log on. </p>

<p>Perhaps it is Marite or Northstarmom (I knew from the first what your handle meant) who I look for: their connection to "our" college might be part of what I like about them but I am sure it is much more. (What happened to Curmudgeon?) I never felt I had much to give as so many of you were so helpful....this is a good community. I even come here when I think "what book do I want to read?" or "hmmm, bored with food, any good recipes?" as well as college info.</p>

<p>Thanks all of you, so very much.</p>


<p>thanks so much. CC has changed since I joined and sometimes, I get disheartened by the tone of some exchanges. and then, I read about students getting jobs and thanking parents for tips and other forms of support and my belief in what the CC community does and can be is restored.</p>

<p>Curmudgeon is still here, posted yesterday. :)</p>

<p>I will second Birch - thanks to all you veterans for all the great advice and encouragement you give. It's made all the difference to me. I was very frantic last February, when DS was a junior, and I realized how overwhelming the college search was going to be. CC has helped to settle my nerves and keep me sane! </p>

<p>For example, it was here that someone advised people to see if a certain school had extended their scholarship application deadline, because it had in the past. That was a lifesaver, because DS was exhausted beyond belief, and when I found that there WAS a deadline extension, it meant he could get a good night's sleep instead of writing an essay at midnight. There have been lots of things like that, too!</p>

<p>Oh great! Colleges really really want leaders and achievers. That is what my S is NOT! He refuses to do a sport (other than snowboarding and skateboarding), refuses to join a club (they're boring and stupid and full of geeks), and his grades are ho hum. He plays guitar but has no interest in forming a band or playing with others. How will a kid like him add diversity or be attractive to a college? He's a good kid and well liked, but just an average kid.</p>

<p>BfloGal, he might not wind up in a very selective college, but he'll still wind up in college. The book and the OP's list only represent what that admission counselor at Wesleyan was looking for that year. Extrapolating to all admissions counselors at all schools for all years is dangerous.</p>