Ask The Dean - College Admissions
Question: Some of my smartest friends were rejected by good colleges. Why?
Sometimes just being smart isn't good enough. Your friends have come into the knowledge of what "competitive" colleges are all about.
The competition at "good" colleges (and by "good" I'm inferring you mean selective to highly selective) gets tougher every year. The trend for the past decade or so has been for more and more students to apply to fewer and fewer colleges and universities. As a result, the selection criteria at these "good" schools have become more stringent.
Good grades and test scores aren't enough any more. Top schools are looking for evidence of excellence beyond the classroom. Community service, artistic pursuits, athletic success, and even entrepreneurial ventures play an important part in selecting classes for these institutions.
Another problem a lot of otherwise qualified applicants inflict on themselves is poor recommendations. Perhaps your friends did not spend as much time as they should have selecting those teachers who wrote their letters of recommendation. The recommendation is the most overlooked weapon in the arsenals of most college applicants. Just because a teacher gives you a good grade doesn't mean he or she is capable of writing a good recommendation. Remember, a good recommendation should be not only articulate, but it should also reveal pertinent anecdotal information about the student.
Another element that can determine an applicant's success is the reputation of his or her high school. This factor, unfortunately, is well beyond the control of the students. Admission officers regard certain high schools as "feeders" which means these schools have a good track record for providing qualified applicants to a particular college or university. If your school has never sent a student to a certain competitive college, it may take one superior senior from your class to break the ice, so to speak. Once your school becomes known at top colleges, it becomes a little easier for future applicants to get serious consideration.
Regardless of how well you analyze the situation, though, sometimes there is just no understanding why certain seniors are rejected by their first-choice colleges.