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Articles / Applying to College / Some of my smartest friends were rejected by good colleges. Why?

Feb. 3, 2002

Some of my smartest friends were rejected by good colleges. Why?

I'm getting worried, and I haven't even applied anywhere yet. Last year, some of my smartest friends were rejected by good colleges. They had great SATs and GPAs - better than mine! What happened?

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.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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