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Articles / Applying to College / How to Think Like an Admissions Officer

Feb. 20, 2020

How to Think Like an Admissions Officer

How to Think Like an Admissions Officer

Nik MacMillan/Unsplash

Try as you might, it's difficult to predict whether you're definitely going to get into a specific college. Sure, you can use average test scores and GPA to gauge how you stack up against last year's applicants, but that alone doesn't guarantee whether you'll get accepted, wait-listed or rejected by a school. A tactic that can give you an advantage, however, is thinking like college admissions officers. They're the people who ultimately hold the fateful final decision in their hands, so here's a look into their process and how you can use that to your advantage.


Filling the Open Seats

The ultimate goal of an admissions officer's job is to fill the vacant seats in the school's incoming class. For example, let's say a school — let's call it Hypothetical University — has 5,000 seats open for first years and Hypothetical U's admissions office receives around 100,000 applications. Seems like they'll have a pretty easy job filling those seats, doesn't it? Not so fast! There's more that goes into it than simply choosing the most qualified 5,000 students from that pool.

Let me ask you a question: Are you applying to just one college, fully intending to attend if you get in? Hopefully, the answer is no! (And if your answer is "Yes," read this to find out why it shouldn't be.) With that in mind, do you think the same could be said for a good number of those 100,000 students applying to Hypothetical? Yes! But do admissions officers have any way to know that? Not really. Instead, they'll do their best to compensate for that level of uncertainty.

Compensating for Uncertainty

If the admissions office at Hypothetical University only admitted 5,000 students because that's how many seats they have open, what would happen if half of those students decided to go with another school they also got accepted to? All of a sudden, Hypothetical University only has 2,500 students attending, which leaves the school with a lot of empty, underutilized facilities, plus a shortage of tuition income. So admissions officers will naturally offer acceptance to more students than they have seats for.

This is a bit of a tricky situation, because if all of those students do choose to attend, the facilities are going to be overwhelmed. So as to make sure that they don't run out of space, admissions officers look to another factor beyond GPA and test scores: Demonstrated Interest. In other words, after all of the other academic qualifications are met, they'll start looking for students who actually want to attend their school.

Admitting Students Who Want to Attend

Demonstrated interest is really just that: Demonstrating your interest in attending a given school. So the powers that be at Hypothetical University will be looking for students who … want to attend Hypothetical University. That means they're going to keep an eye out for applications that come off as generic or applicable to any school — and they're probably going to lean toward rejecting those students. Why? Well, they want to ensure that the students they offer admission to have a higher chance of accepting it! Again, they want those seats filled, and a student who seems eager to attend their school is more likely to help with that. But on top of that, they also want to make sure a first-year student who attends sticks around! A student who comes off as more excited to attend has a lower chance of transferring, which is also something admissions offices want to avoid.

Getting into college can hinge on the quality of your application, including your level of excitement in the schools to which you're applying. Do yourself a favor and start demonstrating your interest early on — it may just bring your application one step closer to the "Accepted" stack. For more tips on the college admission process, head over to our YouTube channel, where we post new content regularly to help you get into your dream school.

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Written by

Rob Franek

Rob Franek

College Admissions and Test Prep Expert

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