Common reasons college applications get rejected

By Jackson Nimesheim & Cole Claybourn

Given the volume of college applications each year, admissions officers have tough decisions to make when it comes to filling limited seats.

In a competitive admissions environment, students may be rejected from schools where they could thrive, says Eddie Pickett III, senior associate dean and director of recruitment at Pomona College in California.

“For selective colleges, most students who apply can complete the work on campus, but there is only so much space in housing and classrooms,” he says. “Each school sets their own evaluation system and applies that while reading student applications.”

Applicants can increase their chances of getting accepted by understanding what college admissions officers most like to see on applications. Here are seven common reasons college applications get rejected, according to some experts:

  • Failure to meet high GPA or test score standards
  • Insufficient academic rigor
  • Lack of demonstrated interest
  • Application essay errors
  • Poor fit
  • Academic integrity concerns
  • Competition

Fit is a two-way street. Just as students look for schools that fit their interests, schools look for students who fit theirs.

Colleges seek students who can help them meet their institutional objectives, Pickett of Pomona says.

“The mission of a public institution is to educate the people in their state first and foremost,” he says. “For private universities, their mission and value statements should guide their priorities. The main goal on a residential college campus is to admit a student body who wants to contribute to the academic and social culture in your community.”

Admissions teams want to be assured that a transcript accurately reflects the abilities of the student who submitted it. LeSane says records of cheating or plagiarism can lead to rejection. Those who have been accepted could see their acceptance rescinded.

In some instances, students with a record of such mistakes may be forgiven. LeSane notes that context matters when it comes to questioning an applicant’s academic integrity record.

“Something that occurs in ninth grade can be perceived quite differently than in 11th or 12th grade,” he says. “Likewise, there can be a distinction between something that happens once and something that takes place multiple times.”

Exceptional grades and test scores sometimes are not enough to ensure acceptance. At particularly selective institutions, students often need “standout factors,” Galvin says.

Galvin says leadership positions and college-level research experience on a resume can grab the attention of admissions officers looking beyond transcripts.

“Competitive schools will almost always have lots of ‘lookalike’ students – pools of students with essentially the same transcripts from the same state or region looking to pursue the same major or field of study,” he says. “And with more of those students than they can accept, they’re looking for differentiators to prioritize admitting some over others.”


How to deal with rejection

Rejection is something everyone will inevitably experience, says Lindsey Giller, a clinical psychologist with the Child Mind Institute, a nonprofit focused on helping children and young adults with mental health and learning disorders. For some teens, a college rejection might be their first experience with it.

The emotions of the rejection itself can be compounded when friends or peers are accepted into a student’s desired school. Hearing them talk about their future plans and even wearing clothes with that school’s branding can cause feelings of bitterness or envy, Giller says.

It’s important for students to acknowledge and own their disappointment instead of hiding it or sweeping it under the rug. It may seem simple, she says, but verbalizing or writing out your emotions and explicitly stating exactly how you feel can go a long way in processing the emotions sooner and allowing you to move toward acceptance of the situation and excitement about your new reality.

“They can be disappointed that they didn’t get into their top choice school and at the same time they can get motivated for the options that remain, and start to potentially feel some excitement for this other city or this other program,” she says.

(Courtesy: US News)

Image courtesy of Pew Research

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