Analysis Perspective

Arbitrary U.S. college admissions process confusing for students

Abigail Turner, a junior at Thomas S. Wootton High School in Rockville, Maryland. (Photo courtesy of Abigail Turner)

Rockville, Maryland, U.S.A. – The U.S. college admissions cycle has begun to wind down this year and seniors are beginning to commit to universities. This leaves juniors to start preparing for their own journeys through the application process, a transition that has left many students overwhelmed and dissatisfied with American college admissions. 

A defining characteristic of American college admissions is the “holistic review process.”

This is a term admissions officers are particularly fond of and it means that a single test score or a single leadership position won’t make or break a student’s chances of getting into a university. Instead, the school considers students in the context of their high school opportunities and determines who to accept or deny based on a combination of factors. 

While this might have its benefits – a student with lower grades or a lower standardized test score might be able to make up for lacking a course in statistics by having stellar extracurriculars – it can also convolute the admissions process.

“I think the fact that there are so many different factors that are considered in college admissions just makes it that much more daunting. It’s not always entirely clear what exactly colleges are looking for, and I’ve heard many people refer to the process as a lottery because it seems so arbitrary,” said Abigail Turner, a junior at Thomas S. Wootton High School in Rockville, Maryland.  

The uncertainty surrounding the college admissions process is exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. Many universities chose to adopt test-optional policies for the Class of 2025 admissions cycle and plan to continue this system into next year.

While this does accommodate students who have been unable to sit a college entrance exam like the SAT or ACT due to the pandemic, it also creates discrepancies between those who do have test scores and those who don’t.

The uncertainty of this system, which does not explicitly place more value on any aspect of a student’s application, is different from the U.K. college admissions process. According to The Insider, a New York-based online publication, British institutions for higher education hold educational performance as the most important factor for admission.

Additionally, 99% of U.K. admissions officers prioritize the perceived likelihood of an applicant to complete their degree, according to The Independent, a UK publication.

This emphasis on academics can be seen through the University of Cambridge’s application requirements for American students. According to the university website, American applicants are required to have at least five Advanced Placement (AP) test scores with a score of five, or the highest score possible, just to apply.

These rigorous requirements emphasize from the get-go what British universities are looking for, while schools in the U.S. provide no such emphasis.

College admissions can be an exciting time that will ultimately lead students into their future careers, but it can also be an intimidating and uncertain process.

Brace yourselves, juniors.

Hannah Rah is a Junior Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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