Applicants and Admissions Directors almost always seek the same thing. Applicants want to be desired by Admissions Directors and Admissions Directors want their schools to be desired by applicants. Applicants want to optimize their ability to gain admission to the highest-ranking school that fits their education/career needs, and Admissions Directors want to optimize their ability to climb in the rankings, so that applicants will continue to find their schools desirable.
Logic has it that if Admissions Directors can change the input of the rankings by increasing test scores and GPA (a metric that fails to take into account the school of origin and the rigor of the curriculum), then the school should climb in the rankings. However, in a year like 2015, where 20% of the schools that consistently see 80% of the applicant pool all had double-digit application increases, we know the schools will stay relatively the same in the rankings. In fact, the USNews ranking hasn’t changed dramatically over the years for this very reason: the schools move in a group.
It’s a vicious cycle that often leaves incredibly gifted and desirable applicants in the dust. It’s also a vicious cycle that leaves incredibly forward thinking/innovative schools in the dust.
If you are an applicant with high aspirations and low statistics, you need to be strategic about your actions and your application choices but there are also several things you can do to improve your chances of acceptance.
1. Request an assessment: Obtain a realistic assessment from an admissions officer or an admissions consultant. The assessment should give you an indication of schools that would be stretch for you, schools that match your qualifications, and schools that you should select as safeties. You would be surprised to learn the number of C-level executives and successful entrepreneurs who attended safety schools.
2. Cast your net widely: Note that the larger the class, the better an admissions director can hide his or her lower statistic candidates. Look at the Forbes wealthiest individuals and aside from the over-proportional number of drops outs (note: I believe in education opening doors and do not condone dropping out of school even if you are Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Marc Zuckerberg or Sheldon Adelson), you will see a lot of billionaires that attended schools that many prospective students don’t have on their radar.
3. Be proactive: if your grades tanked, take classes to mitigate concerns before you apply. If your scores tanked, obtain tutoring you need to bring your score up (tutors have helped my clients increase their scores dramatically in just a few hours of intense study).
4. Show your interest: Visit the school. Get to know students and alumni who can go to bat for you on your behalf.
5. Be interesting: One-trick ponies don’t make for interesting reading. The Art of Admissions is very much like blind dating. It’s up to you to get the admissions committee interested in eating a 5-course meal with you rather than speeding through a cup of coffee.
6. Make a compelling case of acceptance. Show fit with the school’s culture, strengths, and values. Reveal leadership, contribution, impact, innovation, and a track record that will cause the admissions readers to say “Wow!”
As an admissions director, I was more likely to invite the person behind an interesting, well-written application for an interview – regardless of stats. If a candidate could engage me in the interview, I would recommend a well-spoken, witty candidate over someone who had high numbers and offered only one dimension.
Of these lower statistics students whom I accepted, many have become successful business people – and some of the most prestigious alumni.
By Natalie Grinblatt Epstein, an accomplished Accepted.com consultant/editor (since 2008) and entrepreneur. Natalie is a former MBA Admissions Dean and Director at Ross, Johnson, and Carey.