Just what is the college admission sweet spot? In other words, what is that magic combination of grades, test scores, activities, and essays that will wow a U.S. admissions officer and get an international applicant admitted? Truth be told, it is hard to peg. Mostly because it varies from school to school, year to year, class to class, gut decision to gut decision.
The U.S. admissions process isn’t simply about admitting the ideal student; it is often about admitting the ideal class—an environment where talented students do not just consume information disseminated by infallible professors, but instead, where students have as much to teach as they have to learn.
In the world of higher education, the truth is often uncovered when ideas go head to head—it is learned as much through deliberative struggle or debate as it is through lectures or books. And so, in the ideal learning environment, students should have varying sets of experiences, interests, or curricular accomplishments. Differences create perspective; they are conducive to learning. Certain standards of achievement are important, yes, but U.S. admissions officers are not simply tasked with admitting qualified students. They are often tasked with admitting qualified classmates.
Imagine a piece of art—a mosaic, perhaps—that has astounded you as much by its beauty as its workmanship. Its perfection lies not only in its amalgamated whole but within its individually crafted tile—tiles chosen and added because of their distinctiveness. Fragments within the whole can be appreciated not only when viewed in isolation, but when they accentuate the beauty of pieces intentionally placed next to them, pieces not necessarily conforming in shape or color.
Now imagine an admissions officer composing a class. She might read a few applications from students from one educational system, students from a second educational system, and students from a third. Each student admitted, hopefully, will have strived, achieved, and accomplished what they could within their own system. That admissions officer will more than likely not have a cookie-cutter definition for success when evaluating the set of applications in front of her. What might weigh upon her mind, instead, is how each student might contribute to the overall class, the figurative roundtable.
I often encounter students immersed within the admissions process imagining a set of predetermined quotas negatively impacting their admission prospects, imagining their achievements dismissed simply by virtue of the country they come from. But the reality is that differences add value to the class. It is not that a quota system is keeping a student from being admitted, but rather, that someone else was able to differentiate their experiences from the pack.
U.S. admissions officers envision the overall class when deciding whether to admit an individual student. They are looking for students whose applications stand out and who will contribute to the incoming class. This much is certain: There is more than one way to measure admissibility.