Why a College Application Gets Rejected

For a student unsure as to why his or her application for college admission was not accepted, here are a few common reasons for rejections.

Getting a thin envelope in the mail from a college, a thin envelope containing a rejection letter, is no fun. Students may ask, given any number of positive aspects of their applications, why that was the case. For high school students who have applied to college and been rejected, here are just a few reasons why it may have happened.

Too Many Qualified Applicants for Too Few Spaces

This is not always the case for some schools, but for places like Harvard, Columbia, Yale, and Princeton, it often is. If, out of eight thousand applications for one thousand spots, there are three thousand essay writers with high-grade point averages, great essays and letters of recommendation, strong test scores, and an impressive list of extracurricular activities, of course qualified people are going to get rejected.

While it may not seem fair, a rejection, for this reason, is mostly a matter of numbers, i.e. how many students a school can accommodate in any given year. Sometimes sheer luck is a factor in an admissions decision.

Low Standardized Test Scores

As unfair as it may seem to put so much weight on a four-hour test like the SAT or ACT, the scores do often weigh heavily in some schools’ admissions process. They can also be used as a cutoff point when there are a large number of applications.

A word of advice to applicants dealing with the stress of standardized tests? Find the test that’s less horrifying, and keep taking it. This will increase chances of getting a higher score, and possibly reduce chances of getting rejected due to a low test score.

Low Grade Point Average or Easy Courses in High School

A low GPA is, even more so than low SAT or ACT scores, an application killer. A student’s academic promise is a huge factor in a college admissions decision. Sometimes, if a student is applying to a specific academic program, grades in certain subjects carry more weight. For example, if a student applying to an engineering program has low math and/or science grades, chances of getting in are slim.

Easy courses can also hurt an application. If an admissions committee has two applications in front of them, one with an “A” average and easy classes, and one with a “B” average and challenging classes, which one is more likely to get accepted? In most cases, it’s the latter. Challenging courses as in high school are better preparation for college-level work, and pulling a “B” average in those courses is an indication of strong academic promise.

If a student’s high school offers no Advanced Placement, Honors, or College Prep courses, this is often seen as a factor beyond the student’s control. Students in this situation should make sure the college knows about the limited course offerings so that they are not subjected to the above scenario. Typically this step can be handled by a guidance counselor, who can include a note with the student’s transcript.

Poorly Written Essay

While some schools put little weight on the admissions essay, for many, it is the most important component of the application. Here are a few basic tips for the essay:

  • Avoid simple mistakes like spelling and grammar errors.
  • Choose one topic and stick to it throughout the essay.
  • When in doubt, leave a sentence or word out.
  • Don’t write anything that may offend the reader…this is where it’s best to stay away from humor.
  • Most importantly: Get a second opinion! A different perspective can help make the essay stronger.

Bad Impression During an Interview

Most often, when a bad impression during an interview is a contributing factor in an admissions rejection, it is combined with some other factor, such as lower grades, a lack of involvement in activities outside of academics, low test scores, or a bad essay. The colleges that require interviews for admission will place a bit more weight on it than schools that don’t.

If arranging an admissions interview, be sure to prepare well for it, from dressing appropriately to anticipating potential questions taking into account any career advice. If a student is inappropriately dressed, shows little interest during the visit, is unable to answer the interviewer’s simple questions (“Why are you interested in our school?”), or all of the above, that will certainly not help the application get accepted.

Though rejection is discouraging, it isn’t the end-all-be-all for that particular school. There are other options, from appealing the decision to transferring into the school later on. Check with an admissions counselor to find out what the appeal and/or transfer processes involve. And if re-applying the following year as a transfer student, it’s definitely okay to ask an admissions counselor what can be done to strengthen the application for the second time around, as acting on those suggestions will make rejection far less likely.


About the author

Jike Eric

Jike Eric has completed his degree program in Chemical Engineering. Jike covers Business and Tech news on Insider Paper.

Daily Newsletter