A selective college is one that does not accept all applicants. To choose students, a selective college may use a mathematical formula consisting of grades, course selection, and standardized test scores or it may consider all of those factors plus more subjective portions of the application like essays, recommendation letters, and extracurricular activities. The decision-making process is difficult for all institutions; many face the task of selecting their next class from piles and piles of very similar applications. In the end, the admission committees end up admitting students who will be good for their schools because they are the best “match” for the campus and the existing student body.
For this reason, Genesis Prep also has a difficult challenge of effectively counseling our students about their college choices. We want to help students understand their realistic choices to help them approach the process with eyes wide open. We divide colleges into three rough categories of selectivity: the reaches, the middles, and the likelies. The most selective institutions, or the reaches, include schools like Harvard, Stanford, Duke, Williams, and Northwestern, schools that admit as few as 15% of their applicants. During the second semester of junior year, we help students assemble college lists that include institutions on each of the lists, to encourage a diversity of application options. It’s important to realize that a school’s reputation for selectivity is not necessarily an indication that they are better than one where more applicants are accepted. Selectivity is too often a product of popularity rather than better quality.