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Understanding Selective College Admission

September 6, 2023
A post by Rachel Ristow, Associate Director of Admission

At Richmond, we like to try and peel back the curtain on admission. One of the more mysterious topics of late is selective college admission. What is it? How can I get in? Which colleges are selective? Let’s break down some of this terminology and talk about how it impacts the review process at Richmond.

What does Selective Admission mean?

Schools designated as selective or highly selective will admit 1/3 or less of their applicant pool. Some schools will only admit 4-10% of their applicants. This means that even though a student might academically “look like” the admitted student profile, they are not guaranteed admission. It is important to know that most colleges are not selective and accept more than 60% of their applicant pool. There are only about 100 colleges that are defined as selective or highly selective.

So, what makes a college selective?

Selective colleges have more applications than we have seats. The demand is high, but our supply is low. It is really important to remember that selectivity does not exclusively denote quality of education, access to resources, or a well-connected alumni base. Research is really important when building your college list. Keep an open mind about what opportunities are offered at a variety of colleges and universities.

What is holistic review?

Selective colleges are more than likely using a holistic approach when reviewing their applicants. This helps us determine best fit, both academically and personally. We hear the word holistic a lot, so let’s break it down simply. It means that we are considering the whole applicant (in the context of their school and life circumstances) using the whole application. When putting together your application consider that process and make sure you are maximizing each part of the application to tell as much as you can.

Holistic review is time-consuming, so why go to the trouble? We want to enroll a class whose personal contributions add to the fabric of our learning communities. Yes, academics are really important. We want to make sure our students are prepared for the rigor of a Richmond education. But, we also want to make sure that students can learn from the diverse experiences of their classmates.

What can I do to be a more competitive applicant?

Be active in your academics. Choose a curriculum that reflects the type of school you’re applying to. If liberal arts, take a wide variety of core classes with increasing in rigor.

Be active in your community. There’s no recipe for a perfect resume so get involved in the clubs or organizations that you are interested in. Spend time and invest in those communities. It’s about the quality of your engagement, not the quantity or specific type. We want to see the ways in which your personality shines in your community so we can picture it on our campus.

Be active in your search. Some schools do consider demonstrated interest (we don’t at Richmond), so make sure you are engaging in meaningful ways with the colleges. Be authentic in your search and engage to learn.

What if I don’t get in?

This is statistically going to happen when applying to selective colleges. That’s ok. Trust the process and know that if you’ve done your research, you’re going to end up at a school that fits you. This process is a lot like speed dating. We have a short amount of time to get to know one another so put your best foot forward and know that if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t mean that you didn’t work hard enough or you wouldn’t have succeeded. It just means that we weren’t a right fit for each other.

If you take away one thing from this post, I hope that it is an understanding of the truly human process you are embarking on. It is deeply personal and hugely important. But, where you go to college does not determine who you are. You will determine that through the ways in which you engage in the community around you! If you apply to Richmond, thank you! Know that we will honor the time you spend on your application by giving it thoughtful consideration. We can’t wait to get to know you!