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Cracking the College Acceptance Code

On the eve of the sentencing of the first parent in the Varsity Blues cheating scandal, we look at recent data revealing what admissions officers say matters most. September 12, When stories about the Varsity Blues cheating scandal and a lawsuit against Harvard University alleging discriminatory admissions practices dominate the news, Americans start to wonder what it takes to get into college — especially for those without deep pockets.

But perhaps more telling is data about what really drives admissions decisions, not only in the top tier but also at a wide range of schools.

Mistake 2: Doing Whatever It Takes to Maximize Test Scores

And essay questions and personal statements? As they start talking about and implementing reform, education leaders need to also include some broader self-examination, says Eddie Comeaux, a professor at the University of California, Riverside, who chairs a committee looking at admissions within the UC system. How many colleges consider athletics, legacy status, diversity, and other nonacademic factors? Essay questions and personal statements? The information comes from the first comprehensive survey of a nationally representative sample of colleges and universities by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers and the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

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12 Tips for Getting into the College of Your Choice

True, the admissions offices that pore over the most criteria are those at the most competitive campuses. And concerns about fair access there are driving many important discussions. As admissions reforms take place, educational leaders also need some broader self-examination, says Eddie Comeaux, a professor at the University of California, Riverside, who chairs a committee looking at admissions within the UC system.

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College Admission Timeline for Seniors

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These YouTubers Have Hacked College Admissions

Get the best of Monitor journalism in your inbox. Mega-rich families have been buying their way into college for decades through completely legal, even tax-deductible, schemes. A decade or so after that lunch, while working at a nonprofit as a college access counselor to low-income first-generation college students like me, I made sure to tell them about legacy and development admissions. I did not want them to learn about this unfair system the way I did, sitting in stunned silence across from a girl who laughed at how little I knew about how the world really worked.

I had sincerely believed that when I stepped on campus I was leaving an unfair system behind, going to a place where my mind was valued more than what my parents did for a living. No one in my family had gone to college, so no one could tell me otherwise. I reminded my students that a college degree is one of the fastest ways to break the cycle of poverty in a family. I learned too late that college was never a meritocracy and that it was not a prize: It was an extension of the same uneven playing field that created a campus where very few of its students looked and lived as I did.

How she should have been the one questioning whether she deserved to be there. How she had no idea that it should have been me doing the laughing.