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Mythbusters: Increasing Your Chances of Admission

By Tom Nicholas

July 13, 2018

“How can I improve my chances of admission?”

I usually start to hear that question around this time of year. By October, I’m hearing it on an almost daily basis. It’s understandable that this is one of the most common questions we get from high school seniors beginning the application process – guidebooks, web searches, and the media would have you believe that there are a myriad of hidden tricks that can significantly boost your odds of getting in (if you could just figure out what they are).

I don’t want to oversimplify, but if I were to answer the question of improving your chances in just four words, I would say, “Send a great application.” Despite all the hype, that’s really the main thing that college admission committees are looking for. Certainly, some colleges look at your demonstrated interest (whether you visit campus, etc.), but that is one piece of a much larger puzzle for those schools. And many colleges offer an opportunity for an evaluative interview, which may be a slightly larger piece of the puzzle (at Richmond, our Spider Chats are purely informational and are not used in the application process). But I can guarantee you that at all colleges, most of the puzzle pieces that will influence your admission are contained within your application.

And the reality is that, by summer and fall of your senior year, just about everything your application reports to us is already set. Think about it – your transcript is getting close to complete (three years of grades behind you, one to go); your curricular choices have already been made; your extracurricular involvement is mostly completed; your standardized test scores are in (though if you’re retaking an exam in the fall you may have one to go).

So, frankly, there’s not a whole lot you can do at this point to alter what’s in your application – and, thus, your chances of admission – for the simple reason that you’ve already done most of it. Don’t let this freak you out; rather, take some comfort in it. Most of your application is, essentially, taken care of at this point.

There are, however, a few very notable exceptions. Firstly, keep your grades strong. I can’t emphasize this enough. Most of your grades are already set in stone (or, rather, in your high school’s transcript software), but perhaps the most important grades of all – the first quarter/trimester/semester grades of your senior year – are still in progress. It’s critical that you keep your grades as strong – if not stronger – than they have been at any other time in high school. Dips or slips will be a red flag to college admission committees across the country. I can’t begin to tell you the number of otherwise excellent applications that our committee has turned down because of lackluster senior grades – applications that were, in many cases, on the verge of approval until the mid-year grades arrived.

Secondly, even though the core elements of your application are already there, be sure you convey them to us as best you possibly can. That’s what is still in your hands at this point: your essays, short answers, and resume – in other words, the means by which you share your story with us. (You could add evaluative interviews to this list, for colleges that offer them – essentially, another opportunity to present yourself in the strongest light possible.) You can look to other Admission Blog posts – like this one and this one – to get more specific advice on how best to share your story with us. For this entry, I’ll just note that there are two sides to it: the content of what you write, and the quality of your writing. Both are extremely important.

I think, when most students ask how they can improve their chances of admission, they’re hoping to hear something other than just, "Keep your grades strong and work really hard on your application." But, truly, those two actions will have more impact, proportionally, on your odds of admission than anything else you might do.

There is a third means of improving your chances, and that involves your choice of application plan. At many colleges, early application plans – and, in particular, Early Decision plans – have higher acceptance rates. If you're confident that Richmond is your top choice college, you may be able to improve your odds of admission by committing under an Early Decision plan; historically, our admission rate has been higher within the much smaller Early Decision pool. If you don't have a clear first choice college, or aren't able to apply Early Decision, you should at least consider applying Early Action. It doesn't typically carry the same "boost" that Early Decision does, but it almost never hurts your chances, and it's possible (depending on the year) that it could increase them slightly.

I hope this post is helpful; I don’t want you to spend your time looking for hidden secrets and tricks where there really aren’t any. I know the college admission process often seems opaque, but in a lot of ways it’s much more straightforward than many sources would have you believe. If you have any questions, feel free to post below!

Tags: Application Process Admission Tips Mythbusters

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Tom NicholasTom Nicholas
Associate Director of Admission 

A Richmond alumnus (Class of 2007), Tom has been working and blogging for the Office of Admission since he graduated. He loves his alma mater and the city that shares its name.

Learn more about Tom

Beth Anne SpachtBeth Anne Spacht
Senior Assistant Director of Admission

Beth Anne was a double major at Richmond (English and Latin American & Iberian Studies) and now enjoys helping prospective students discover the best of her alma mater.

Learn more about Beth Anne

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