So What Are Institutional Needs and Why Do They Matter in College Admissions?

 So What Are Institutional Needs and Why Do They Matter in College Admissions?There are many reasons why private college admissions decisions can seem so confusing to the general public.  I hear parents complain all the time about why one student was admitted when another seemingly more qualified student was passed by.  Observers connect the dots as best they can…and always arrive at conclusions that are not true because they do not have the full set of information.

Unfortunately, because private colleges have no obligation to explain their decisions, this disconnect significantly affects the public’s faith in the system.  This is a terrible shame.  I believe in transparency wherever possible, so I thought I’d explain one of the biggest reasons why decisions may not always make sense to the thoughtful observer:  institutional needs.

As a guiding principle, colleges admit the students they feel are the best fit for their culture and therein lies the rub because they do a pretty lousy job describing their culture to prospective candidates.

The term ‘institutional needs’ refers to the internal priorities a given college feels it needs to support its cultural values as a school.  For example, institutional needs can mean creating a more diversified student body by admitting more minority students or students from every state.  Division 1 athletes are an institutional need for some colleges, while for others there is a need for better gender balance -more boys for liberal arts colleges or more girls for engineering schools.  And for some of those engineering schools, there may be a need for more civil engineers and for fewer electrical engineers.  The children of wealthy donors and faculty/staff are always high on the institutional needs agenda. Some colleges look for students with special talents (here is that oboe player we always hear about).  There are as many institutional needs categories as there are colleges, but one thing is for sure…admissions officers will never share these with the general public because they are often just too hard to defend outside of their internal context and frankly, private colleges don’t have to.

But make no mistake about it.  Institutional needs play a big hand in the shaping of a freshman class.  So the next time a college admissions choice makes no sense to you, remember that the admissions office is attending to their internal needs.  And it is all arcane.

If this frustrates you, you might use it as an opportunity to get comfortable with the uncertainties of life, for there are so many.  😉

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