Just when I thought I had a grip on how unpredictable the college admissions process has become, I was told the following story by an acquaintance whose son is a senior in a very top suburban district outside of New York City.

It sounded a bit improbable, but his mother assured me that this is actually what happened.

The basics: 

GPA: about a B+
ACT: 34
Intended major: Business


Her son sent in an early application to the Finance program at Fordham (selective major), but he was told that his application wasn’t strong enough, and he was advised to switch his application to the general pool.

He did so and also submitted applications to a number of other schools, including Binghamton, Penn State, BU, and Indiana-Kelley (Business).



Binghamton: Accepted. Student turned it down because he didn’t want to live in not-very-happening central New York State for four years.

IU-Kelley: Accepted. Student turned it down because he didn’t want to have to fly to school. (“So why did he apply”? I asked. His mother rolled her eyes. “Teenagers. Who knows.”)

Penn State: Rejected from main campus; offered admission at Abington.

Fordham: Wait-listed. (I’ve literally never heard of a student being wait-listed at a school to which they applied—or attempted to apply—early. I actually asked his mother several times whether she was absolutely sure he had been wait-listed and not just deferred.)

BU: Rejected


Since Bing and IU were out, he decided that he should go to Penn State-Abington for a year and then transfer to the main campus. His mother was seriously under-impressed by the Abington campus, but before she even really had a chance to try to talk him out of it…

He got off the wait-list at Fordham.

For Finance.

With a $40,000 merit scholarship.

On May 2nd.



1) Grades count more than test scores. I recognize that pretty much anyone involved in college admissions will say that, but it bears repeating. At the more selective schools, a 34 ACT was not enough to compensate for a so-so GPA, even from an extremely challenging high school.

2) There are no guarantees at selective schools with 70,000 (or even 45,000) applicants. Particularly if the school in question is public, half the East Coast applies, and a student is out of state.

3) People do actually get off waitlists. I’m not trying to give anyone false hope here, but sometimes life is strange.

4) Colleges are increasingly unable to predict enrollment: the fact that the student was offered such a significant merit scholarship for a program from which he had originally been dissuaded from applying, the day AFTER enrollment decisions were due, indicates that Fordham seriously overestimated its yield rate (which was not terribly high to begin with). Given that Fordham is a reputable, popular school with many decades of experience managing freshman enrollment, this suggests that the admissions landscape suddenly became much more unstable this year and that some administrators somewhere were starting to panic.

I suspect that finances may be playing a major role here: my acquaintance mentioned that almost none of her son’s friends were planning to attend private schools; their parents just don’t want to shell out that kind of money. And this is in a town with an average income in the mid-six figuresIf families in that income bracket are now being deterred from private schools by the cost, then this kind of craziness is probably just a harbinger of things to come.