There are many factors that go into making admissions decisions.
Aside from the usual suspects — grades, essays, and test scores — colleges consider several other application components when building first-year classes. These vary based upon institutional needs, but they often include an applicant’s race, ethnicity, legacy status, first-generation status, and geographic location.
Yes, sometimes an applicant’s hometown can come into consideration, and it’s one factor that many families fail to recognize when evaluating college choices.
This is where the admissions process can get muddled for many students; some criteria that colleges use to construct a freshman class are not really under an applicant’s control. It’s important for families to know about the ways in which these elements can influence admissions decisions, and how to maximize the effect of those factors they’re able to change.
Why does location matter?
First and foremost, location is especially important when applying to public universities. In-state students are charged a lower tuition rate, and, in most cases, comprise the majority of a school’s student body. Location is very important in this instance, as schools want both to admit a certain proportion of in-state students and to ensure that their population of students coming from other places is especially diverse. Since out-of-staters typically pay higher tuition, the college gets to boast about its campus diversity and to collect more money.
There are, of course, some colleges that have specific policies about admitting in-state and out-of-state students. For example, the University of North Carolina system has strict regulations on how many out-of-state students it can admit. Its policy dictates that its member schools must “limit the proportion of out-of-state students in the entering freshman class to not more than 18 percent.” In such cases, location is a very important consideration, since it means abiding by formal university policies.
Location also matters when considering diversity. We’ve all heard the common myth that a student applying to an Ivy League university from a rural town in Idaho has a better chance of admission than a student from New York City. While there are typically going to be fewer applicants from Idaho than New York, location alone isn’t going to boost a student’s chances of admission.
It’s important to remember that, while location is a consideration, it’s not the most important factor. This Idaho student doesn’t stand a chance of getting in if she doesn’t have the right grades, test scores, and an overall competitive profile that meets or exceeds the university’s admissions standards.
That being said, diversity is important when building a class, and a student from small-town Idaho is going to bring a vastly different perspective to the college than someone from a big (and nearby) metropolis. Colleges work hard to build well-rounded classes that bring together students from varying backgrounds, so they’re going to want to recruit and admit applicants from different parts of the country.
How does location affect admissions at selective schools?
Chances are, Columbia University is going to receive a large number of applications from very qualified students in New York City. In fact, it’s entirely possible for Columbia to build a freshman class with applicants drawn exclusively from the tri-state area, but that doesn’t make for a very geographically diverse class, does it?
Again, colleges want to bring together students with different perspectives and experiences. This is why it’s important for school representatives to go out and recruit high schoolers from all corners of the country (and world, for that matter) to cultivate a diverse pool of applicants.
While Columbia will most likely admit a sizeable number of New York students — 40 percent of the class of 2019 come from the Northeast, and New York is its most well-represented state — the school will also strive to admit applicants from other cities and states that are underrepresented.
Many colleges like to tout the fact that their incoming classes come from all 50 states and X number of countries as a show of the school’s diversity and geographic inclusion. They will make an effort to admit qualified students from every state whenever it’s possible.
It’s also important to remember that students from the same school, city, and state are compared with one another, so all those applicants from New York are competing against each other for spots in the freshman class. For a student applying from Utah, the applicant pool might be much smaller and less competitive, leading to a better chance of admission (assuming, of course, the student meets the overall admissions requirements for the college and is an overall good fit).
In the end, fit will prevail.
Remember, moving to Wyoming won’t improve your chances of admission to a highly selective college. Location is just one of many factors that admissions offices take into consideration when crafting a well-rounded freshman class. While your geographic location is something you can’t help under normal circumstances, you can improve your chances of getting an offer by putting together a genuine application that showcases your best self and the ways you make an impact on your local community – whether you’re from a small farming town or a sprawling city.