I have been getting a lot of emails lately that center on the same basic idea: "I got feedback directly from the admissions office and they told me X about my application."
Sometimes the feedback is ultra specific ("you should seriously consider retaking your GMAT") and other times it is extremely vague ("there were elements of your application that just weren't quite where they needed to be"), usually somewhere in between.
The question is: should you put stock in what they are saying?
Let's just say that - spoiler alert - my post title may indicate where I land on this.
First, Some Context
When you have worked in an admissions office at a competitive school and fielded calls and emails from denied candidates, you know how brutal it often is to try to come up with reasons that person was denied. If you have not worked in such a capacity, let me tell you - it is brutal. Let me break down some key info here.
The reality is that at very competitive schools, it can be extremely difficult to know why you denied someone.
These programs are having to take a list of initial "admits" (people that have been flagged as admitted by their individual file reader) and shave it way down. Like WAY down. And if you are in a very popular demographic (White Male, Indian Male, etc.), it is often just a bloodbath. A lot of times it is completely unfair, or maybe it is subjective, or perhaps you the reader just didn't really remember the app and so when it came time to lop off people and hit the numbers, they shrugged and said "sure, cut him." I don't mean to sound heartless, but that's how it can go down.
So What Does This Mean?
Well, if you are that admissions officer and someone gets in touch with you (either because your school offers feedback, ala Tuck, or because you worked some back channels or connections to get in touch with an admissions officer), what are you supposed to say? Either you mumble through something about it being a competitive year, or you grab onto some BS reason like a quant split or a junior year grade or something even more vague like the recommendation letters.
The #1 goal of an admissions officer talking to a denied student is to GET OFF THE PHONE CALL. I promise you this.
What Should You Do?
The title of the post: take it with a grain of salt. Go talk to a pro and find out what you can actually do to improve your file. Do not get hung up on the random crap admissions tells you because honestly, they are just trying to get you to disappear from their lives. They will say anything that sounds good and ends the call. You might have perfectly good recommendation letters - hell, they might not even have read them the first time around - and they could say "well, maybe stronger recommendation letters." Your 68% quant split was almost surely not an issue because you had a 730 GMAT score, but suddenly, "ah, the quant split was a little low" (as the guy wipes his brow, relieved he found something he could point to). I sound cynical and judgmental, but I'm neither; I'm pragmatic and I've done it myself! I speak the truth that I don't just know, but that I lived. I'm neither proud nor ashamed - it's just life in the fast lane. It's a thankless task denying qualified students, so cut the admissions officers some slack. Just don't get hung up on the feedback.
Last note: it probably goes without saying, but it is equally important to avoid assuming that whatever they say is nonsense.
Just because it's possibly they could point to something random, it doesn't mean it is. This is why you need someone who has worked with tons of applicants and really has a feel for things to weigh in.
If you would like the kind of assistance and evaluation that helps you understand where you might have actually gone wrong - or might be going wrong this time around - hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org.