Does your hometown have any effect on your chances of getting in?
Seasoned admissions officers who have spent years working at colleges in the same state will know your hometown and/or high school fairly well. However, this can cause them to prejudge your application.
There is a great deal of prejudice in college admissions – as many different attitudes as there are counselors -- so the fact that an admissions officer knows your school can work both for or against you.
Hometown and/or high schools that are in socioeconomically challenged areas are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to college admissions. Counselors who have personal prejudices against certain ethnicities or economic backgrounds will lean toward not admitting students from those hometown and/or high schools.
I remember a student from a high school in Jersey City, a famously poor, urban, multi-ethnic area. Her academic record was straight As in a strong academic program. She had maxed out everything she could take. She was Valedictorian. However, her hometown and/or high school did not offer SAT prep courses, and clearly her family could not afford to pay for individual coaching. Her combined SAT verbal and math score was 900, well below minimum admissibility. I pushed her file up the line and said to the associate director, “YOU be the one who can’t sleep at night for denying this student.” Eventually we admitted her, but the discussions about it revealed the deeply held prejudices of individual staff members.
Conversely, students from high income communities are expected to have benefited from all the privileges and advantages afforded to their high school students. This can make it difficult for a student whose academic record is weak. The assumption is that the student is either 1) too dumb to make it at the college, or 2) lazy.
The fact is that any number of issues can play into the failure of a student’s academic record. These factors can make it difficult to see the student’s real talent – hidden traumas, family or personal illnesses, divorce, abuse, romantic disappointments, late-blooming maturity, etc. The counselor may assume that the student had all the advantages in the world, so there must be something wrong with this student to not have achieved at a level similar to his/her peers.
The bottom line is this: Admissions counselors that know your high school and community may base their opinion of YOU on past students who have applied from your school – which has very little to do with who you are or who you will be.
A final story: At the NACAC conference this past September, the Princeton rep on the College Interview seminar panel blurted out that Princeton simply “never takes students from West Virginia.” Then she stumbled all over herself trying to take back her words. It would have been funny had it not been so smug and disturbing. Talk about your entire home STATE working against you…