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“Who Gets in and Why?” Focus on Outcomes

When Jeff Selingo published this landmark book reflecting the pre-pandemic college landscape, admissions officers had fewer applications to review as well as standardized test scores to use as variables. Today, this space is tougher: far more applications, grade inflation, and fewer test scores. Selingo presented the complicated process of reviewing applications and making decisions that application readers, admissions officers, and enrollment managers had to manage within tight deadlines. It was, and remains, an overwhelming task.

The book follows a few students through their stressful application processes. One, Nicole, was a stereotypical “high flyer” with perfect grades, test scores, and impressive extracurriculars. Her high school journey was laser-focused on being admitted to an Ivy League college, and she certainly had the credentials to be admitted. Nicole was devastated to be denied from the University of Pennsylvania early decision, then from her second choice, Dartmouth, in regular decision. The most selective colleges cannot admit every qualified student because there are far too many superlative applicants. 

Nicole was not happy about committing to Northeastern, which was considerably less selective in 2019, though still a highly-rated university. She believed she was “settling.” Today, Northeastern has an admit rate similar to the Ivies Nicole wanted to attend. 

She graduated from Northeastern last May. “I ended up where I should have in the end,” Nicole told me. “I’m really happy. I wish that I had chilled out more, panicked less. I wish I had done more fun stuff in high school.”


At Northeastern, she had multiple co-ops that allowed her to cycle in and out of school to go to work. Two of them were at brand-name consulting firms. One of them offered her a job and she accepted the first week of her senior year of college.


“It’s a dream job,” she told me. “I’m working with people from Dartmouth, and those schools I thought I wanted to go to. But here I am and it’s because of Northeastern.”


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