How Geography Affects University Admissions

Emerson Blais
May 31, 2024

At Dewey Smart, we consider every factor into our students' admissions applications, including geography!

Colleges aim to build a diverse student body, and an applicant's geographical background can contribute to this diversity. Geography can reflect socioeconomic, cultural, and racial diversity, offering a legal avenue for schools to pursue diverse classes after the Supreme Court's ruling.

While an applicant’s GPA, course rigor, extracurricular activities, and letters of recommendation remain the primary factors in admissions decisions, understanding how geography impacts admissions can help applicants navigate the process better.

Public vs. Private Colleges

Public and private colleges both seek qualified and diverse candidates from local and national pools, but they differ significantly in their approach to geography.

Public Colleges: Public colleges are primarily funded by state resources, which incentivize them to admit a higher proportion of in-state students. For instance, San Diego State University (SDSU) gives priority to students from San Diego County and surrounding areas due to state policy. SDSU received about 90,000 applications for the 2024-2025 academic year, with local students constituting about 10% of applicants but approximately one-third of admitted students.

The financial aspect is a key reason for this preference. Out-of-state students pay higher tuition because their families do not contribute to the state tax system that funds these institutions.

Private Colleges: Private colleges, not bound by state funding stipulations, often have more nationally diverse student bodies. These institutions typically recruit from “pipeline” areas—regions that consistently produce the types of students they seek. Cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco are prime examples.

However, the recent Supreme Court decision might prompt private colleges to shift their recruitment strategies away from traditional feeder schools to achieve desired diversity levels. John Morganelli Jr. of Ivy Tutors Network suggests that schools may need to distribute offers more broadly to maintain diversity.

Strategies for Applicants

For students, understanding these geographical preferences is crucial. Applying to prestigious schools that do not heavily recruit from their region can improve their chances of admission. For example, students from less represented states like Arkansas or Kansas might find it easier to gain admission to top-tier colleges due to lower competition.

However, experts advise against relocating solely for the potential admissions advantage. Moving to a more competitive high school can sometimes hurt a student's chances if it places them in a more rigorous academic environment that doesn't suit them. Instead, students should embrace their unique backgrounds and experiences, which can enrich their applications.

High School Curriculum and College Fit

Students must ensure their high school's curriculum aligns with the colleges they are applying to, especially if applying out of state. High schools often partner with local universities to offer dual credit courses, but these credits may not be recognized by out-of-state colleges.

For instance, California universities have specific "A to G" requirements, encompassing core classes and additional subjects like foreign languages and the arts. These requirements may not align perfectly with curricula from other states, potentially affecting out-of-state applicants.

The Bigger Picture

While geography is an important factor, it is just one of many that admissions officers consider. Both metropolitan and rural applicants must demonstrate that they have pursued the most challenging curriculum available and maximized their extracurricular opportunities. Admissions offices will often refer to a high school's profile for context but applicants can also highlight their geographical and educational background in their essays.

Adam Sapp from Pomona College encourages students to reflect on how their hometown and school community have shaped them and to use these insights in their applications. This personal narrative can help admissions officers understand the applicant's unique perspective and potential contribution to the campus community.

In conclusion, geography significantly impacts college admissions by contributing to the diversity and contextual understanding of applicants. By understanding and strategically leveraging their geographical background, students can enhance their admissions prospects.

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