Rejected From Colleges, Part 2: The Italian Job

Chiara is Italian. And not the kind of Italian where the family has been here in the U.S. for five generations but still calls themselves “Italian” — I mean, she’s from Italy. She has an email address that ends with “.it” — that kind of Italian.

Apparently she’s had a rough go of it with some of our top American universities.

Dear Josh,

I am a girl from Italy and I have just graduated from high school.


Wanting to live in the United States, I have applied to many universities during the past fall. However, I have been rejected by most (probably because of the colleges I have chosen to apply to are so competitive).

rejected from colleges
That's a Lamborghini cop car. Italians are awesome.


The colleges I have applied to are Boston University, NYU, Harvard, Yale, Vanderbilt, Stanford, Princeton, Brown, UC Berkeley, UCLA. I have applied for Chemical Engineering for all of them except than UCLA (were I put Chemistry as a Major).

I would think that BU and UCLA would certainly let you in (especially BU), but all those others are really, really tough schools. You can be a hellacious student and still get the heave-ho from those guys.

I have taken the SAT I twice and got scores of 1950(660 Reading, 680 Math, 610 Writing) and of 2040 (640 Reading, 720 Math, 680 Writing). I have taken the Math 1, Math 2, and Chemistry SAT II and got a 700 score on all of them.

Those are fine scores. Well, well above the average here in the U.S., that’s for sure!

My grade avarage during high school has been of 8,2 out of 10 (it is actually a good avarage being that my Final Exam grade has been of 100 cum lode/100 – too bad I didnt know that when I applied to college!).

I’m not sure what that means, but I believe you that it’s good.

I have studied greek, latin, math, italian, english, physics, chemistry, biology, P.E., earth science, religion, history of art.

That would put you on an even footing with most American students, I think. Where you have Greek and Latin, though, our students have Spanish and French.

My TOEFL result was of 22/25.

This could definitely have worked against you. There are four different components to the TOEFL — listening, speaking, reading and writing — and each is scored out of 30, not 25.

It sounds like you only took one of the four parts of the tests, not all four of them, and that can certainly have been a black mark on your application. Furthermore, 22 is a score that’s right around average for any of the four elements. And it’s fine to be average, but being average won’t get you into Harvard or Princeton.

I haven’t taken part into a lot of extracurricular activities because of how many hours per day I had to spend studying. I did an English as a foreign language course, an Art course, a Math course, a Movie discussion group, 25 hours of community service during my first semester of senior year, and I have been an exchange student in California for a semester.

It sounds like you’ve done plenty to get into a good college here, and the exchange program will look especially good on your applications. I wouldn’t worry too much about the lack of activities. Foreign students get a pass on that a lot of the time; it’s easy to simply say that your culture is not like American culture in the way that we jam tons of extracurriculars down our students’ throats.

(If you’re detecting a bias against frenetic overscheduling and toward a more laid-back approach, you’re correct — but that’s another post for another day).

I have only been admitted by Boston University and UCLA.

Man, I should really read the whole email before I start to respond. 🙂 Anyway, congrats! Those are fine schools. I personally think BU’s cost outweighs the quality of its education — but that’s not because I think the education isn’t good. I think it’s great — but the cost is astronomical.

I have been waitlisted by NYU. i have been rejected by all the others.

Well, I know that’s not the best feeling in the world. I was rejected by Berkeley myself once. Hell, I was even rejected by Missouri, the school that eventually accepted me and gave me my master’s degree. It does feel lousy.

However, the fact of the matter is, you can only go to one of them, and all of your choices are quality schools. As long as you’ve been accepted to one of them, then you’re golden.

So my questions are: why was I rejected by so many institustions?

You answered half of it yourself — other than NYU, BU and UCLA, you chose some brutally competitive schools. And as I explained a month back to Jim’s daughter, who was rejected from college many times over, with schools of that caliber, your application has to be pretty much airtight. Any instances of being “just average” really hurt your chances.

The second part, I would guess, is the TOEFL business. The score you reported was average. It also sounds like you only took a small portion of the test, and that may have caused them to eliminate any consideration of the test at all, even the part you did take.

And that, really, is all it takes to get rejected from the elite schools here in the States.

I decided to attend UCLA in the end, do you think I have taken a good decision? Thank You!

Absolutely. It’s huge, it’s world-renowned, it’s constantly listed as one of the nation’s best public universities, and it’s in L.A., where you’ll get a uniquely American experience. (In L.A., you’ll get to experience a lot of stuff that even most Americans never do, frankly.)

And not for nothing, it’s also frequently mentioned among the best values in American colleges. Boston University never is. So yeah, I think it’s a great choice. I’m starting to feel a little jealous of you, actually.

Good luck, and cheer a little on my behalf when you play USC in football. I never liked that Lane Kiffin punk, and I hope you beat the living hell out of them. 🙂

— What about you guys? Any ideas about why Chiara got rejected? Am I right/wrong about the TOEFL? Let us know in the comments below.

8 thoughts on “Rejected From Colleges, Part 2: The Italian Job”

  1. I think you are right about the TOEFL. I am glad she decided to go UCLA she could get the same if better education there instead of going to an ivory league school.

  2. The Problem that many Foreign Based Students face from outside of NAFTA is that there must be a airline flight back to their home country after graduation…

    So make sure you come in upon a Big Airline so you can leave the same way with an airline which can also identify you have maintained your passport and visa status while in NAFTA…

    Most Foreign Students do not realize that they must take home their new NAFTA school credentials back to be translated into their own native tongue if they took The TOEFL so the extra education can be added to that already upon their native DMV file which must exist to be educated within NAFTA…

    Remember that a job in NAFTA after graduation needs that update right away for visa and residency puposes…

    A driver’s license is required to be educated in NAFTA if you take The TOEFL…

    A NAFTA school will only accept one into the community who’s native country’s vehicles are compatible to that of the NAFTA driving demographics of the local area especially while under the influence of of alcohol since most campus areas have a monitored system of alcohol use…

    Match what you see in the parking lot at the local bar back home overseas to a campus here in NAFTA…


  3. I have to say that attending UCLA is a tremendous opportunity. It is one of the best public universities in America. I would be thrilled of the opportunity to get a chance to go to a school of that caliber. UCLA will also be a tremendous value. Every school has positives and I can’t think of a better place to learn about America than UCLA. It is such a diverse school with tremendous school spirit.

  4. Salut

    Former foreign student here. I had a year of high school in the U.S. (junior) and got my master’s degree there as well. This is my assessment of Chiara’s application/rejections.

    1. I think what Chiara meant by 22-25 in the TOEFL is that she got scores in the range of 22-25 in the four sections of the test, which would mean her total final score would be in the 88-100 range, completely capable of handling college level classes (cutoffs are normally around 60-65 for undergrads depending on the school)

    2. The SAT I scores weren’t high enough for institutions such as Harvard or Princeton, the median for the 3 sections of the test in those places is around 700. *the 640 in reading was probably below their cutoff.

    3. The majority of admission officers for undergraduate college in the U.S. just don’t understand (and never will) that the high school curriculum in the french prepas, the german gymnasiums, and other equivalent schools in Europe is much more rigorous than high school in the U.S.,there isn’t any time for extracurriculars; instead they’ll normally think that person x or y just didn’t have any interests other than schoolwork.

    4. Private universities with globally recognized names such as Harvard, Stanford, or Princeton get thousands of applications from places such as Korea, India, China, and Japan; In all of those countries demand for higher education far outstrips supply. So it wouldn’t surprise me at all that Ivy league institutions have implemented quota policies and limits to the number of international students, they have done similar things in the past.( There are entire books describing the evolution of those policies and quotas, such as “the chosen”)

    5. Public institutions get far fewer applications from international students (with the exception of Berkeley) than their private counterparts, and they also appreciate the fact, that normally, international students pay full tuition and are not eligible for many undergraduate scholarships and/or grants.

  5. Congrats on getting into UCLA!

    This is one of the best schools in the country (among public and private universities), hands down, and definitely one of the best in California. UCLA certainly has one of the best medical schools in the world, and their research faculty is strong in many, many areas. The school is also quite diverse and they have an incredible course selection that you can choose from, especially in Geology (something I kinda envy) and American Studies (something else I also kinda envy).

    Anyway, I hope that you will LOVE Westwood. Make your way down to Diddy Riese (for the cookies and ice cream sandwiches…nomz) and IN-N-OUT (OMG) when you get the chance.

    I’ve spent the past three and a half years at the other, rather awesome school across the way (stop hatin’ on Lane Kiffin, thank you very much!!!!!) and despite bleeding crimson and gold, I deeply respect you Bruins over yonder. You have a fine, fine institution and a beautiful campus in a lovely neighborhood. I hope you don’t regret your decision for a second, because it was a good one. I hope you enjoy your 4 or so years 🙂

    [By the way, I apologize for making faces at your bear statue :P]

    Aaaaannndddd I’ll see YOU at the Rose Bowl…eventually. Whoo!

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