‘Georgetown admissions, I think you’re pretentious’: Rural students reflect on application process

April 28, 2024

Design by Olivia Li

Georgetown’s slow, confusing application platform has become a joke for admitted students—something to gripe about and bond over once they get to campus. But to Keatyn Wede (CAS ’27), it never seemed that funny. 

When Wede came to visit as a prospective student during Georgetown Admissions Ambassador Program Weekend, a university speaker joked about the inconvenience of Georgetown’s application website.

“I remember everyone in the room was laughing, but I was like, ‘It’s really not that funny.’ It was so awful; you guys are giggling, but I didn’t know what was going on,” Wede said.

Wede is from a small town in South Dakota. In her graduating class of about 180 students, only three left the state for college, she said. Coming from a high school that didn’t have the resources or staff to support students applying to selective universities, Wede felt underprepared for her college research and application process. Georgetown’s application platform only made this worse.

Nationally, rural students are less likely than their urban and suburban peers to go to college at all. Some of these students said that Georgetown’s separate application platform—along with other aspects of Georgetown’s application process like recommendation letters and a lack of university outreach—makes admissions even more inaccessible.

“I feel like it’s so pretentious to not be on the Common App,” Wede said. “On the record, Georgetown admissions: I think you’re pretentious.” 

The Common App is a shared application platform used by over 1,000 colleges and universities. It offers one platform to upload essays, request letters of recommendation from teachers and counselors, input demographic information, and list extracurriculars or work experience.

Of U.S. News and World Report’s top 50 universities, Georgetown and MIT are the only private universities not on the Common App. Instead, they require students to provide all their information in an entirely separate, university-specific application. 

Having a separate platform complicates the application process for both students and school counselors. Rural high schools are often underfunded and understaffed, leaving counselors with a high caseload of students and without the support, capacity, or training to provide individualized help with college applications. Many of these counselors are not very familiar with the process for students applying to college, especially to out-of-state or selective private universities. 

“My guidance counselor had no experience even with the Common App, so when I first sent her that, she was confused. But then I sent her the Georgetown one, and she was more confused,” Wede said.

Students also criticized the fact that applicants have to pay Georgetown’s application fee when they first open an account, before they’ve filled out or submitted their full application. The fee is $75, unless a student qualifies for a waiver. Georgetown’s admissions website encourages applicants to open an account “as soon as possible.”

“Having to pay beforehand too, before I even knew if this is a place I fully wanted to apply to and commit to, was very nerve-wracking,” Mara Lewis (CAS ’27), who is from a town of 2,600 in Pennsylvania, said.

Wede said that figuring out Georgetown’s separate application, including the fee to open an application, was confusing, especially when compared to the Common App, which doesn’t require a fee to open an account. 

“In all of the education I did trying to figure out how to apply to colleges, the Common App made that so much easier, because it was universalized,” Wede said. “Once I figured out this one platform, I could figure it out for so many different schools.”

Despite student complaints, university officials have maintained that Georgetown’s separate application is an asset because it makes the application process more personal and encourages students to research the school more closely before applying.

“Georgetown believes an individual application better reflects the personal experience of transitioning into college,” a university spokesperson wrote in an email to the Voice. “We also believe the distinct application process ensures stronger interest in Georgetown from students who apply.”

Lisa Kennedy (CAS ’25) said that having a separate application platform did help her learn more about the university, especially as a first-generation student coming from a small town in Wisconsin. Kennedy’s hometown has a population of about 7,000, and she said most students from her high school don’t continue to college.

Kennedy is now the president of Georgetown’s Association of Small Town and Rural Students (STARS), which she founded in fall 2022, hoping to address insufficient outreach to small-town and rural students and help them build community at Georgetown. She’s also co-president of the student board for the Georgetown Scholars Program, which works to support first-generation and low-income students at Georgetown.

“I felt that Georgetown’s separate application platform definitely made it so that I learned more about Georgetown compared to other schools,” Kennedy said. “I honestly think that may have been better for my experience, just because it forced me to learn about the college and actually feel like I had some stake in the matter.”

However, other students from small towns and rural areas felt that rather than encouraging research, the separate platform prevents students in these communities from learning about Georgetown or considering it as an option. 

“I feel like switching to Common App would be way easier,” Lewis said. “If they’re trying to reach more students who might not even know the school exists, having it on that list would be very helpful.”

A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that after joining the Common App, colleges saw an average increase of 12% in the number of applications received the following year. This rose to 25% after a decade of being on the Common App. 

Wede agreed that the separate application makes it harder for students without a familial or academic connection to Georgetown to learn about the university.

“The research then becomes easier for legacy students. It becomes easier for kids who have college counselors. You’re just setting up another barrier for kids who don’t have access to research resources,” Wede said.

This may help explain why Georgetown students admitted from small towns and rural areas are more likely to be legacy students.

In summer 2022, Kennedy conducted research with Georgetown’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions, where she compared applications from rural and non-rural admitted students. She found that 20% of her rural students sample had legacy status, compared to about 3% of her non-rural student sample. Across the university, 4% of applicants and 9% of students have legacy status.

Kennedy said that legacy students, including those from small towns and rural areas, have a built-in connection to Georgetown that encourages them to apply.

“Rural students are more likely to come from a first-generation low-income background—they require more outreach and more touch points, just to convey to them that this is an option,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy’s research also revealed major disparities between recommendation letters submitted by rural and non-rural students. Georgetown, along with many elite universities, requires applicants to submit a letter of recommendation from a school counselor, which can be challenging for students from rural areas whose schools often do not have the staff to provide that support. 

Kennedy found that the counselor letters of recommendation for non-rural applicants were, on average, almost twice as long as those for rural applicants—at a mean length of 684 and 358 words, respectively.

“When it came to letters of recommendation, I felt like I was really at a disadvantage because my teachers, and especially my counselors, had never really experienced the application process for a student who was applying to a school like Georgetown,” Kennedy said. 

Rural youth are also more likely than their peers from urban and suburban areas to go to public schools, which are often underfunded and understaffed. In Kennedy’s research, 93% of her rural applicant sample and only 23% of non-rural applicants came from public secondary schools.

Guidance counselors at underfunded public schools, both in rural and non-rural areas, primarily work to manage disciplinary processes or provide emotional and social support for students in crisis, leaving little time to help students with competitive college applications. 

“I had actually never interacted with my guidance counselor, and so, when I was asked to obtain a letter of recommendation from my college counselor or guidance counselor, that didn’t really make much sense,” Kennedy said. “That counselor letter of recommendation requirement was just a huge barrier for me.”

Kennedy worried that the requirement deters some students from applying altogether.

“These are the students that we’ve gotten to apply and who chose to apply despite these barriers, but I can’t imagine how many students we might lose to those barriers, who see that and say, ‘Oh, I guess I can’t apply here,’” Kennedy said. 

Kennedy and some other small-town and rural students said that making the counselor recommendation letter optional would encourage more applicants like them to apply. 

Aside from addressing challenges with the application requirements, students told the Voice that greater outreach from the admissions team would help support small-town and rural students applying to Georgetown. 

“I get that they’re not feasibly probably going to get to every small town, but I guess you can always send an email to [a] school,” Lauren Bartels (CAS ’26), programming chair for STARS, said.

STARS’s outreach efforts have touched a number of current Georgetown students. In spring 2023, Kennedy held a Zoom conversation for admitted students from small towns and rural areas, which Wede attended.

“Lisa was one of the reasons I committed, because I was like, ‘Oh my god, everything she’  s saying is something I would say, and if she can do it, I can do it,’” Wede said.

The lack of official university outreach is more than just a Georgetown problem. Universities in general are less likely to hold college fairs or organize admissions officer visits in these communities, instead favoring suburban and urban schools where a recruiter can reach a greater number of students in one trip. 

The only college recruiters who came to Bartels’s school in her Wisconsin town of 2,500 were from the state’s public university system or nearby community colleges, Bartels said.

“I can tell you with complete certainty that there were never recruiters coming from elite universities. Most people didn’t know what Georgetown was when I told them where I was going to school,” Bartels wrote in an email to the Voice.

Without active outreach from universities, small-town and rural students and their high school staff may not consider selective, out-of-state schools as an option. 

“The primary route was trade school or going directly into the workforce,” Kennedy said about her high school. “I just feel that trade school or community college was more highly encouraged by my teachers and administrators.”

Recently, Georgetown has created additional outreach programs, in part to support applicants from towns like Kennedy’s.

“Georgetown founded a joint travel consortium in 2022 with four other universities that share a commitment to reaching talented students in small towns and rural communities,” the university spokesperson wrote in an email to the Voice. “This consortium consists of Brown, Georgetown, Harvard, Howard, and USMA West Point, traveling together biannually with a focus on underrepresented regions.”

Aside from the travel consortium, Georgetown’s outreach also involves high school visits as well as both in-person and virtual campus tours, information sessions, application and financial aid workshops, and connecting current and prospective students from similar backgrounds, the university spokesperson wrote.

“Georgetown is committed to multicultural recruitment and supports prospective students from all backgrounds and geographic regions throughout the recruitment and application process,” they wrote.

However, some feel that these efforts haven’t done enough to reach small-town and rural students, who still may never have heard of Georgetown.

Students emphasized that further supporting these applicants can have a big impact on their communities and their futures.

“A lot of rural and small-town students don’t go to college or don’t get this level of education,” Wede said. “The impact of having students coming from those areas who are receiving an education like this is that they can go back, make an impact on their community, how their community functions, and the way that our country as a whole functions.” 

Katie Doran
Katie is a freshman in the College, studying (probably) government, and the features editor. She loves tea, em dashes, baking, and pretty biweekly magazines from Georgetown's best publication.

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