Nathan Sykes

March 24, 2021

My Thoughts On College Admissions

Last week marked an important milestone for me - I got rejected from my first college! Up until that point, I'd received a fair mix of acceptances and waitlists. My rejection, however, coincided with the release of the new Netflix documentary on the college admissions scandal, Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal. I thought writing about the college admissions process would be an interesting topic to approach.

I've always considered college to be an option, but never the option. It's the attitude I had when I was writing my first book about how to succeed without college (it's literally called Retire Before College), and when I was invited to give my TEDx talk on creating perfect environments for teen entrepreneurs. College is, especially in this day and age, not becoming "the" mandatory path for everyone to head down. Despite my book and speaking engagements, I had always known that I'd apply to college. Whether I'd actually attend? Another story.

I don't need to tell you that there are many definitions of success. Theoretically, you can achieve as much or as little success as you'd like with college not even being a factor. It might take longer, or be harder, or have more roadblocks, but you're able to achieve a stable, even prosperous lifestyle without college. I do believe, however, that college minimizes those roadblocks. To hit some of the higher levels of success, attending an elite college will save you a significant amount of time and money in the form of networking, connections, and opportunities.


As such, college has a very high intrinsic value, and it's in the best interest of wealthy, powerful families to send their children there. I'm not excusing the behavior of the parents involved in the college admissions scandal - but I completely understand it. They wanted their children to be set up for success. No parent (except for the parents of would-be students their children took spots from) would reasonably fault them.

I'll never do anything unethical or illegal to get into a college, but I understand the value of college. That's why it's a priority for me to attend, despite my writing and speaking about an alternate path. Some folks can mistake my book as being "anti-college", but that's not my position at all. I will be happily attending a bachelor's in economics this fall. As long as people realize that there is another way, and college should be a choice you make, and not a requirement, then I'm completely happy.

My work with my film festival has allowed me to really sympathize with college admissions officers. Each year, thousands of student filmmakers submit work to our show to compete for one of our slots. This year, we're set to process about 4,100ish submissions (our pool is still open, so this number is in flux), for about 75 spots in our festival's Class of 2021. Divide those numbers, and we're looking at a 1.8% acceptance rate. The lowest acceptance rate for a college is 4.3% (belonging to Stanford University).

Our film festival is statistically tougher to get into than any college in the United States. It's the work of festival programmers to bring that number of circa 4,000 films down to a reasonable number, like 400-500, but then a final committee takes that really accomplished group of 400 films, and brings it down further to 75. I'm involved with the final committee, so I've seen first-hand how those decisions are made, and it's absolutely grueling. Making small distinctions between extraordinarily talented filmmakers is really, really hard, and it's given me a lot of respect for the work that admissions officers have to do each year.