I spent my final year of senior school (2008-9) applying to go to university. As I live in the UK, I applied through UCAS, the Universities and Colleges Admissions System. This is an online system whereby you can apply to up to 5 universities for a course of your choice.
I managed to obtain a place at three out of the five universities I'd chosen, on the basis of my personal statement (similar to the US admissions essay, I believe) and my A-level grades. Most of my school friends applied at the same time, and most of them obtained places at their chosen institutions. In September 2009, we found ourselves scattered across the country studying everything from Art to Zoology.
Case in point. One of my closest friends Kim, a hopeful medic, failed to obtain a place at any of her chosen institutions. Through the UCAS system, you are allowed to apply for up to 4 medicine places at once. The fifth place is usually taken up with an application to a university to study biomedicine or chemistry or something related which would allow you to progress to eventually study graduate medicine. This is because in the UK, medicine is extremely competitive (the latest statistics say that there are 10 applicants per place on average across all universities). However, this system means that some very bright and very talented wannabe medics slip through the net, without even being interviewed.
Kim had a string of perfect grades. She had known she'd wanted to do medicine for years, and had consequently acquired a shedload of relevant work experience. She was involved in music, drama and volunteered for a charity.
Case in point, my cousin. My cousin lived in the UK for 13 years before moving abroad to Dubai. She is a year younger than I am, and this year applied to study medicine at several UK universities. Her grades are average at best, and as far as I am aware she is uninvolved in anything remotely medicine-related, and is only interested in going out and getting as drunk as possible at the weekend.
So why was it that my cousin was offered a place at medical school whilst Kim wasn't? Might it be to do with the fact that fees for overseas students are eight times the amount that home students are charged? Kim has since been offered a place, as she reapplied this year with even more work experience under her belt and a completely rewritten personal statement. I understand that funding for universities is tight at the moment, but I think I'm missing something here. Why was my cousin, someone totally and very clearly undevoted to the cause, given a place, whilst Kim was made to wait a whole year?
I guess it would be naive of me to think that universities would accept people based solely on academic and extracurricular merit.