US Admissions: What’s a ‘development case’?

Guides / USA

The 2019 admissions scandal in the USA, involving the University of Southern California and a range of other highly-selective US universities, continues to shed light on US admissions and so-called ‘development cases’.

To get a sense of the scale of the situation, this list of the top-20 colleges ranked by the amount of donations they received is illustrative:


So the reality here is that some colleges are bringing in a huge amount of money, using them to fund things like financial aid, new facilities and research opportunities.

In order to maintain these donations, colleges employ people who specialise in this work, and often their work and that of admissions officers can interact. This recent article, discussing the University of Southern California, explains more:

What we see here is how money – or the potential of money – can be an additional hook to strengthen a student’s application into hyper-selective colleges. In a process that focuses on an holistic review of applications and at universities which are turning down 9 in 10, 14 in 15 or 19 in 20 of their applicants (most of whom are extremely well-qualified for that university), a hook is all important: it is something which can make you distinctive in the applicant pool which is already hyper-talented.

Given this, what can you do? Well, unless you are in the fortunate situation of being one of these development cases, not a lot. Instead, seek to be the best you that you can be, have the strongest possible application, and understand the rules of the game – all things we can help you with.