Admission Hook Isn't Patently Obvious

Question: How helpful is a US Patent (not patent-pending, an actual patent) for elite school admissions?

One of “The Dean’s” favorite default responses is “It depends.” And it’s certainly an apt answer here.

Except in rare cases, holding a patent will not replace top grades and test scores at an “elite” college or university. At the most sought-after institutions, an outstanding transcript and test results are the tickets that get a candidate to the front gates.  Next, admission officials ask, “What else is special?” Because so many applicants to these schools submit similar “numbers,” admission committees will look for unique talents and accomplishments or an atypical background that might enrich their freshman class.  Applicants who don’t offer such enticements probably won’t get beyond the outer courtyard.

Certainly, a patent can make an already-qualified student stand out in the crowd—at least at first glance—but the admission folks will be digging deeper. Holding a patent alone won’t be enough. For instance, admission officers will consider how much research, study, effort, and ingenuity went into the patent. Above all, they will discuss the applicant’s role. Did he or she invent the patented item alone or as part of a team? And, if the latter, who was on that team … perhaps a college professor or other scientist who played the starring role in acquiring the patent? A parent or other relative? (It seems increasingly popular these days for parents to include a college-bound son or daughter in a research endeavor or as a co-author of a book in order to provide that child with extra college-admissions ammunition.)  Obviously, a patent that was obtained by the student independently after developing a unique product based on hard work and creativity will provide a lot more admissions fire-power than a patent obtained by a group where the student’s role is minimal … or unclear.

So if you have patented an invention on your own (or with another peer … not adult … as a partner), which required significant work, study, creativity and/or knowledge, it could indeed give your admission odds a sweet boost. But unless your idea is likely to be The Next Big Thing, it probably won’t have a major impact on your college outcomes if you don’t have the appropriate transcript and test scores to go with it.