The Agony of Ivy Admissions

Yesterday (March 30) was Ivy League application results day. As in years past, the center of the results universe was the College Confidential discussion forum, which outperformed Harvard’s email decision notification system. As of 10 p.m. last night, there were still many Harvard aspirants who either hadn’t received their admission decision email or who couldn’t even access the Harvard admissions site to log in, well past the 5 p.m. release time.

The College Confidential forum, on the other hand, kept operating smoothly, without any crashes or slowdowns, even in the face of a tremendous surge of traffic across its servers. This was the kind of performance the many thousands of posters needed, as they posted their ecstatic, heartbroken, or ambivalent sentiments regarding their Ivy results.

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How tough was it this year? Well, the confirmed admit percentages haven’t been calculated yet, but there are some very accurate estimates available on sites like The Daily Beast, which notes, “Selective colleges across the country are receiving an avalanche of applications this year, with records being set from Cambridge to California. Harvard is poised to be the toughest Ivy to get into: Based on the jump in the number of applications it received, the university’s acceptance rate is likely to drop to a record low 6 percent. The University of California-Berkeley, meanwhile, is shaping up as one of the toughest state schools to crack, with just 20 percent of applicants likely to receive welcoming e-mails.”

Six percent!? I pondered this for a while as I followed the agonies being posted on CC last night. Then I came to a conclusion.

I’m betting that in years to come, schools like Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and Columbia will accept so few applicants that a new math will need to emerge in order to tabulate how incredibly selective they have become. They may have to begin using scientific notation to express their actual admission rates, due to the large number of zeroes to the right of the decimal point. The odds of being elected President of the United States, or sustaining two consecutive lightning strikes, or winning the Powerball lottery will be greater than landing a freshman seat at these prestigious institutions of higher learning. This doesn’t bode well for our grandkids.

But I digress. Returning to reality, punitive as it is, here’s a very cool pictorial summary of those amazingly low acceptance rates for these top schools. If, as Jim Morrison said, you want to wallow in the mire, check out these forums on the CC site:

Harvard University

Yale University

Princeton University

Columbia University

University of Pennsylvania

Brown University

Dartmouth College

Cornell University

CC Top Universities

CC Top Liberal Arts Colleges

One of my favorite pieces of advice to my counseling clients who aspire to the above schools is simple: The only sure thing about elite college admissions is that there is no sure thing. This year, as you will see, perhaps a better version of my advice might be: The only sure thing about elite college admissions is that you probably don’t have much of a chance.

One has to wonder when this bubble will burst. Imagine the noise of that popping sound!

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Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.