It’s Harder Than You Think

D-Day has come and gone. I’m talking about Decision Day for the Ivy League schools. Those applicants holding their breath for their Regular Decision decisions on March 28 this year were sufficiently nervous to cause server slowdowns on the College Confidential discussion forum. That’s a tribute to their anxiety, eagerness, and just plain curiosity. If you have the time and want to see just how competitive admission has become at the Ivies, click through some of the Ivy schools’ “results” postings to discover (or marvel at) how some of these high school seniors were denied admission. Their profiles read like fiction, in the positive sense. Some of the comments are quite moving.

Several days ago, I did an interview with a reporter from Princeton University’s student newspaper, The Daily Princetonian. The thrust of the reporter’s questions centered around the final acceptance rates for all the Ivies this year, not just Princeton’s. The main question was, “Do you think acceptance rates can get any lower?” Well, in light of the results at Princeton this year, I’d have to say, “It’s possible, but seems unlikely.” Take a look at Princeton’s numbers for the Class of 2017 (“SCEA” = Single Choice Early Action” (December notification); “RD” = Regular Decision (April notification)):

Total Applied: 26498 ; Total Accepted: 1931 ; Acceptance Rate: 7.28%
SCEA Applied: 3810 ; SCEA Accepted: 697 ; Acceptance Rate: 18.29%
RD Applied: 22688 ; RD Accepted : 1234 ; Acceptance Rate: 5.54% (last year: 5.90%)

Okay, you can pick yourself up off the floor now. :-)

Going back to my comments for The Daily Princetonian interview, one of the things I mentioned, in regards to the possibility that Ivy acceptance rates could go even lower was that the rates could actually rise. I said,  “The number of applicants may indeed go down this coming year because of the tremendous discouragement that [students] see with a five or seven percent admissions rate.” By this, I mean that prospective Ivy applicants might view applying to the Ivies the same way a high school gymnast and hopeful future Olympian would feel after watching the competition at the Olympics. Yes, getting into the Ivies appears to be something of an Olympian challenge these days. So you want to go to the Ivy League? As Pink Floyd says, “Welcome to the machine.”

Every year, legions of highly qualified and not-so-qualified applicants knock at the admission doors of these eight great schools. There is much information about Ivy League admissions, but the best place to start is with the Web sites of these elite institutions. Visit these sites and carefully review them. There’s a ton of pertinent facts, figures, and photos to be had, so take note. Here are the links:

Princeton  Harvard  Yale  Columbia  Dartmouth  Brown  Penn  Cornell

The history of the Ivy League (it started as an athletic conference) can be found by searching for “Ivy League history” on Google or any other of your favorite search engines. If your looking for some additional commentary from yours truly here, you can check out what I wrote in this College Confidential article:

Ivy Admissions: Can It Really Be That Hard? – comparing elite admissions to recruitment of musical virtuosos.

This past year was, without doubt, the toughest year ever for elite college admissions. Many seniors with near-perfect SAT Is, Subject Tests, ACTs, etc. were either denied or waitlisted. I find this situation difficult to rationalize. I mention these things not to discourage you but, rather, to prepare you for what lies ahead: a significantly challenging admissions process. The coming years will be increasingly tougher, mainly among the Top-25 colleges and the Ivies, even though I proffered the possibility that the Ivies’ insanely low acceptance rates (Columbia: 6.89%, Yale: 6.7%, Harvard: 5.79%, for example) might actually ease up.

So what’s your point, Dave? Well, my point is that at the top, it’s much harder than you may think. You need to adjust your thinking. You probably also need a more substantive plan than just “My [parents, school counselor, friends, etc.] think I have a good shot.”

Where can you get the information you need for this new way of thinking and planning?  Answer (three guesses): College Confidential.  Best wishes for your college quest!