I'm applying Early Action to Princeton and to a few other schools Regular Decision, and I think my chances are good at all of these schools. But now I'm worried because I've heard about three or four other people at my HS who also applied EA to Princeton. We are all in the honors program in my high school and our stats are all pretty similar. Will they accept all five of us? Or do they try and just take one or two from each school? I am worried that now I'm not competing with the entire Princeton application pool — am I really only competing with the people from my high school? Or to go deeper than that, am I only competing with the people from my HS who have my same race (white) and gender (female)?
College admission folks will almost always tell you that you're not competing with your classmates, and — in the strictest sense — that's true. If five amazing applicants from the same high school were to all apply to Princeton, then they all might get good news. But here's the rub — it's awfully tough to be “amazing" in an Ivy applicant pool. The grades, test scores and extracurricular accomplishments of Ivy aspirants can be truly head-spinning!
In addition, admission officers — especially at hyper-selective places like Princeton — value diversity. And here, “diversity" doesn't just mean racial or ethnic differences; it also means hailing from a wide range of high schools and zip codes. So this can indeed suggest that it's not likely that every senior from your class who is aiming for Princeton will be accepted. Moreover, the most sought-after institutions like Princeton may not admit any applicants from a particular high school in a given year, even when five (or more) apply. As noted above, it's hard to come off as “amazing" among elite-college applicants, no matter how impressive you actually are.
Without knowing a lot more about you, your classmates and the school you attend, it's impossible to assess your outcomes. What I can tell you, however, is that you won't be vying head-to-head against only white females from your senior class. The process doesn't work that way. Once Princeton admission officials determine that your curriculum, grades and test scores make you Ivy-eligible, the next question they ask will be along the lines of “What's special?" So that's the question you can ask yourself right now while you wait.
Is there anything unique about your achievements, your interests or your background that will make you stand out in a crowd ... and not just the “crowd" of five from your own school but a much, much larger and highly talented one? If so, you'll be in the running at Princeton, regardless of where your fellow honors students are applying and how strong they might be.
Sally Rubenstone is a veteran of the college admissions process and is the co-author of three books covering admissions. She worked as a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years and has also served as an independent college counselor, in addition to working as a senior advisor at College Confidential since 2002. If you'd like to submit a question to The Dean please email us at email@example.com.
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