Class of 2023 Admission Results

Decisions are out, and many colleges and universities have released admit rates and final numbers for the class of 2023. Head to College Kickstart for a breakdown and comparison to last year’s numbers at some of the top tier schools in the US. As in years past, schools have seen record application numbers and admit rates are going down.

In our work with applicants, we focus on creating a list that makes sense and doesn’t leave students with an insane amount of apps to complete, or an insane amount of rejections. However, some students do not take our advice. During the last four admissions seasons, we have had multiple students apply to 15+ colleges, most in RD. We did not advise this, but my guess is against the advice of many counselors, students and parents are pressing submit on as many schools as they can. Why? Partly because of how competitive the RD round can be, and they took some risks early, and it did not work out; partly because they can afford it; partly because for some strange reason they think Hail Mary’ing it might just work out. There are probably other reasons, but these are the three we most frequently encounter.

We say this every year, but we hope families begin to realize that this approach does not work. It is a waste of time and money. What’s worse, it creates an insane amount of stress on the student and most often results in more rejections than acceptances, which make students feel terrible because it is very hard, at age 17, to comprehend that a college rejection is really not personal.

In addition to surging application numbers (thank you, Common Application!), the competition is fierce. There’s a chance the profile that might’ve gotten you into your dream school a few years ago won’t hold up in the current admissions landscape…but have hope. There are more colleges and universities in the US and abroad than the top 20-30 schools! And guess what? These schools accept a lot of students, and you might even get money from them, and you will likely be just as happy there as a top ~20 school.

It is time to think outside of the box. The landscape now requires it—even for students with perfect grades and test scores. Those things are commonplace; you need far more than numbers to get into a top tier school. And what you need is what our work with students focuses on. Students have control over a lot in this process but only if they start early to develop what will help them stand out while at the same time broadening their college-knowledge and looking carefully at schools that might not have been on their radar initially.

Another reason to have hope is there are ways to differentiate your profile that actually work. Our students engage in extended research and outreach. Beyond getting close with reps, current students, faculty, and young alumni, our students connect with schools where they are already spending time: online. Connecting with schools via social media, as well as having a strong online presence via LinkedIn, can be beneficial. We believe your digital footprint and the presence of a digital portfolio can help not hurt you in the college application process. The students who take our advice become savvy networkers with the colleges on their list, and it pays off big time.

Anyway, back to the news. Thanks always to College Kickstart for providing all of our admissions-related data needs.

 

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How the Harvard Case Highlights What All College Applicants Need to Know

Each summer, Harvard’s Admissions Office profiles a handful of previous applicants in a “casebook” and distributes it to employees. The book is meant to teach staffers how to evaluate candidates. For each applicant, the document details the bullet-pointed factors that rendered the applicant “appealing” and the traits that gave Harvard “pause.” It also provides the outcome for each student.

A recent Crimson article shines a light on some of what came from the casework exploration, none of which comes as much of a surprise to someone in my role. I want to share some of what the Crimson article highlights, but also point out that these findings are not solely applicable to Harvard applicants. Any student applying to a selective college or university should consider these findings because they hold true across many schools.

A clear and impressive academic performance and talent: 

“But stories of successful applicants prove a common truth: Harvard admissions officers are looking for academic superstars who have overcome adversity in their personal lives* and can offer a clear vision of what they would accomplish in Cambridge.

Smarts reigned supreme. In nine of the 11 cases, admissions officers pointed to strong academic performance as a compelling reason for admission. The word “bright” appears eight times in the document.”

*Overcoming adversity plays out in so many different ways. Many applicants have not experienced hardships related to their living conditions, family finances, etc.—but no one’s life is perfect. Everyone has experienced personal failure and moments of weakness and vulnerability. A student’s willingness to dig deep and have the confidence to present these moments is one way to overcome the “hardship” gap if they have not navigated a more traditional hardship.

An extracurricular “niche” (which could be related to the academic narrative):

“While a strong overall candidate, Evelyn [Satmar]’s credentials are not unusual in our applicant pool,” the document reads.

Admissions officers also took note of activities outside the classroom. Reviewers mentioned that at least three candidates failed to find an “extracurricular niche” in high school.

“While the package is appealing, the case lacks the ‘hook’ provided by a special academic or extracurricular talent,” officers wrote of Mandisi.”

And likeability (charisma and lack of ego!):

“Grace was a “strong student” in high school, but nothing exceptional. One reviewer noted her test scores “suggest she won’t be a top engineering student at Harvard” — and predicted she “will have to work hard here.”

However…. “Grace’s teachers, guidance counselor, and alumni interviewer describe her in terms we rarely read,” the document states. “A true ‘1 personal’ — one of the few we see each year.”

And what about “pause” factors reasons—reasons to deny an application. There are plenty of those, but here are a few that are overwhelmingly true at all schools, not just Harvard:

“The document lists “pause factors” for each candidate. These more problematic traits — including less impressive grades, uninspiring extracurriculars, and excessive braggadocio — spurred lengthy deliberations in the Admissions Office, waitlist placements, and calls to a plethora of teachers and counselors.

For other applicants, admissions officers raised more personal concerns — many related to ego.”

Two candidates’ pause factors included “arrogance.” One was placed on the waitlist and never accepted; the other admitted to Harvard only “after many hours of debate.

Admissions officers particularly pondered whether high schoolers’ hubris would hurt them at Harvard — wondering whether applicants could successfully trade standout status for relative anonymity among hundreds of star students.

“What will his transition be like — from big fish in small pond to Harvard — and how will Sergei interact with roommates, classmates, and administrators?” one reviewer wrote.”

You do not need to be applying to Harvard to reap the benefits of these takeaways! We’ve been encouraging applicants to consider these things for as long as we’ve been doing this:

-Perform well in school and on standardized tests. This is the #1 factor. If you don’t have this…the rest is going to matter very little at top schools (unless you are a recruited athlete).

-Develop an academic narrative; even if you have a few interests, dive into them and go above and beyond in pursuing them. Just “doing school” is not very compelling. Get out there and do something!

-Find an extracurricular niche. It might be what you do to go above and beyond regarding your academic interests, or it might be something else completely. Either way, the most interesting candidates have a life outside of school and their excellent grades and test scores. Bonus if this niche is outside of the norm (think deck hockey or urban gardening instead of Model UN or piano).

-Lose the ego. You might be #1 in your class, have tons of leadership roles, and basically be #thebest, but that will all change in college. You are going to be the norm and you will need to adjust to that very quickly. Show some humility and foresight. Arrogance is the absolute most cringe-worthy part of so many college applications! Remove all traces of it (you might need someone to help with this).

Read the full Crimson article here.

 

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Repost: Taming the Admissions Anxiety

Timely post by Bari Walsh on Harvard GSE’s Usable Knowledge page. Give it a read below!

You’re at a holiday gathering in your neighborhood, and the parents, once again, are talking college — exchanging the vitals on where their kids are applying, or where they’ve already gotten in. When one father beams about the highly selective schools his daughter is targeting, you don’t immediately beam back. Your son is applying to some state schools and a few private colleges, but after a tough fall term, he’s also thinking about working for a year and taking classes at the community college.

You look around and notice that the kids are standing nearby, soaking up the very different moods each parent is conveying.

The Weight of College Pressure

In a highly competitive world, the college process feels fraught with pressure — for students and parents alike. For the vast majority of families in America, that pressure centers not on personal achievement or the bragging rights of a selective college but on affordability, access, and equal opportunity. Only about 4 percent of U.S. students go to colleges that accept less than 25 percent of their applicants, and most American kids either don’t attend or don’t graduate from four-year colleges, says developmental psychologist Richard Weissbourd, who studies the social and emotional lives of teens. The barriers confronting that majority need to be front and center in public conversations about college, he adds.

But a different and also serious problem is affecting students in middle- and upper-income communities, where debilitating academic and social pressure is fueling a public health crisis of anxiety in high-achieving schools and districts. Some research has shown that rates of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse are higher among affluent teens than any other group of young people, and achievement pressure is a significant contributor. “But you can see this even without reading the research,” says Weissbourd. “You just need to spend some time in a high school where this is going on, and you can see how wound up kids are about college and where they’re going to get in.”

College admissions is an important rite of passage in America — a time for parents to engage their kids in deep conversations about their hopes and dreams, their values, and what kind of adults they imagine they’ll be.

All of which is too bad, he says, because the college admissions process is an important rite of passage for many in America. “It’s a wonderful time for parents to really listen to their kids — to hear about their hopes, their values, their expectations for college, and to learn what kind of adults they imagine they’ll be,” Weissbourd says.

With colleagues at his Making Caring Common project, Weissbourd produced a report last year called Turning the Tide, seeking to tame the excesses of the college admissions process and reframe it to prioritize ethical and intellectual engagement, not just long brag sheets of accomplishments. More than 175 admissions deans have signed on to the report’s recommendations. Some of those guidelines, and other advice Weissbourd offers, are summarized below.

Doing the Admissions Process Right

  • Listen to your child. Find out what she hopes for and expects from college.
  • Be a guide and a facilitator, connecting your child to information and to big-picture thinking about the purpose of college.
  • Put the focus on finding the right college for your child, not on applying to or getting into the “best” college.
  • Unclutter your own anxieties; make sure you’re hearing your child’s wishes and considering her best interests, not filtering them through your own hopes, your peer-driven status worries, or your own unmet college expectations.
  • Prioritize quality, not quantity, when it comes to extracurricular activities. Prioritize service opportunities that your child finds meaningful.
  • Make sure your kids are eating and sleeping well.
  • Encourage your child to be authentic, truthful, and reflective in the application process.
  • Make the process meaningful for you and your child: use these conversation starters to talk to your teen.

Confronting Status Concerns

Magazine rankings and other ratings systems fuel the idea that “one college is in some objective sense better than another college, or that there are 25 ‘best’ colleges in the country,” Weissbourd says. It’s a harmful idea, because “what you really want kids to be thinking about is not what’s the best college, but what’s the best college for them.” There are many hundreds of good colleges out there, and any one of them might be the right one for your child. Weissbourd encourages parents in high-achieving districts to visit some schools that aren’t highly selective, expanding everyone’s understanding of what a “good school” is.

Rates of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse are higher among affluent teens than any other group of young people, and achievement pressure is a big contributor.

But status pressure is real, and kids experience it every day. “We have to have better conversations with kids about what status means and what it doesn’t mean, about the advantage of going to a high-status place and the disadvantages. We have to confront it more squarely,” he says. Students who go to a highly selective school may reap a reputational benefit or gain access to a strong alumni network, for example — but it’s also possible that the student body will be less diverse, or the campus culture more competitive and less nurturing. “As long as parents or students have this perception that there are 20 or 30 great colleges in this country, we’re going to have really stressed-out kids who are anxious about getting in. And many will end up feeling ashamed because they don’t,” Weissbourd says.

Turn the Pressure Down . . .

What’s the “right” amount of pressure for parents to apply? It depends on the child, the family, and the community.

Some kids aren’t thinking about college at all, and in those cases, parents should start talking generally about the importance of college-going in about ninth grade, helping kids develop a college identity and a pathway for work and career.

Other kids start worrying about college way too early, starting with test-prep tutors in middle school. In high-pressure communities, “the conversation about the application process really shouldn’t begin until 11th grade,” Weissbourd says. For parents in these communities, he offers a quick list of “don’ts”:

  • Don’t spend every dinner talking about college.
  • Don’t arrange every family vacation in high school around a college visit.
  • Don’t pop vocabulary cards at the dinner table to prepare for the SAT.
  • When it comes to applications and test prep, don’t over-coach your child. Think twice before hiring outside tutors.
  • Pause and reflect if you find yourself spending too much time worrying or thinking about your child’s achievements.
  • Discourage your child from overloading on AP and honors courses.

. . . And Get Real about the Source of the Pressure

“Our data show that when you ask parents what’s most important to them in child rearing, they prioritize raising a caring child over a high-achieving child,” Weissbourd says. But when you ask them what they think other parents in their community prioritize, they say other parents prioritize achievement.

“So you have a large majority of parents thinking that the problem is a large majority of other parents, and that doesn’t square,” he says. “We need parents to realize that when it comes to achievement pressure, the problem isn’t ‘them,’ it’s ‘us.’”

Illustration: Wilhelmina Peragine

Let’s give non-Ivy Leaguers a chance to rule the world

Just read a great piece by Dustin McKissen, the founder and CEO of McKissen + Company, a strategy, marketing, and public relations firm based in St. Charles, Missouri.

Most of us know you don’t need to go to the right schools and come from the right family to change the world for the better. But, apparently, you do need to go to the right school if you want to change the world from Washington D.C.

By the time Donald Trump’s term ends in 2020, the country will have been led by an Ivy League graduate from 1988—2020. That’s 32 years of unbroken White House rule by graduates of schools that educate a statistically insignificant number of all college students. (It’s also 32 years of rising income inequality.)

A First Family preference for the Ivy League is nothing new: during 20 of those 32 years (the administrations of George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama) the presidency was held by someone whose father also graduated from an Ivy League school.

Favorite takeaway: “Knowing your way to the Ivy League is not synonymous with knowing what you’re doing.”

Give it a read here!