We’ve seen too many students wait until the summer after 11th grade to try to develop and implement the strategies needed to tackle the college application process successfully and with ease. Often, there is just not enough time to do the pre-work that results in the most effective essays, outreach, and positive admissions outcomes.
The best time to start? Now.
Juniors, right now you can:
Develop relationships with admissions officers and regional reps (the people who make key decisions on your application) as well as current students and faculty (we can fill you in on why these connections are so important)
Create a testing plan that has you ready for apps due on 10/15 or 11/1 and not cramming last minute
Open up a Common App account to get familiar with the system
Make the best of campus visits and leverage contacts at colleges on these visits
Craft a preliminary college list that maximizes the 5+ application plans colleges now use
We hate seeing the second half of junior year go to waste!
We speak to everyone we ultimately work with for at least 30-minutes free of charge to determine how we can best support you. If we feel like we can’t we will provide referrals.
Contact us today to discuss what you can do now to always stay a step—or three—ahead of the game.
College admissions can be heartbreaking on many levels, but what’s “the worst” is the number of applicants who think they can get lucky in regular decision—especially at schools with ED II, and who report RD admit rates under 10%. Even for students with a strong resume and “great” numbers, the odds are against you. At the most selective schools, there is not much luck to be had.
You’ll need something special (or a special combination of things) to get a fair look at a top-top school in RD: be at the top of your class with perfect or near-perfect grades, have little/no competition from classmates, be a legacy, and often very important, attend a high school that has an already established pipeline to these schools. You’ll need some awesome essays, too.
It might help to see that a 5% admit rate = 95% rejection rate
I know this sounds negative, and anyone who knows me knows that I am a glass half full type of person, but it’s time to start seeing rejection rates for what they are, especially if your list is full of schools with admit rates under ~25% (meaning the RD rate could dip to under ~10%).
Sometimes [insert uber-selective school here] just needs a new library, or full-pays, or more women from Idaho, or a flute player. So…
Don’t take it personally if you don’t fall into that tiny, tiny pool; you are, I promise, still enough.
Managing expectations while developing a college list is not easy. High school students today deal with a lot of “noise” from peers, parents, teachers, counselors, and if they are really unlucky, random people who have no business talking to them about college (I am looking at you Jay the Lyft driver). It is a hot topic and social media chatter does not help. Where they will go, what they will major in; there seems to be nothing sacred about the journey and no one feels compelled to keep their mouth shut.
And then there’s the critical issue that comes up with many of the students I work with: getting into the most selective American colleges is more fiercely competitive than ever before, with many schools reporting a record number of applicants (again), and corresponding record low admit rates (again). To many, this news is fear-inducing. How will I (or my child, parents have a lot of college-related fear, too!) possibly get admitted to a “top” college or university?
Answering how is hard. There are no silver bullets in this process, and the reality is with college admit rates under 10, 20, 30 percent at the most selective colleges and universities, most applicants won’t get admitted to these schools.
But here’s the thing: there are hundreds of other amazing schools that, in a heartbeat, most students would be happy attending. There is a nasty misconception that the most selective colleges and universities offer some magical golden ticket to greatness and a happy, fulfilling, and successful life. This is a myth. A name is just a name. Yes, brand means something to many people, and over time having a certain college on your resume might help your salary tick up, but it won’t help everyone and in the ways that many people think it will.
Instead of trying to become the applicant you think one of these uber selective schools will admit, I suggest a path of far less resistance and more authenticty—a path that includes looking at colleges where you have a realistic chance of being admitted, colleges that, perhaps, spark real joy.
But again, how?! Try taking a page out of Marie Kondo’s book. The KonMari Method is Marie Kondo’s minimalism-inspired approach to tackling your stuff category-by-category rather than room-by-room. Here’s how I have applied it to creating a college list. There are six basic rules to get started:
Commit yourself to tidying up your list
Imagine your ideal college
Remove colleges from the list first (the ones you know you will not attend); before getting rid of colleges from the list, sincerely thank each of them for serving a purpose
Evaluate your list by category.
Follow the right order
Ask yourself if each college sparks joy
The categories to consider, in order:
Financial considerations, cost
Extracurricular offerings, social life, and happiness of students
Eligibility and competitiveness for admission
Miscellaneous Items (admit rates, legacy, special programs, study abroad etc.)
As you tidy your list ask yourself: why do I want these colleges on my list? Do they spark joy, meaning, does what they have to offer academically, extracurricularly, socially, and financially get me excited to attend? Am I more drawn to the name of the school, the brand, the prestige? What will school A (that I probably won’t get into) offer me that school B (that I probably can get into) cannot and vice versa? Am I evaluating colleges in a way that emphasizes my college priorities (and not my parents or my peers)?
Kondo believes that if you tidy your space, you can transform your life. I believe that if you tidy your college list, you can transform your college application journey. Shoot me an email to schedule a free 30-minute to learn more about how BMC supports students on their college applications and more.
Wonderful article by Scott Jaschik on how one high school in Palo Alto—a community not unlike NYC and the metro area—is taking a small but mighty stand against the toxic culture created around college admissions. The conversations taking place at this high school should be and thankfully are taking place at others around the country, and I am hopeful that more and more families will begin to see that there is so much more to the high school and college experience than where you go. It is it time for priorities to shift and for people to start getting real, and it has been time for a while now. Please give this one a read!
Fighting ‘Toxic, Comparison-Driven Culture’
If you live in a certain kind of suburb, you know some of the ways that students and parents boast about getting into the “right” colleges. The casual references to planning for Cambridge or New Haven. The decals or bumper stickers on cars. The constant questions about “where is your son/daughter applying/going?” The process builds the kind of competitive environment that adds to student stress and leaves many feeling inadequate because their college goals don’t include attending the most prestigious of institutions.
Then there is the college map, which at elite high schools is a feature of the end of the school year. A map of the United States shows all the places students will be off to in the fall. Students give permission to have their names linked to the map’s locations, so everyone at elite colleges can learn how many are headed for the Ivies and which ones. At The Campanile, the student newspaper of Palo Alto High School, the map has been an annual tradition. The image above is from a few years ago (and we’ve cropped out the lists of student names and their college destinations). Palo Alto High School, located in the backyard of Stanford University, and attended by children of professors and Silicon Valley executives, year after year sends many students to what are considered the best colleges in the country.
This year, in the wake of the admissions scandal that has focused attention on parents who seem more focused on prestige (at any cost) than finding a good match between student and college, editors of The Campanile decided on a new approach. They killed the map.
“The Post-Paly Plans Map has historically been one of The Campanile’s most highly anticipated pieces. Though its intended purpose was to celebrate the postgraduation plans of every senior, the reality is the map contributes to the toxic, comparison-driven culture at Paly,” wrote the newspaper’s five co-editors in chief in an editorial announcing the decision. (Paly is how they refer to their high school.)
“Our community fosters a college-centric mind-set, which erodes one’s sense of value and can lead to students with less traditional plans feeling judged, embarrassed or underrepresented. This worldview sets the bar for achievement extremely high and punishes anyone who falls short. We believe the burden of improving Paly’s environment falls on the students. If we don’t shift how we talk and think about college, the culture will never improve. This is the reason we decided not to publish the map this year.”
The editors surrounded their editorial with boxes in which some members of this year’s senior class discussed their college choices — and among those sharing their stories were students who turned down more prestigious for less prestigious colleges.
Gila Winefeld wrote, “At Paly, there’s kind of a norm of going to the ‘best,’ most selective college you can get into. Sometimes other factors that can be important like proximity to home and money fall to the wayside, but I realized a lot of those factors were important to me and my family … There were definitely some instances where people, even if they didn’t say it straight to my face, implied that if you’re a good student, why aren’t you going to a ‘better’ college, a ‘better’ school. I had a few different options I was looking at and I had some more prestigious options so a lot of people were very shocked when I told them that I had decided … One person even asked me, ‘Oh, do you not care at all?’”
Several students wrote of their pride at going to community college and the stigma associated with such a choice.
Bryan Kagiri wrote, “Personally, I think community college is a great, great plan. The stigma is that if you aren’t going to a four-year people look down on you. I look at it the opposite way — if you’re going to a two-year that means you’re confident enough that you can help yourself out. I don’t understand why there’s such a negative view on community college, because I think it’s a great idea financially and mentally for a senior.”
Along with the student voices was that of Arne Lim, an alumnus who is mathematics instruction supervisor at the high school. He wrote that the admission scandal is “not a by-product, it is a direct product of believing you have to do whatever you can to get your kid into this school … We hate those [U.S. News and World Report] rankings here, we absolutely abhor those rankings. You will always hear … college is a match, it is not a reward.”
Previous essays in The Campanile make clear that — whatever the sentiments of the editors of the newspaper — others at the school look down on those who deviate from the Ivy path.
“On college shirt day last year, a day that is intended to enable students to show pride for their post-high school plans, a student wore a Foothill College shirt with the words ‘Sorry, Mom’ written on the back. This message exemplifies the shame that many students planning on attending community college may feel due to the Paly’s culture of excessive competition. Students should not be made to feel this way about their college choice,” said one essay.
It continued, “The choice to enroll in a community college is often regarded as inferior in the broader Paly community due to a culture of intense competition. While it is rare for students attending community college to be explicitly shamed, the general attitude when one discloses that they are attending a community college is much less congratulatory than the attitude towards students who announce they will attend a more high-profile school.”
For the editors in chief, the theme of college admissions as a corrupting influence — one they addressed in killing the map — is also something they have written about previously.
“Throughout our time at Paly, we’ve witnessed — and, admittedly, sometimes contributed to — the ugliest parts of this culture. Paly fosters a goal-oriented student mind-set, and we often allowed this mind-set to dictate our own self-worth and our view of our peers. As seniors, we have emerged from the dark cloud of the college admissions process and have witnessed firsthand the way that it erodes one’s sense of value and place,” wrote the editors, Leyton Ho, Waverly Long, Kaylie Nguyen, Ethan Nissim and Ujwal Srivastava.
They added, “Frankly, no one can be blamed for valuing the glitz and glamour of a prestigious institution or high GPA. But there’s more to being human than achievement — we think the drive for traditional measures of validation can force students to miss some of the most valuable lessons and experiences high school can offer.”
Dr. Pope is a co-founder of Challenge Success and a senior lecturer at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education. She is the author of “Doing School: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed-Out, Materialistic and Miseducated Students.” This essay is adapted from “A ‘Fit’ Over Rankings: Why College Engagement Matters More than Selectivity,” a report published by Challenge Success in October.
Please read her important article!
Does the brand name of the college you attend actually matter? The best research on the question suggests that, for most students, it doesn’t.
Challenge Success, the research and advocacy group that I co-founded at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, conducted an extensive review of the academic literature on the subject. We found that a school’s selectivity (as typically measured by students’ SAT or ACT scores, high school GPA and class rank, and the school’s acceptance rate) is not a reliable predictor of outcomes, particularly when it comes to learning. As common sense would suggest, the students who study hard at college are the ones that end up learning the most, regardless of whether they attend an Ivy League school or a local community college. Similarly, the 2014 Gallup-Purdue Index, a study of over 30,000 graduates, found no correlation between college selectivity and future job satisfaction or well-being. The study showed that graduates were just as likely to score high (or low) on a scale measuring their “thriving” whether they attended community colleges, regional colleges or highly selective private and public universities.
Research does suggest that there is a modest financial gain from attending a highly selective school if students are the first in their families to attend college or come from underserved communities. But the difference in financial outcomes between the low-earning and high-earning graduates of top-ranked schools is greater than the difference between students from such highly selective schools and graduates of non-selective schools, including community colleges. As Greg Ip noted in The Wall Street Journal earlier this week, “The fact that smart, ambitious children who attend elite colleges also do well in life doesn’t mean the first caused the second.”
A study of over 30,000 graduates found no correlation between college selectivity and future job satisfaction or well-being. Would such findings have mattered to the parents involved in the college admissions scandal that has unfolded over the past two weeks? Probably not. In a society that is hyperfocused on achievement, credentials and status, it isn’t surprising that some parents are willing to sacrifice just about anything, including their integrity, to get their child into a top-ranked school. Unfortunately, many high school students also have a “cheat or be cheated” mentality when it comes to getting the grades and test scores that they believe they need for future success. More than 80% of students at high-achieving schools cheat in one way or another, according to surveys of over 145,000 students conducted in recent years by Challenge Success.
Today’s admissions scandal should serve as a wake-up call. As a society, we need to reexamine the purpose of college and the underlying issues that lead families to be so obsessed with status or brand that they jeopardize their own children’s healthy development and well-being. In surveys conducted by my group, three-quarters of high school juniors and seniors list planning for college as a top source of stress or worry in their life, well above relationships and family issues. More and more students are reporting severe sleep deprivation, anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide as they struggle to meet the unrealistically high expectations foisted upon them. The ultimate irony is that, even when these students do end up in selective colleges, many of them continue to struggle with mental and physical health issues, and often lack the independence, resilience and sense of purpose they need to graduate and enter the workforce.
What would a better approach look like? If the name of the school they attend doesn’t make a difference for most students in the long run, what does? It turns out that what students do at college seems to matter much more than where they go. The students who benefit most from college, including first-generation and traditionally underserved students, are those who are most engaged in academic life and their campus communities, taking full advantage of the college’s opportunities and resources. Numerous studies attest to the benefits of engaged learning, including better course grades and higher levels of subject-matter competence, curiosity and initiative.
Studies conducted in recent years by Gallup-Purdue also show a strong connection between certain forms of engagement in college and future job satisfaction and well-being. In particular, they found six key college experiences that correlated with how fulfilled employees feel at work and whether they thrive in life after college:
Taking a course with a professor who makes learning exciting
Working with professors who care about students personally
Finding a mentor who encourages students to pursue personal goals
Working on a project across several semesters
Participating in an internship that applies classroom learning
Being active in extracurricular activities
And yet, as important as these various forms of engagement seem to be, relatively few college graduates say that they experienced them. While more than 60% of graduates strongly agreed that at least one professor made them excited about learning, only 27% strongly felt that they were supported by professors who cared about them, and only 22% said the same about having a specific mentor who encouraged their goals and dreams. Just under a third strongly agreed that they had a meaningful internship or job or worked on a long-term project, while just a fifth were actively involved in extracurricular activities.
Given the research on what matters in college, the best advice for choosing the right one would seem to be finding a place where the student will be engaged, in class and out, by all that the college has to offer. The good news is that engaging experiences of this sort can happen at a wide variety of colleges, regardless of selectivity, size or location. And with over 4,500 accredited degree-granting colleges in the United States, students have plenty of options from which to choose.
Evaluate Colleges by their attributes
Parents can play an important role in the college search process, but they should always let the student—the one who will actually attend the school—lead the way. Here are some practical tips and conversation starters for students as they navigate the college admissions process.
Keep the ultimate purpose of college in mind.
The college years are short relative to the rest of your life. How do you want to spend your time while you are there? Are you hoping to learn new skills in a particular area? Meet role models, mentors and new friends? Be exposed to ideas, people and places you otherwise would not have access to? What kind of “return” do you want on your investment, in terms not only of future finances and career options but also of personal growth and future well-being and satisfaction?
It turns out that what students do at college seems to matter much more than where they go. For some students, the desired return on investment may be strictly monetary. If that is the case, you may want to consider preprofessional schools such as maritime academies, pharmaceutical schools or other schools with specialized business and entrepreneurship programs. These colleges rank highest in lists that measure value added to expected income, and many of them accept all or nearly all of their applicants. If your goal in attending college is simply to maximize your income, attending one of these less expensive programs at a lesser-known school may be worth considering.
Ask the right questions.
What are you most excited about learning, doing and experiencing in college? Consider academic factors such as access to cutting-edge researchers, ways to apply your learning through long-term projects or opportunities to be involved in graduate-level work, and which subject areas interest you most. Make sure that the offerings and core requirements at the colleges you are considering match these interests. What types of places or settings do you imagine you will most and least enjoy? Consider both location and geography. Do you want to be close to home or far away? Do you want to be in a big city or rural area? Do you want to experience cold weather or a sunny locale? How about a big campus or small? Dorm life or off-campus housing? What interests outside of class do you want to cultivate? Since students seem to thrive when they are more involved in campus activities, consider the range of activities offered at the college and where you see yourself fitting in, whether it is sports, arts, service activities, student leadership opportunities or the myriad clubs offered on most campuses.
Are there specific resources, supports or types of classes that would help you to be fully engaged? Check out mental health services, the support system for students with learning differences and community supports for first-generation students and students of color. What kind of advising and career counseling systems are offered? And don’t forget to look closely at financial aid and other scholarship opportunities.
Who do you want to hang out with and get to know? What social scene do you want? An active Greek system? A rah-rah sports scene? A mellow coffeehouse vibe? International students and study-abroad programs? Students who share your religious affiliation or values?
Do your research.
The internet can be your friend as you peruse different college websites, take virtual tours or visit nearby campuses to learn about the type of school you want. Look for schools that match the answers to the questions above. Sit in on a class or two if you can. Talk to current students or recent alumni. Don’t necessarily base your decision on your parents’ experiences or misconceptions, especially because colleges change and evolve over the years.
Enter college with an engagement mindset.
This is critical. Consider how you might make the most out of your time in college by investing in relationships, trying new things, studying hard, reaching out to adults and peers, building empathy and taking appropriate risks. Be sure you know how to balance a checkbook, do your own laundry and handle the inevitable setbacks and stresses that will occur.
Is an Elite College Worth It? Maybe Not
Challenge Success works with K-12 schools across the country to increase student well-being and engagement with learning. Our survey results show that almost half of students are just “doing school,” that is, playing the game in order to get ahead. That’s no way to prepare for a satisfying life of learning and work.
The message that we try to impart is clear: Parents and students must work on a different attitude toward the classroom long before they start thinking about which college to attend. It’s never too early to foster the skills needed for a healthy and meaningful college experience.
After a talk I recently gave in New York, a father approached me to say that, a year earlier, his daughter was choosing between an Ivy League school and a well-known regional college that was ranked much lower. He took her to visit both schools, and on the way home from the Ivy, she told him that she was going to turn it down. She liked the people and programs at the other school and thought she would be happier there.
He was furious, he told me, and didn’t speak to her during the entire ride home and most of the following week. Who turns down the Ivy League? “But boy was I wrong,” he said. “She is now a freshman at [the regional school] and has never been happier. I thought I knew what was best for her, but she was the smart one who knew where she would thrive.”
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Most colleges and universities have released decisions, and we are so proud of our students! Some of the college and universities where they have been admitted include:
Cal Poly SLO
George Washington University
Hobart and William Smith
Macaulay Honors College
New York University
Southern Methodist University
University of British Columbia
University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Davis
University of California, Irvine
University of California, Los Angeles
University of California, Santa Barbara
University of Central Florida
University of Denver
University of Edinburgh
University of Florida
University of Maryland
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
University of Miami
University of Minnesota
University of Michigan
University of Richmond
University of Southern California
University of South Carolina
University of Vermont
University of Washington
University of Wisconsin, Madison
University of Pennsylvania
University of Pittsburgh
University of Texas, Austin
Washington University in St. Louis
Although nothing makes us happier than students getting into their top choice schools, we are equally grateful for having the opportunity to get to know an unbelievably talented group of students who trusted us to provide guidance along the way. So congrats again, and thank you for having us along for the ride!
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Repost! It is a bit long, but Lori Gottlieb’s message is so important for families who are in or approaching the college search and application process. I encourage both parents and students to take 10 minutes to read the entire piece, but if you don’t have time for the full read, here are the main takeaways: Parents, how you handle the application process sets the tone for how your child will respond to it. You have the potential to turn a situation that your child would otherwise handle just fine into one that’s not fine. The messages that you send have the potential to either prepare them for adulthood or hold them back much more than not being at an Ivy League school would.Here is the full article:Dear Therapist, My son is in the middle of the college application process. He has very good grades and very good SAT and ACT scores; he is an Eagle Scout and a captain of the cross-country team. He is also white, male, and upper-middle-class—and that is the problem. According to all of the statistics and reports, he should be accepted at Ivy League schools, but he has not been. He will eventually get into a “good” school, but it is my guess (based on what we are seeing with his peer group) that he will be overqualified for the school he ends up at. He is very frustrated and very upset. How do you explain to a bright, eager boy that the system is rigged against him? For example, his twin brother, who has similar grades and an almost identical resume, is going to the U.S. Naval Academy, and his application process, though difficult, was smooth and straightforward — Lisa, Mendham, NJ
The college-admissions process has become so brutally intense in recent years that it can make anyone lose perspective, and I think that’s what’s happened here. Of course, you’re not the only parent who sees her hardworking and accomplished child do everything “right,” imagines him or her thriving at a particular school, and is frustrated when the child does not gain admission. But if you don’t step back and look at the bigger picture, you’ll be depriving your son of an education that will be far more valuable to him in the long run. So let’s back up.
From the moment kids are born, they take their cues from the adults around them about how to respond to experiences in the world. For instance, when a toddler stumbles in the sandbox, the first thing she does is look at her parent for a signal. If the parent calmly says, “Whoops, you fell down,” and then smiles reassuringly, the child will likely get the message that the fall was no big deal and get right back up. But if the adult looks alarmed, yells, “Oh, no! Are you okay?,” and rushes over to check for injuries, the child may, in turn, become alarmed: Wait, am I okay? I thought I was okay, but maybe I’m not! Later, if the child doesn’t get the lead in the school play—despite how talented this child may be—she’ll also take her cue about what this means from the adults around her. If her parents say, “That’s so unfair! Jane only got the part because the drama teacher is friends with her mom,” or “Jane’s parents are on the board,” the girl might think, Yeah, this is so unfair. Jane’s not nearly as talented as I am. The world is rigged. Why even try?If, on the other hand, the parents say, “We know you really wanted the lead and we hear how disappointed you are. You worked so hard preparing for the audition. Maybe you’ll get the lead the next time around, but meanwhile, the part you did get will be fun, too,” their daughter may still be disappointed, but she’ll be learning about resilience. She’ll take in the message that sometimes we don’t get what we want, even when we’re qualified to have it. She’ll learn that sometimes we might be really good at something, but someone else is even better. She’ll learn that there’s not just one thing that can be enjoyable or fulfilling, but many things—like acting in a play she loves, even if she’s not the lead this time around. She’ll learn that the world is not an all-or-nothing place, where you either succeed or fail. She’ll learn that if she really wants something badly enough, she can try again another time and figure out what would increase her chances. She’ll learn that even if Jane got the role mostly because of her talent but partly because the teacher (consciously or not) favored her, there will come a time when she, too, will get something—an award, a job—not only because of her talent, but also because of, say, the boss’s strong relationship with the colleague who referred her, or the fact that they both grew up in the same town, and an equally qualified candidate will be rejected. The kid who learns these lessons early on will probably still be upset if, despite her stellar application, she doesn’t get admitted to her top-choice school. But she won’t walk through the world feeling as though there’s a conspiracy going on, nor will she walk onto campus the first day of freshman year believing that she won’t be challenged and that her peers are either similarly overqualified or simply beneath her. And if she does find that she’s not getting what she wants at her very good but not Ivy League school, she will know she can talk to an adviser to see what opportunities might be available that she’s not yet aware of, or even apply to transfer elsewhere. Either way, she won’t spend her senior year of high school anticipating how unfulfilling her college experience will be, thereby creating a very unfortunate self-fulfilling prophecy.So how do you explain to your son that the system is rigged against him? You say, “Son, the world is an unfair place and the system is rigged against you.” And then you watch him grow into an angry, unfulfilled adult with a chip on his shoulder who will probably have grossly misguided ideas about women and people of color and his own value and worth and abilities. But if you’d like a better future for him, let me suggest the following. Start by getting more accurate information, such as the fact that it’s extremely challenging to get into an elite college, and that the vast majority of applicants to these colleges have very high test scores, along with a stunning array of extracurricular activities and prestigious awards or honors. Dig deeper than anecdotal information and you’ll discover that there isn’t a reliable statistic or report out there that says that an applicant with very good grades and very good SAT and ACT scores who is also an Eagle Scout and a captain of the cross-country team “should” be admitted to a particular Ivy League school—regardless of gender, race, or ethnicity. Ask professionals in the admissions field, such as an experienced college-guidance counselor, whether a student with your son’s resume who happens to be a woman of color might still be rejected from the school of her choice. You may be surprised by the answer.Having this information might help you separate the reality from the reaction you’re having, and this, in turn, will help you talk to your son in a more productive way about what is, for most families applying to top-tier schools, a grueling and anxiety-provoking process. Remember, he’s taking his cues from you, so if you can view this from a more balanced perspective, so will he. Instead of coming from a place of outrage on his behalf, approach him from a place of curiosity and ask, “How are you doing with this college-application process?” Then listen to what his frustration is about. Is he getting the message (from you? his school? his friends?) that the name of his college defines his worth or is a statement about his intelligence? Does he believe that going to an Ivy League college leads to a better job or a better life or some kind of happiness he won’t find at another very good school? Help to disabuse him of these faulty notions and explain to him that college is about the right fit, not the most prestigious name, and that no matter where he goes—including an Ivy League school—there will be students just like him, as well as students who are both more and less accomplished on paper, because colleges try to put together a group of outstanding people who will mesh well. Tell him that you have every confidence that he will choose, and be accepted into, a school where he meshes well and maybe even makes the friends he’ll have for the rest of his life.In other words, how you handle the application process sets the tone for how your son will respond to it. It’s true that sometimes there isn’t enough to go around—there are only so many leads in the school production, so many spots at a given college, and so many openings for a job someone really wants. At the same time, parents have the potential to turn a situation that their kids would otherwise handle just fine into one that’s miserable. At that point, it’s the parent creating the child’s misery, not the situation. The messages parents send their kids have the potential to either prepare them for adulthood or hold them back much more than not being at an Ivy League school would ever do. You have a great opportunity right now to teach your son well.
Now more than ever before, colleges and universities are filling the majority of their freshmen classes via early admission programs. Unfortunately, this means applying early is a must at many selective schools, as regular decision admit rates are at all-time lows. Why? A recent article via Applerouth notes:
College admissions officers love early applicants, and not just because they tend to be among the best and the brightest. Remember, a college admissions officer has one goal: to enroll bright, dedicated students who are passionate about attending their school. From their perspective, early action and early decision candidates are a safer bet than regular admissions candidates – especially in restricted early action and early decision schools. A student who applies early is less likely to be “shopping around” or considering multiple schools. Early decision, in particular, is a guaranteed enrollment for an admissions officer, and that helps the college’s yield rate – the percent of accepted students who choose to enroll in a given college.
But as the article also points out, early admit rates are going down, not up. Why?
The pool of early applicants is getting bigger. Regular deadlines have passed, and many colleges are reporting record-breaking applicant pools for the class of 2022: Princeton saw a 14% increase this year in applications, while Penn saw a 10% increase and UVA’s numbers hit an all-time high for the third year in a row. Early application numbers are up as well, as students try to reserve their spot by getting in early. A rise in application numbers means a rise in competition across the board.
However, keep in mind:
Although schools are reporting lower acceptance rates for early applicants, students who apply early still have a better chance at acceptance than they do in the regular admissions period.
Hopefully, these numbers encourage you to choose your early school(s) wisely and perhaps err on the side of caution. More final numbers from this admissions season will be out soon. In the meantime, here are some numbers from a 2017 article on the same topic. Still very relevant, and help paint the picture:
Colorado College accepted 87% of its class through early admissions programs (they have ED and EA). Although hard to believe, the regular decision admission rate at Colorado College was just 5% this year. For students applying ED, the admit rate was 26%.
The story is not much different at Vanderbilt.
Vanderbilt accepts about 53% of its 1600 freshmen through its EDI and EDII programs. This past admissions cycle, students who applied to Vanderbilt EDI or EDII had a 23.6% admit rate. Students who applied during the regular admissions cycle had an admit rate of just 2.7%.
Regular Decision candidates didn’t fare much better at Tulane, either.
Lindsay Hoyt, Assistant Director of Admissions at Tulane, said during a presentation in San Antonio that the university’s inaugural ED year was “successful” for the admissions office. She estimated that Tulane’s incoming first-year class for 2021 would have around 1470 total students, just 50 of whom had not applied either ED or EA.
I often advise students (and their parents) to not “waste” their early decision card. It is not because I don’t want students to pursue their dream college—I do, but this can often wait until graduate school. It’s because they may end up at a school that is far less selective than their profile warrants solely because RD is nearly impossible today.
Here’s an example. Your top choice is Harvard. You have all A’s, a 34 ACT, 2-3 subject tests that are above 750, a strong but standard profile (which is most applicants), and attend a well-known competitive high school. You are not a recruited athlete, legacy, or underrepresented minority student. Harvard is a reach for you; I would advise you not to apply as your chances are going to be much greater elsewhere. You apply anyway and are rejected (or worse, deferred, which almost never works out!).
Your sights are still set on an Ivy, so you end up applying to them all RD, plus Stanford, and Emory, Rice, JHU, Vanderbilt, and Duke. In the best case scenario, you get into Emory and *maybe* (with a bit of luck) get into Cornell, JHU, Rice, Vandy or Duke—but there are no guarantees for you at those schools RD. Chances are you’ll get into at least one, but you could not get into any of them depending on how the early round played out at your high school. If it was a bloodbath (this sometimes happens), you could get shut out of all these schools because competition RD will be that much greater at your high school. A smart option would be to apply somewhere ED II (UChicago and Tufts = great choices).
When you have to apply during RD, you need to cast a very wide net. You need to throw in some schools that are safe bets from your high school, and this means safety schools. Apply to your state school early just in case, or if you apply ED, pair that app with as many “match” EA’s as you can so you can avoid relying on RD. If you have a top choice on your list that has ED II, highly consider that option if you do not get into your first choice early.
I’ve wanted to share an opinion piece by Jim Jump posted this past November, in which he discusses balancing loyalty (being a cheerleader) and truth (being an honest source of information) in college advising. A few excerpts are below, but I suggest reading the full article here. His “talk” is one I am familiar with:
Recently I met with the top student in my junior class. He has Ivy ambitions, and in a perfect world there would be no question that he would be admitted, but the college admission world, especially at the top of the food chain, is far from perfect. He is unhooked, so I felt obligated to give him the talk I give every one of my students applying to the Ivies and comparably selective colleges and universities.
In a hyperselective environment, where fewer than one in 10 applicants are admitted, no one’s credentials assure admission. Superb grades and scores are, to borrow phrasing from logic, necessary but not sufficient. Colleges and universities use the admission process to help achieve institutional goals and priorities, goals and priorities that may not be publicly stated. As a result an offer of admission is partly merit, partly meeting institutional needs and partly luck.
That message is not easy to hear for a student who’s done everything right and excelled in every environment they have been in.
Seeing highly qualified students get denied from schools that a few years ago they would have likely been admitted is tough. That said, when it comes time for these “talks,” I also like to remind students (and their parents) that where you go to college is not the single defining factor of your life; what is far more important is what you do while you are there (wherever “there” is), the relationships you build, and the person you become. In the end, those things lead to a successful, happy life, not the name of the school on your diploma.
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Students are stressed. I read about it all the time in the news, and hear about it all the time from my colleagues and parents of my students. It stinks, but it makes sense. Students today are high achievers, motivated to excel in school and sports, rise to leadership roles in clubs, and serve their communities. So many of them I know really do it all, and in some cases, do it all really well. Unfortunately, this comes at a cost. They sleep little, stress lots, and don’t always put their wellbeing before their achievements. What’s worse, is they often aren’t doing it all for a good reason. Instead of a true intrinsic motivation to explore what interests them, exercise and engage in healthy athletic competition, and do good for the sake of doing good, a lot of students are driven by a desire to reach a specific goal, namely, admission to an uber selective college or university.
One way to ease student stress (at least in many of the students I work with) is to get students to realize that attending an Ivy League school, even a top 20 or 30 school, is not the key to success in life. Leading a successful—and let’s not forget happy life—has nothing to do with where you go to college. The Ivy League and other uber selective institutions have a lot to offer, but they are not the only schools in the game. They own the rights to a powerful brand, but that doesn’t mean there’s some magic taught on these campuses instilling success and happiness in every single one of the students who attend—there is not! My advice to students and parents is to take a deep breath (literally, research says so) and look beyond the Ivies and other uber selective institutions. Create a list with some breadth and depth. Do some exploring and see all the wonderful options that are out there—you may be very pleasantly surprised.
Speaking of deep breaths, another way to ease student stress is to practice some of the techniques espoused by positive psychology. A recent NY Times article highlighted a few stress relieving techniques via Dr. Seligman at UPenn that I want to share. (I know…I just said look beyond the Ivy League and the article I linked above cites research from Stanford…but I will still cite some of the outstanding research that comes out of Penn and other top research institutions that fall into the uber selective category on this blog).
To cultivate the components of well-being, which include engagement, good relationships, accomplishment, and purpose, Dr. Seligman suggests four exercises based on research at the Penn Positive Psychology Center, which he directs, and at other universities. These exercises are not specifically geared toward high school students, but I see no reason why they would not apply. Enjoy!
Identify Signature Strengths
Write down a story about a time when you were at your best. It doesn’t need to be a life-changing event but should have a clear beginning, middle and end. Reread it every day for a week, and each time ask yourself: “What personal strengths did I display when I was at my best?” Did you show a lot of creativity? Good judgment? Were you kind to other people? Loyal? Brave? Passionate? Forgiving? Honest?
Writing down your answers “puts you in touch with what you’re good at,” Dr. Seligman explained. The next step is to contemplate how to use these strengths to your advantage, intentionally organizing and structuring your life around them.
In a study by Dr. Seligman and colleagues published in American Psychologist, participants looked for an opportunity to deploy one of their signature strengths “in a new and different way” every day for one week.
“A week later, a month later, six months later, people had on average lower rates of depression and higher life satisfaction,” Dr. Seligman said. “Possible mechanisms could be more positive emotions. People like you more, relationships go better, life goes better.”
Find the Good
Set aside 10 minutes before you go to bed each night to write down three things that went really well that day. Next to each event answer the question, “Why did this good thing happen?”
Instead of focusing on life’s lows, which can increase the likelihood of depression, the exercise “turns your attention to the good things in life, so it changes what you attend to,” Dr. Seligman said. “Consciousness is like your tongue: It swirls around in the mouth looking for a cavity, and when it finds it, you focus on it. Imagine if your tongue went looking for a beautiful, healthy tooth.” Polish it.
Make a Gratitude Visit
Think of someone who has been especially kind to you but you have not properly thanked. Write a letter describing what he or she did and how it affected your life, and how you often remember the effort. Then arrange a meeting and read the letter aloud, in person.
“It’s common that when people do the gratitude visit both people weep out of joy,” Dr. Seligman said. Why is the experience so powerful? “It puts you in better touch with other people, with your place in the world.”
This exercise was inspired by the work of Shelly Gable, a social psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who has extensively studied marriages and other close relationships. The next time someone you care about shares good news, give what Dr. Gable calls an “active constructive response.”
That is, instead of saying something passive like, “Oh, that’s nice” or being dismissive, express genuine excitement. Prolong the discussion by, say, encouraging them to tell others or suggest a celebratory activity.
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