Unassailable math

I overheard two mothers in line at the grocery store yesterday talking about the admissions results of their kids’ peer group.  Apparently, one of the students was shut out and didn’t get accepted anywhere.  As one of them described it:

“I don’t know what more she could have done.  Straight A’s, AP classes, great SATs, three years of varsity sports, and she got rejected from…”—then she recited a long list of schools all of which accept fewer than 15 of every 100 students who apply.

I thought two things:

  1. That’s terrible.
  2. It would have been so easy to avoid.

If that student is as strong as they said she was, there was likely nothing more she could have done to improve her chances.  It’s not a failure of qualifications on her part—it’s just math.  Harvard got 34,302 applications and admitted just 2,032 (a 5.9% acceptance rate).  Brown, Dartmouth, Princeton, Columbia and Yale each admitted fewer than 10%.  Those aren’t good odds for anyone no matter what your GPA and test scores are.  Even if you’re stubborn and insist on believing that the most selective colleges are the best, that math is unassailable.      

Applying to a short list of schools that reject almost everyone who applies is a terrible way for a high-achieving student to seek the reward for her work.  If you’ve worked hard in high school and have fallen in love with a few highly-selective colleges, take your admissions shot—you’ve earned that right.  But please don’t limit your list to those schools.  You deserve better than that.   All the bad news you hear about getting into college is true for just a tiny fraction of the over 2,000 four-year colleges.  Hundreds of great schools will welcome you with open arms and give you rewarding college experiences if you’re willing to find and apply to ones that are right for you. 


  1. Lynn Cowan says

    When calculating my son’s chances at reach schools, it helped me to consider that if Harvard admits just 2032 students, half of those slots go to girls. Some of the slots go to musicians, athletes, or other specialties, so the probability of his selection even with the same grades and scores was even lower. Coming to Collegewise helped him appreciate the odds and be more realistic about his college list.