It’s not easy to tell a student who’s at the top of her class, who’s earned high test scores, and who’s been very successful in her chosen activities that her dream school is a reach. That student is likely to wonder, “What else could I have possibly done?” But the problem isn’t that this student didn’t do enough. Most colleges in this country would be slam dunks for that student. But there is a very short list of schools—fewer than 50—that are reaches for everybody. It doesn’t matter what your grades, test scores and accomplishments are. If you apply to a college that only admits fewer than 10 out of every 100 applicants, the statistics are not in your favor.
This recent entry on Duke’s blog explains this well. Here’s what the unforgiving math looks like:
“Most students who apply to Duke display the intellectual chops and commitment to succeed here. With over 32,000 students vying for just 1,700 spots in the class, even absurdly fine grained distinctions along a numeric metric wouldn’t get the selection job done. To look at just one example: more than twice as many valedictorians applied as we had spaces in the class, and that’s a count contextualized by the fact that only half of schools sending us applicants provided a class rank.”
My message here is not that students should give up their college dreams just because they want to attend a highly-selective school. But please don’t limit your entire college list to schools that say no to most of their applicants. Your hard work and achievement deserve better than that. Find 4-6 schools you like where your counselor agrees you have a good chance of admission. Have faith that your effort and character will take you far regardless of which schools say yes.