It’s difficult for a student with straight A’s, near-perfect test scores, and more honors and awards than most adults rack up in their lifetime to understand why they need less selective schools on their list than whatever “Top Ten” US News added to their list that year. Counselors routinely field questions from these students and their parents that are some version of, “I’ve done everything I was supposed to do—if I’m not a strong candidate, who is?”
It’s a fair point. And most colleges in this country will trip over themselves to admit that student. But there are around 40 schools (out of more than 2000) where the math—the number of applicants, their record of achievement, and the number of available spots—is just unassailable. Mathematically, nobody has a good chance at those schools.
So what should those students do instead? If you fall in love with schools that make that list, take your shot at a few where you really fit (and not just because you love the name). But balance that list with other schools from the “We’ll trip over ourselves to admit you” category. Put a different way in this article by high school counselor extraordinaire Patrick O’Connor (emphasis his):
“Lots of people want to go to the same college. Not everyone will get in. That could be you. 95% of the students applying to Ivy League schools can do the work, and hundreds—that’s hundreds—of valedictorians—were denied admission to the Ivies this year. You may never need Plan B for college, but you’ll need to know how to make a Plan B once you’re in college. Now is the time to practice. Find two schools you’d love to attend where your chances of admission are greater than getting struck by lightning. They exist.”