I’ve been getting emails from parents, who are bitter that their bright teenagers have been getting rejection letters from elite colleges and universities.
What follows are two email excerpts.
From a dad named Jeff:
My son is his high school’s valedictorian. He scored 35 on the ACT and had straight A’s all four years at an academically competitive school. He had plenty of extracurricular activities as well.
He has been wait listed by Duke, Vanderbilt, Rice, Tulane, Pomona, Washington U. (St. Louis) and Harvard. What the heck?
From a mom named Diane:
My daughter’s SAT, grades and extra-curriculars were superb. She got waitlisted at Vassar, Colgate, Bowdoin and Bates. All of the people involved are astonished at the outcomes.
Why the Surprise?
I hear from disappointed parents like Diane and Jeff every year who are stunned that their bright children didn’t get into the elite research universities and prestigious liberal arts colleges on their lists.
What actually shocks me is why these parents are so surprised. These popular schools reject the vast majority of their applicants. In fact, elite schools work hard to boost their rejection rates every year.
Apply So We Can Reject You!
One way that institutions increase the percentage of students that they reject is by courting high school students who have no chance of getting into their schools. Parents and teenagers are thrilled, for instance, if they get marketing material with a flattering cover letter from an Ivy League school, but it means absolutely nothing.
It’s cruel to mislead families, but you have to understand that colleges are businesses. If your child becomes collateral damage in the process, admission administrators aren’t going to care because they need to keep their jobs.
This admission practice (and there are other more egregious ones), is just one of many reasons why I am so cynical about the higher-ed industry – and it definitely is an industry!
A Glut of Highly Qualified Applicants
I am not suggesting that the teenagers of the parents who wrote to me weren’t qualified to attend these schools. I assume they were
Don’t Rely on Such Cramped College Lists
The mistake that Jeff and Diane’s children made was to apply to the same set of schools that so many other affluent, “A” students swoon over. For instance, Diane’s daughter applied to seven of the top dozen liberal arts colleges (as ranked by U.S. News’ flawed college rankings).
Too many bright teenagers of affluent families look at the rankings and select schools near the top of the heap. And then they wonder why they don’t get into these schools!
Flawed College Lists
I am not suggesting that students stop applying to elite schools although I would love to see far, far less of that! What I am suggesting is that teenagers become more creative about their lists and throw a wider net.
Just because a school has a higher ranking doesn’t mean it’s a better school!! Here are two 2015 posts from my blog on this topic:
Of course, throwing a wider net would necessitate that families let go of the extremely destructive belief that the most elite schools are the best institutions for students to attend.
Here is a New York Times article on this topic:
A Final Look at Applying to Elite Schools
I’m ending with an excerpt from a previous guest post that discusses why brilliant students fall flat when knocking on the doors of the most prestigious higher-ed institutions. The observations come from Patricia Krahnke, a former assistant director of admissions at Rutgers University and now a college consultant with Global College Search Associates in Bloomington, IN.
Here is a sampling of what she wrote:
As a former admissions dean, this is what I can tell you: Very few people know what a student needs to look like to get into one of the Ivies.
The fact is that out of tens of thousands of applications, most of them look identical.
They all have perfect SATs, perfect SAT IIs, well-written essays, tons of AP courses, 5s on their AP tests, straight A+s over 3-4 years of high school, music lessons and high school theater. That kind of record in your child’s high school may be few and far between, but to the Ivies (and other highly competitive colleges and degree programs), it’s commonplace.
Fierce Competition Globally
Families are used to the idea of their child competing academically in their high school and town. But the competition for the Ivies is national and international. They don’t care about your child. They don’t HAVE to care about your child.
As an admissions director at Yale emphatically told me, “We only want the very top students from around the world.” (Of course, we all know that having legacy trumps that.)
A Look Inside Admission Offices
It’s certainly true that many admissions counselors will go to bat for certain students. But at the administrative level, I’ve never experienced anything where the leadership cared about anything but numbers.
And I’ve known countless admissions counselors over the years who only cared if the student met the parameters, had no interest at all in the kid behind the numbers. That is extremely — and heartbreakingly — common.
Here is the rest of Krahnke’s guest post:
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