Gaining acceptance to top colleges or universities has become increasingly difficult, despite the best efforts of well-meaning parents, who believe that attending a top-tier college or university sets up their child for life.
They engage in an intense competition of making sure their child gains admission to elite institutions. In some cases, this has meant keeping their student so busy he/she accumulates pages of extra-curricular activities. The parents then spend significant money on SAT and/or ACT tutoring. Adding to the stress, the student’s essays must be stellar, thoughtful and personal – a challenge for most teens. Teacher and counselor recommendations also need to highlight the student’s intellect and uniqueness, without making the student look elitist. It is a nearly impossible balancing act and not many 17-year-olds can meet these standards of excellence and maturity.
So, parents are understandably shocked when their child has met many or all these qualifications and is still not accepted at a top-tier college.
So why so difficult to get into top colleges???
- 10 – 25% of accepted students at elite institutions are minority (African-American and Hispanic) students. This increases the diversity of thought, experiences, and backgrounds. It is a shift from past years when colleges did not actively recruit this group.
- 20% are athletes, Athletics and sports are a big draw for students and alumni donors, so recruiting these kids is a priority for many universities.
- 10 – 20% are international students. This creates a culture of diversity. International students also typically pay full price to attend as they do not qualify for federal aid. It can help the school’s bottom line to admit international students.
- Legacies, etc. Colleges have varying acceptance rates for legacies, children of big donors, students who possess a special talent or status, geographic diversity inside the U.S., first-generation applicants, females in STEM programs, etc.
That brings the total to 40-50% of spaces not being given to extremely strong but over-represented U.S. students.
Early Decision Acceptance Rate. Many of these colleges are taking about 50% of their incoming class as Early Decision candidates. This makes the admissions process much easier for the college, but significantly more competitive for any student who is applying Regular Decision to these institutions. In some cases, it means that colleges are only accepting only 2 – 7% of the Regular Decision candidates. This has raised the stakes needed to qualify for the elite group of schools. Even students with almost perfect statistics may not gain admittance to theses top colleges. Many admissions counselors take only 3 to 5 minutes to read a whole application so it is difficult to stand out.
The good news is that the qualities of the student determine their future, not the name of the university they attend. The ability to move past disappointment, find opportunities to match their interests, connect with professors and find internships that are meaningful, will affect their success more than a college name.
According to a paper by Stacy Dale, a mathematician at Mathematica Policy Research, and Alan Krueger, an economist at Princeton University, “who you are” as an 18-year-old is more important than “where you go.” After correcting for a student’s pre-existing talent, ambition, and habits, it’s hard to show that highly selective top colleges add much-earning power, even with their vaunted professors, professional networks, and signaling
Students can and do achieve success at institutions which fit their preferences, and where they are one of the top students. In that environment, they can find the best research opportunities, excel in classes, find great leadership positions, and enjoy the activities on campus. Success is about how we evolve in the environment in which we are put.