Many students have a dream college, and its often an Ivy or a highly rejective college like Notre Dame, Stanford or MIT. Many of these colleges have admission rates in the single digits, as low as 3%–meaning they deny 97 of every 100 applicants who apply. The applicant pools are filled with incredibly smart and talented individuals. Why some get in over others could be for any number of reasons, especially when so many have strong grades and incredibly high test scores. It’s almost a lottery.
The United States has over 23,500 high schools, approximately 23,5000 valedictorians (although some schools don’t rank). 22,000 test takers got a perfect SAT score. Most of the Ivies have a freshmen class of under 2,000 students. 36% of Harvard’s Fall 2022 class were legacies (a parent or grandparent attended). There are far more qualified applicants than there are spots in Ivy League schools. Plus, lots of other people apply because they “just want to see what happens”. All of this equals most applicants being denied.
If you are considering a highly selective college you need to make sure you are taking the most rigorous curriculum your high school offers. You need to take all 5 core academic subjects all four years–Math, Science, Social Studies, English and Foreign Language. You need to take the most challenging level of these courses offered, and do well in them (all A’s). You also need to select academically challenging electives. This can include computer science, music, art, or extra core subjects.
While many of these schools are test optional, most applicants are still submitting incredibly high test scores. But even students with perfect SATs and ACTs are rejected. Just because a school is test optional, it doesn’t mean you should apply if your scores and grades are lower than their admitted averages. There are lots of free test preparation resources. Try to increase your score by preparing for the exams.
Activities play a huge role in gaining admission to highly rejective colleges. It is important to have used your summer wisely working, attending academic programs related to your career interests, participating in community service or mission work, or conducting research. During the school year, students should be participating in organizations that demonstrate their interests and passions, while gaining more responsibility and leadership each year. While it is challenging and time consuming to be in marching band or a varsity sport, students must have involvement in addition to those activities.
Finally, engaging and well-written essays help your personality shine through. Think about what information is not in the rest of your application. Use your essays to share that information and create a three dimensional picture of you.
If you still decide to apply, have a balanced list of schools. Make sure you still have at least three schools where you are likely to be admitted, and you will be happy to attend. Nothing is guaranteed but applying to a great mix of schools will help you have options verses receiving mostly nos.