Won't It Be Peachy If We Win the Game?

Fight fiercely, Harvard,
Fight, fight, fight!
Impress them with our prowess, do!
--Tom Lehrer, "Fight Fiercely, Harvard"

I've spent some years talking with students about college, and one point I'm increasingly likely to make is that admission is often something of a crapshoot. At competitive universities, even students with outstanding academic and extracurricular records are fighting long odds of acceptance. Case in point: according to the Harvard Crimson, only a minute fraction of this year's crop of applicants will be heading to Cambridge this fall--a whopping 5.9 percent:

At 5 p.m., 1,260 students received notifications of their acceptance by email. In total, including the 772 students admitted in December in the early action acceptance round, a total of 2,032 initial offers, more than 100 fewer than last year, were extended to applicants. The admit rate for those considered under regular decision, including the 2,838 early action candidates who were deferred to the original round, was 3.8 percent.

This year's accepted students were selected from an applicant pool of 34,302, down 1.9 percent from last year.

As I've told my students, Harvard gets applications from over 5000 different schools every year; even if it accepted nothing but the valedictorians, it would be turning down the majority of them--and Harvard doesn't want a freshman class of nothing but valedictorians. According to one Yale admissions officer who spoke to me a few years back, Yale rejects 52 percent of those students with perfect 800/800 SAT scores (on verbal/math, that is).

In short, there's nothing wrong with applying to an Ivy League college; I did it myself, and I certainly wouldn't tell any student he had no chance of getting in. That said, I'd be quick to tell him that he should not view a Harvard rejection as a mark against him.

After all, at least 94.1% of his peers are walking around with that same mark. And not a few of them are friggin' geniuses.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on March 29, 2012 10:58 PM.

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