THE BLOG
03/02/2016 12:31 pm ET Updated Mar 03, 2017

Didn't Get Into an Ivy? Consider This

We're about two weeks away from the first Ivy League college announcing its admissions decisions (OK, -- MIT isn't technically an Ivy, but you know what I mean), so it's time to brace ourselves with a few facts that might help cushion the blow for students who get any answer other than Yes. Facts have their limits when it comes to matters of the heart, and college admissions is certainly one of those. At the same time, sharing some of these facts now might create an opportunity for the head to drive the college admissions bus for just a little while.

Fact one -- Colleges have more qualified applicants than they can admit. In a vast majority of cases, students not admitted to a competitive college actually qualify to go there -- it's just that the college runs out of room. This has nothing to do with the font you used for your essay, the order in which you listed your extracurricular activities, or the teachers who wrote your letters of recommendation. If Green Leaf U can only hold 500 freshmen before the fire marshal closes the place down, they can't take 501. It isn't a question of qualification; it's a question of physics.

Fact two -- it's harder to get in than you think. The increase in applicants to highly selective colleges drives admit rates to record lows, and that's expected to happen again this year. What's even more sobering is when you realize that record low -- say, 8 percent -- is even lower for most students. An alumni interviewer for one Ivy League college explained it this way (I've modified the numbers to make them easier to understand, but the percentages are still accurate):

  • We receive about 10,000 applications for admission every year.
  • We offer admission to about 800 students -- however...
  • About 300 of those offers go to athletes. No, we don't win national championships, but we love athletics. If that bothers you, you may not be happy here.
  • Another 300 offers go to children of alums, children of US Senators, and celebrity offspring. We do this because we can.
  • That leaves about 200 offers for the students most people see as "smart, good kids."
  • The problem is, out of the 10,000 students who apply, only about 2,000 are athletes and children of alums.
  • That means the admit rate for "smart, good kids" isn't 800 out of 10,000, or 8 percent.
  • It's 200 out of 8,000, or 2.5 percent.

To be sure, not every Ivy runs things this way, but this example goes a long way to explain why a prospective student visiting campus sees students who are "just like me", but ends up not being offered a spot when they apply. Yes, the college does take students just like you; it's just that they don't take very many of them.

Fact three -- where you go to college does matter, but not the way you think it does. Well-meaning adults (like me) talk to students and write articles (or books) that claim it really doesn't matter where a good student goes to college; what matters is that the student makes the most of the experiences their college provides them.

Baloney.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not promoting the "If It's Not an Ivy, I'll Bust" mentality, which is also baloney. But students don't go to college by themselves, so there's more to the experience than buildings, internships, and study abroad. If the students you're living with for four years don't challenge, support, and befriend you, you're wasting your time.

You want this to be the best years of your life to date? Learn about the souls of your fellow students when you visit a campus, and take it from there.