Part 9 in our series, “Who Gets into Harvard?”
I started writing this blog series a few months ago in response to the avalanche of requests we get to evaluate students’ chances of acceptance to highly selective colleges. My goal was to give students and parents a way to assess the odds themselves rather than relying on the potentially less-informed opinions of others.
In my final missive for the series, I’m hoping to address the phenomenon my colleagues and I see every year around this time: students with great, balanced college lists suddenly adding multiple Ivy League college applications “just to see if I can get in.”
- I know Yale and Dartmouth are huge reaches, but I figured it can’t hurt to try!
- My parents want me to apply to a few Ivies just to see what will happen.
- I thought I would apply to Brown and Princeton because, well, you never know.
Actually, if you’ve been reading this blog series, you do know what your chances are. And while it’s true that you can’t get in if you don’t apply, I’m begging you not to submit applications to highly selective universities just because you want to take a shot. Why?
On a basic level, submitting additional applications to schools at which your chances are very low is expensive. Each application you submit will cost upwards of $75 to $80 or more. If you wouldn’t open the window and throw that money out, why would you do the equivalent with your college applications?
Then there’s the time involved. Almost all of these applications will require additional essays that must be as strong as your main essay—and if you’re not willing to take the time to perfect them, why bother? Time focused on those essays takes time away from schoolwork and applications to colleges where you have a much better chance of being accepted. If you’re just throwing an application in even though you know you’re not really competitive, you’re wasting your own time and energy.
Worst of all, the second you press submit, you start to believe that you can get into that highly selective college. No matter how slim the chances of acceptance, no matter how much of a lark you think it is to apply, hope creeps in. You find yourself daydreaming about enjoying four years in Palo Alto or taking daily strolls past Penn’s broken button. It’s fun, kind of like imagining how you’ll spend your winnings after you buy a lottery ticket. But unlike the brief disappointment when the winning numbers are not yours, the reality of getting those rejection letters is much worse. It damages your psyche at a time when you should be looking closely at your actual options and getting excited about those universities. It cheapens everything else and throws a pall over what should be an exciting time of the year.
So, in short: don’t apply to an Ivy League college just to see if you can get in. If you’re not a competitive applicant at that highly selective level, focus on the great schools in a different sports conference that would be eager to have you.