July 28, 2019
BY GERALD M. BRADSHAW
Bradshaw College Consulting
More outstanding applicants than ever before are being rejected by elite colleges. According to The Harvard Crimson, “a record-low 4.5 percent of applicants to Harvard College received admissions offers to the Class of 2023, with 1,950 of 43,330 securing places in the class.
Ability to stand out separates
those accepted at elite colleges
from the rest
The Crimson goes on to say that “this year’s admissions rate is the lowest in College history, down from 4.59 percent last year. This year marks the fifth consecutive application cycle in which the percentage of accepted applicants has decreased. The total number of admitted students in the Class of 2023 has also decreased slightly from last year’s 1,962.”
There is no question that it is getting harder to get admitted to an elite college or university. The admission rates for all top colleges are tightening.
If you look back at how things used to be you would see that legacy candidates were a lock to gain acceptance. Ted Kennedy and George W. Bush made it into Harvard and Yale, respectively, because their fathers were famous alumni. While one wouldn’t call them the “best and the brightest” of their generation, they were rich and famous — and they were white males. Harvard and Yale in their generation routinely admitted students who were less academically qualified because their parents were well-connected “legacy” alums.
This argument today is being taken up by a number of groups vowing to reverse this trend. The fallout from the recent college admissions scandal, where money talked, will only heighten the pressure for transparency in college admissions.
Asian students are known to outperform all groups academically and on standardized tests, and yet many are turned away from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton each year while less qualified legacies are admitted. Lawsuits are expected to put an end to this historic practice. The days of getting admitted because one is a legacy or an athlete has all but ended. Almost every student must now meet the same superior academic standards. There are other changes that have made it more difficult to gain admission. Males are now competing against female applicants, further reducing the number of admissions for both sexes.
There is also the issue of admission preferences being given to under-represented groups. This further reduces the number of openings. Students admitted under this policy may have lower academic qualifications, including test scores, than students admitted under regular admissions standards. According to Harvard and other top schools, approximately 25 percent of the student body falls in this category, about the same number that legacies used to represent under the old policy of preferential admissions.
Having set the playing field in the proper context, I must also give credence to the fact that there are increasing numbers of well-qualified applicants in every category.
High schools today are doing a terrific job of preparing students to apply to colleges and this point is often overlooked. The number of students taking advanced placement classes and scoring in the top five percent on admission tests has increased to a great extent over the years.
What are the paramount factors when it comes to gaining admission to a top college? Top grades and test scores still count the most, plus extracurriculars, just as before.
In my ten years of interviewing the so called “best and the brightest” for Harvard, and in my experience working with students as a consultant, not much has really changed. There is always “something special” about the student who gains admission that stands out no matter which category they fall into.
When all the interviews are said and done and I start to write my evaluation, the one defining quality that sets the candidates apart is that they all seem to see the larger order of things. While they all faced different problems and came from different backgrounds, they figured out how to expand their thinking and design a strategy to stand out in some important area. What linked them together was the fact that they wanted to succeed in the larger world, not just in their small community. That quality is as close to defining an attribute that I believe it takes to get admitted to a top college.
Gerald Bradshaw is a top US college admissions consultant with Bradshaw College Consulting.
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