Ivy Day Take Away

By Kathy Laberge, College Admissions Coach

On March 30th at 7 00 PM the Ivy League released their admission results and in doing so they added more fuel to the already raging fire of confusion about selective college admissions.

But let’s look beyond a collegiate athletic conference and consider the colleges and universities that boast of competitiveness and prestige that is consistently ranked among the best in the nation. These schools, often referred to as “Ivy Plus,” include Stanford, MIT, The University of Chicago, Duke, Cal Tech, Johns Hopkins, Vanderbilt, Rice, and Washington University, among others. Perhaps they were not gridiron giants a century ago, but in 2023 they have cemented themselves among the most selective of schools in a country with no shortage of outstanding higher education institutions.

Fortunately, no College Advisor of New York student would ever apply to all the Ivies or “Ivy Plus” schools. Our counseling underscores the truth that a student at home in gritty (way) uptown Manhattan will likely not be satisfied in rural New Hampshire. The student who wants to take advantage of glorious nature in western New York state will be distressed in urban Philadelphia.  That being said, if we have placed a college on your list of schools then you have every right to apply with optimism. We never suggest a student should apply to a school where they cannot achieve the academic expectations. We think you are capable of admission, though obviously not assured of the same. And we prepare our students that no one is admitted to all their institutions of this caliber.

Yet the number of applications at these colleges has nearly doubled in the past five years. Sadly, current applicants are riding the wave of covid induced confusion. The test optional policies that began during the pandemic have now become standard. High schools, determined to keep student moral high, enacted a strategy that included grade inflation at staggering levels. An impromptu massive experiment in education practices inspired innovation and creativity, but it could not alleviate the loss of learning and the emotional toll that took place during the pandemic. Consequently, the admission offices of selective colleges and universities are seeing an overwhelming increase in applications from students thinking “Hey! You never know.” As we all are aware – things have changed.

As the likelihood of applicant enrollment is gaining importance in the decision making process it is counteracted by a flood of applications from students who are unlikely to be able to complete the school’s academic coursework. Admissions offices are inundated with applicants, in some cases to the point of physical inability to deliver decisions on time. What’s an admission committee to do? How can informed and holistic decisions be made?

These institutions have created their own monster. And while we may not sympathize with them, we must know how to navigate the new rules of the game.

At The College Advisor of New York we have noticed some trends in how colleges assess applicants. Colleges are offering additional rounds of Early Action and Early Decision and at some schools Early Decision is becoming the new Regular Decision. These practices are penalizing high school seniors. Even today, some colleges have yet to deliver Early Action admission decisions to students. Those results were expected in mid-December. Other schools are so eager to meet their yield goals, they are filling more and more of their first year classes in October and November, thereby restricting acceptance for the teenager who takes their time and truly thinks about where they will be happy or who wants to keep their options open.

Yes, there are strategies to increase your chances of admission. Yes, we can teach you how to submit an application that highlights all your achievements while introducing you to committees as a human being with passions and aspirations in addition to your stats and rankings. But our focus is always on the enigmatic concept of “fit.”  This year alone, we’ve had students admitted to Stanford and Yale, only to turn them down.  We’ve had others who happily selected their least selective, lowest ranked college over other great options.  Why you ask would someone turn down Stanford?  For many reasons.  But the overarching rationale is that they determined, after thoughtful reflection and some solid counseling by our staff, that they would have more opportunities for internships, faculty mentorship, social and athletic endeavors, and an overall better experience at their “safe” or “target” school.  In our humble opinion, this is the essence of college selection. Our clients did exceedingly well this season, and we are proud of them.  ALL of them had excellent options from which to choose at the end of the process.

Admissions has always employed both art and science to construct a new class. While it seems they have now added magic beans and Yahtzee dice to their judgment arsenal, they still hold all the power in the applicant vs institution game. At The College Advisor of New York we even that playing field and advocate for our students. Let us help your family beat them at their own game.