College admissions results this year show that competition for spots at selective and super selective universities is, once again, increasing. With yet again a lower ratio of admits to applications at most of the selective schools, it’s a good time to broaden your list of college application options.
To be more specific, I have traditionally advised that qualified students apply to 8-10 carefully selected schools, using a list that includes a calculated mix, from “reach” schools to sure thing schools. If you are applying in 2013-2014, I think you are going to need a longer list, something more like 12-15 schools, including some out-of-state and at least a couple of international schools–particularly if your short list includes the highly selective schools. Even if looking outside the U.S. sounds unappealing now, you may change your mind–and if you don’t prepare, you won’t apply (and if you don’t apply, that door won’t be there to open if you do change your mind later).
Before I get to specific results on some of the most competitive schools, here’s the gist: the top 10-15% of the high school class across the country are applying to the most selective colleges. Some students below this cohort do apply and get in, but usually because they are in some sense an exception, whether through athletic or other talents. When we shift to the super selective colleges (top-tier Ivy League, Stanford, et al), the top 10% of students are applying, and of that top 10%, less than 10% are accepted. In other words, getting a seat at the most competitive schools has become a bloodbath primarily between the top 1% of all students in the country. Hyperbolic? Well, no real blood is shed, but even accounting for the gamesmanship among universities as they try to increase the appearance of selectivity, the trends are sobering. Here’s some specifics:
Columbia’s overall admit rate for 2013 was 7.42%; Princeton came in at a 7.29% overall admit rate; Yale reported 6.72%; Harvard 5.79% and Stanford, 5.69%. Looking at another good, public option, in the University of California system, Berkeley accepted 20.83% and UCLA 20.10%, still pretty selective numbers, but compared to the top Ivies and Stanford, almost comforting. Almost.
Ouch. But in addition to checking out this year’s results, you also should be looking at the trends. Here is a three-year sample of results, at a wider selection of the selective schools:
Overall Admissions Rates by Year
Columbia– 2011: 6.93%; 2012: 7.42%; 2013: 6.89%
Harvard– 2011: 6.17%; 2012: 5.92%; 2013: 5.79%
Northwestern– 2011: 18.03%; 2012: 15.27%; 2013: 13.90%
Princeton–2011: 8.39%; 2012: 7.86%; 2013: 7.29%
Stanford–2011: 7.10%; 2012: 6.61%; 2013: 5.69%
University of Chicago–2011: 16.29%; 2012: 13.24%; 2013: 8.81%
U. C. Berkeley–2011: 25.54%; 2012: 21.13%; 2013: 20.83%
U. C. L. A.–2011: 25.28%; 2012: 21.27%; 2013: 21.10
Yale–2011: 7.35%; 2012: 6.81%; 2013: 6.72%
Yep, Stanford is looking like a good bet to drop below the 5% admit rate first, and will do so next year or the year after, given the trend, with Harvard right behind them. (All those tech start-up wannabes, perhaps.)
What to do in response to these daunting stats?
My preliminary response is: By all means, apply to your dream school(s), even if some of them seem improbable; just be sure, as I suggested earlier, that you widen your net and look outside your early list, in particular adding some of those international options, like the University of British Columbia, McGill, et al. There are hundreds of thousands of students around the world having a great experience and getting their money’s worth at non-brand name universities.
Of course you should always compare your own stats to those of the schools you are looking at to get an idea of what’s a reach and what seems a sure bet as you make a balanced list of schools. But just as important as stats in making a good list of schools is a clear understanding of your own needs and motivations, your goals and what you will need to reach them. Reassess yourself, particularly why you want to attend any of the more selective schools. Then reassess the schools themselves, particularly by looking at the programs you are interested in–note that the specific programs or majors should be the main reason you want to attend school x or school y.
I will, in future posts, be unpacking all of these aspects of the college search in more detail, for they are each becoming more complex every year. In just one example of what I mean, I find it harder and harder to offer specific advice about the job market of the future to my clients. Things are changing fast as everything from outsourcing to automated and robotic systems impact the traditional white collar professions. You might want to think about these things as you consider possible majors.
Algorithms aren’t just driving experimental automobiles–they are sorting and analyzing more and more information in areas that once required highly intelligent–and college-trained–humans. It won’t just be taxi drivers and truck drivers who will wonder what happened to their professions in ten or twenty years. From the grunt work of legal searches to patient assessment to you name it, the jobs of middle class and upper middle class professionals are also entering a period of enormous change, and not just from automation. Plenty of highly skilled, English-speaking people overseas can process and analyze the files and data that are the jobs of many people here today.
These and other trends are clear, and choosing a specific profession these days is starting to seem like picking stocks, with fewer and fewer sure-bet blue chips available. So I encourage you to think more in terms of developing a knowledge base and some skill sets as you consider programs and schools.
In terms of selecting specific schools, one thing I can say with certainty is that too many of the college applicants that I have been dealing with in recent years are buying too much into marketing and imagery. Many feel that only by going to school x or y will they get the special training and connections they need to succeed. Sure, Harvard, Yale, Stanford have great programs, and there are networking advantages that arise in some programs in these schools, but for every Zuckerberg, there are 10,000 others struggling to pay down student loans while also holding down a couple of jobs–they would have had a lot less to pay off if they had gone to a cheaper school with less marquee appeal. (I’ll be discussing expenses in a later post. Other discussions, such as the overblown college is a waste of time for young genius entrepreneurs meme can wait for much later).
There are, of course, a variety of strategies you can consider once you’ve done that thorough self assessment.
But first, here’s a few other stats to consider–let’s start with the University of British Columbia, generally considered the #2 university in Canada and ranked #30 in the world by the Times World University Rankings. UBC has an average GPA of about 3.6 on recent admits and about half of domestic applicants were admitted; McGill, the top university in Canada, had an average GPA in the same range– I hasten to add that these Canadian schools do use a sliding scale based on the specific programs you apply to; some programs will be more difficult to get into than others, and they look for different kinds of preparation. For an example of what I mean, go to this link for McGill, where a table will lay out basic application requirements: McGill Admissions. You’ll pay about as much at these universities as you would in state at some of our public schools, and they match or are cheaper than out of state tuition for most American schools. I’ll offer more analysis on costs in future posts.
If you are open to an international setting, also consider Great Britain–universities like St. Andrews and the University of Edinburgh have been accepting increasing numbers of Americans. Edinburgh, as an example, looks for a GPA over 3.0 and solid SAT scores–at 1800 or above. Compare this to, oh, Princeton, with an average GPA of 3.9 and a lower range SAT score around 2100–your chances of getting in with 2011 and a 3.9 are very iffy–or look at Stanford, where 50% of the students have a 4.0 or better, with the SAT scores similar to Princeton. Not to mention the price tag for tuition.
A 3.7 with a 2000 SAT, on the other hand, is a shoo-in at many excellent international schools. In fact, I had several 3.5 range clients very happily accept admissions to Canadian and English universities this year. And these are bargain in many other ways as well. More on all of this soon . . . And on getting your essays started.
Check back in with me periodically over the coming months; I will be adding posts, once a week, on average, well into the summer. In addition, you may e-mail me with specific questions–I do develop blog topics as a result of client and public requests. Do keep in mind, however, that as I begin to offer more specific advice, particularly on essay development for some of the more challenging, university-specific prompts (Chicago, anyone?), that some posts will be fully available only for a (small) fee, on my private blog, though you will be able to read an excerpt here. You can also contact me to subscribe to my private blog, with full access to all posts for this year and in the archives. Cheers.