Who should read this article: Anybody interested in applying to an Ivy League or U.C. school, oh yes, and Stanford. I also include my opening discussion for the class of 2021 on brand, status and the Tesla test.
How many Teslas have you seen with college stickers on the back window?
Me neither, and I drive the highways in the most Tesla-dense region in the country as I visit area clients. I’ll get back to that after we get to some data, below.
So how bad was the application season? Depends on where you applied. Applications to the Ivies, Stanford, and some of their analogues and safety schools, which will be the topic of this post, were very, very difficult. Your leading example is Stanford, which dropped below a 5% admissions rate for the first time this year–and was the first university to do this. Applying to Stanford increasingly resembles playing the lottery for most applicants. Applications to hundreds of non-name brands and international options, not so much. Food for thought, and a topic I will discuss again soon.
Onward, to some of this year’s data:
University . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Number of Applicants / %Accepted*
Stanford University . . . . . . . .43,997/4.69
Harvard University . . . . . . . . .39,041/5.2%
Columbia University . . . . . . . .36,292/6.04%
Yale University . . . . . . . . . . . .31,455/6.27%
Princeton University . . . . . . . 29,303/6.46%
Duke University . . . . . . . . . . .28,600/8.7%
Brown University . . . . . . . . . . .32,380/9.0%
University of Pennsylvania . . 39,918/9.4%
Dartmouth College . . . . . . . . . .20,675/10.525
Northwestern University . . . . .35,099/10.7%
Cornell University . . . . . . . . . .44,966/13.96%
U.C. Berkeley . . . . . . . . . . . . . .82,558 (frosh)/14.8%
U.C.L.A. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .97,064(frosh),119,326(ttl) No data on % yet.
Not a very friendly collection of numbers, is it? The problem, as usual, is that classic supply and demand equation in market theory.
Sure, there is a long-term structural problem in our economy, and yes, the elite universities offer superb educational opportunities, not to mention the prestige of an Ivy or Stanford sticker on the back windshield, and yes, your college friends can be part of a great network . . . . but the next Mark Zuckerberg is not going to come from a new social media platform at Harvard. Sure, if you are admitted, go to Harvard (as long as the financials work). But don’t go just to have the brand, especially if you know of a lesser place with a better deal for you, educationally and financially (is Harvard really the best place to go for software design/engineering?)
One of the most important things I do with college advising clients is help them develop a wider list of options. My mantra on target schools is this: You should always have three tiers of schools in your application list, with the bottom tier being schools for whom your data puts you above the 75th percentile of admissions, the middle tier with schools for which your data makes you an “average” admit, and your reach schools making up the third tier–where your data is at 25% or below, though I add that if your data is below or near the bottom of a college’s admit data, it’s not likely to be worth the time to write the app essays, much less pay the app fee. The chances of admission always have to be weighed against the strength of your dream, of course, and maybe that fusion reactor you are constructing in your garage will do the trick . . .
I have written about strategy and creating a good college list before, and will write about it again in relation to this year’s application season in the coming months, so look for that.
Much of the overcrowding in the world of college apps is a result of what an economist would refer to as market distortion–in this case rooted in the growing fear many people have about their economic future and the chances for their children to have a life as prosperous as their own. This sense of decline in economic prospects is well-documented, as is the reality that fuels these fears, and along with a focus on a narrow range of well-known brands, you can see the problem with the information in this particular “market.”
The brand advantage does have a real effect on income when you are first hired in a range of industries, but that effect fades quickly–mid-range income is an indicator of job performance, and job performance comes from an alloy of factors, including how good your education actually was, your motivation, and decision-making on the job. Which brings me back to that Tesla.
I have not seen a college sticker on the back window of a Tesla. Well, okay, I have seen a couple, but those were on the back windows of Tesla 3’s Yep, we already have truckloads of those loose in my part of the world. The thing about a Tesla, and a college sticker, is two-fold: first both are a statement of status. Second, both affiliate you with a group of people.
But a Tesla is a status symbol that speaks for itself, environmentally friendly, elegant in design, superb in execution and performance . . . and the one person I currently know who is driving a Tesla Model S went to Humboldt State University (not the Humboldt U in Germany–the Cal State in Northern California, an area more known for certain herbal products than tech). This person started as an art major, moved to graphic arts and from there focused more and more on Computers . . . and now runs his own medium-sized digital arts company now–a success story showing the power of education and curiosity.
The car he owns because, a, he likes it, and b, he thinks that environmentalism can only succeed if it is not just moral but enjoyable. His mid-career income is excellent, he loves what he is doing, and he came out of a college that does not get much notice even as a regional school–ranked only 57th as a regional university (West) by U.S. News and World Report. Something to keep in mind as you churn through rankings and discard schools that are not getting brand recognition.