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Competition for Top College Admissions Increasing Every Year

With higher numbers of international applicants and more adoption of universal applications like The Common App and the Coalition App, top universities are breaking records for numbers of applications every year.
What can you do to keep a competitive edge?

By ALEX LOVELESS

Admission to an Ivy League+ school is not everyone’s goal, nor should it be. Each and every student needs to think of costs, location, student body diversity, individual department quality, and a host of other factors that go into deciding where to apply. There are excellent undergraduate educations well beyond the Ivy League, including all the great liberal arts colleges around the country. However, when we’re talking about college admissions strategy, you want to follow a methodology that makes you as competitive as possible, so aligning your strategies to an Ivy League level application will work no matter where you apply.

If you are applying to the Ivy League, it’s important to keep track of how competitive it has become. The Ivies, along with schools like Stanford and MIT, are the most difficult colleges to get into and it gets more competitive each year. Just in the last few years, you can see the increase in the number of applications and the decrease in acceptance rates as a result.

 

Class of ’21

Class of ’23

School

Number of Apps

Acceptance Rate

Number of Apps

Acceptance Rate

Brown

32,724

8.30%

38,674

6.60%

Columbia

37,389

5.80%

42,569

5.14%

Cornell

47,038

12.50%

49,118

10.55%

Dartmouth

20,034

10.40%

23,650

7.93%

Harvard

39,506

5.20%

43,336

4.50%

Penn

40,413

9.15%

44,960

7.44%

Princeton

31,056

6.10%

32,804

5.78%

Yale

32,900

6.90%

36,843

5.91%

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Some Signs of Slowing Down

Luckily, there are some signs that applications are plateauing a little bit. For the University of California schools, Fall freshman applications have dipped for a second straight year. For Ivy League schools as well; schools like Duke, Penn, MIT, Dartmouth, Yale, and Harvard have all seen their early application numbers drop for the Class of ‘24. But even if the acceptance rates and number of applications remained consistent from here on out, they are still just about as competitive as they’ve ever been.

GPA and test scores are the foundation for a competitive college application to a top school. If you take a look at the top schools, the 25th and 75th percentiles for SAT/ACT scores are quite high. A high score like this is required to get your foot in the door, but they do not, by any means, ensure acceptance. This is a myth. I’m sure that you’ve heard of a number of students that had perfect GPA and/or ACT scores that didn’t get accepted to their dream school. There could be a number of reasons for this. Poor teacher recommendations. Not enough academic rigor in course selection. A lack of extracurricular activities or achievements. Or a really flat Common Application essay. It’s hard to pinpoint where exactly these students went wrong, but most of these mistakes boil down to one problem. They just didn’t stand out enough.

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How to Stand Out​

Think about it. If a student is applying to a school like MIT, perfect ACT and SAT Math II scores aren’t really going to help them stand out. There will be a number of applicants that have the same numbers as you, so you need to do more to stand out. And this doesn’t mean that you try to stand out just for the sake of standing out. Writing about a shocking story from your life in your essay or highlighting your most obscure hobbies isn’t necessarily going to help you get accepted. They still need to connect to your academic interests in some way because, after all, you are applying to an academic institution and a particular program within their school.

“Unfortunately, the “well-rounded” strategy often times just makes an applicant look like they have numerous shallow interests rather than any depth of experience of passion. “

Another mistake that applicants make is going for the “well-rounded” approach to their application. They try to show that they’re good at everything, through essays and the activities that they choose to highlight. Unfortunately, the “well-rounded” strategy often times just makes an applicant look like they have numerous shallow interests rather than any depth of experience of passion. A “well-rounded” strategy can also come off as inauthentic or unrealistic. Admissions officers might perceive an applicant as overconfident or unrealistic in their ability to do everything, which oftentimes is just an overcompensation for insecurity in some field.

The best way to stand out is to have an Admissions Angle strategy, which focuses a student’s interests into one particular direction and runs with it. Are you a student that loves math? Then do all the math competitions, puzzles, clubs, and volunteer programs that you can find related to math. Do you love engineering and entrepreneurship? Join DECA, start a Blue Ocean Competition Club, compete in business plan competitions, build things with a Raspberry Pi or Arduino. The point is that you need to focus your efforts in a singular direction. Take the dive and commit to it. Even if you end up changing your interests later on, it’s relatively easy to change majors in college. An Admissions Angle strategy is geared towards Top 20 schools, but ultimately, will help you stand out in admissions for any school and help get you into the best college possible.

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