We hear about them every year: the few students across the country who sweep admissions to all 8 Ivy League schools and Stanford. These kids have achieved a remarkable accomplishment. With admission rates ranging from 5.2% to 12.52%, Ivy League schools present a significant challenge to any student. Most students would be lucky to get into just one. No doubt these students who get into all 8 are incredible, talented young men and women who will see success in many endeavors. But they’re terribly misguided.
Think about it. Columbia and UPenn are located in two of the top 5 most populous cities in the country. Cornell is in upstate New York, while Princeton is located in a small town in central Jersey. About 4300 undergraduate students attend Dartmouth. Cornell? Over 3 times that. At Harvard, for two years nearly all of your instructors will be graduate students – it’s the only Ivy where it is quite that common to have a grad student instructor. Greek life reigns over the social scene at Dartmouth. At Princeton, there are co-ed “eating clubs” and no (social) fraternities or sororities in sight.
None of these characteristics alone make any one Ivy better than another. In fact, more or less the only thing all Ivy League schools have in common is that they are excellent schools.
But, when it comes down to it, you should be applying to schools that fit. Let’s say you have the choice between two pairs of shoes: one is shiny and new, the other decrepit and torn. If the new pair is size 6, and the older pair a size 10, guess which shoe will be more comfortable? The one that fits.
There isn’t a torn shoe in the Ivy League. But even if they’re all shiny and new, they’re still different sizes. They are in different environments, have different areas of expertise, different academic policies and priorities, different structures of social life, differences, in short, that will determine what type(s) of person they “fit.”
But no college automatically makes your feet uncomfortable, so why does college fit matter? If all that mattered from your college experience was the name on the piece of paper at the end, then of course every student would want to go to the best, most prestigious schools they could get into. But, well, you actually have to live there for four years.
The goal of college is personal and professional success. Personal success means a happy life for four years, full of growth and development. Do you prefer an urban, rural, or suburban environment? What kind of social life do you prefer? Do you like to hike, swim, ski? Are you a sports fan or a gamer? Where can you find like minds? How do you want to expand your horizons?
Professional success means setting yourself up to perform well in your career. It starts with knowing what you want to study. Do you know already? If so, you should target schools with great programs in that area. If you are less certain, you should be applying to schools with more options where you can delay your choice until you’re more sure. Other factors here are professional development opportunities, learning opportunities outside of the classroom, average class sizes, etc.
Applying to all 8 is, in a way, lazy. You could have done your research to figure out what schools would truly make you happy. Instead, you threw applications at the wall to see what stuck.
It is also somewhat self-centered. If you know there’s an Ivy that doesn’t fit, but you apply to boost your ego, you may be taking that spot from a student who really, really wants it. Yes, the spots at the most competitive schools in the country should go to the applicants who deserve them the most. But at the same time, applying to a school because it’s competitive just reinforces the current cycle of schools getting more and more competitive every year. There is no reason to apply to a school that isn’t a good fit.
It is terribly difficult to gain admission to an Ivy League school – many admissions officers at the most competitive schools in the country will tell you that if they threw out their entire admitted freshman class and let in a completely new one, their average GPA and SAT/ACT scores would not budge. Applying to 8 Ivies and Stanford – for anyone whose father’s name isn’t on a library – runs the risk of gaining 0 admissions. Or worse – the only Ivy you get into is one you’d be miserable at, but you go because it’s an Ivy League school.
There is no substitute for research during the college admissions process. Be introspective, go visit schools, and think about the type of academic, social, and personal environment that will allow you to be successful. Talk with mentors and trusted people in your life to gain perspective. Scour these schools’ websites to find what activities you can engage in outside the classroom.
Because for the students who got into all 8 Ivies, the work has just begun. No doubt they feel tremendous validation at being deemed worthy by some of the most competitive schools in the country. But now they need to ask themselves: which one fits?
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