Non-public Admissions Statistics and What You’re REALLY Doing When You Fill Out a College Application
You may think you or your child is filling out a tiresome, annoying application, but you’re actually answering a question:
Why should we take YOU, compared to these other 5,000 kids with the same grades and test scores?
In other words, What makes you different? What is your “USP” (Unique Selling Proposition, a marketing term)?
How would you answer that?
I’m very active in my community.
I’m hard working.
I made National Honor Society.
I’m a leader.
People really, really like me!
Question: do any of these answers seem UNIQUE?
Were you an admissions officer, would you latch onto any of those responses and say, Eureka! A hard-working, community-oriented leader! Finally!
Hmm, how do I put this gently….
NO FRIGGIN’ WAY!
Before I tell you how to answer this question, let’s pull back and look at the landscape.
There are approximately 28,000 high schools in America. That means that there are at least 28,000 Valedictorians.
Actually, there are thousands more, because many high schools have “Co-Valedictorians.”
Manhasset High School, on the North Shore of Long Island, had four for the class of 2012! I imagine this is because it’s a special district, full of gifted, wonderful children!
I’m picking on this particular district, but making fun of affluent areas is like shooting big fish in a teeny-weeny barrel.
Jericho High School inducted one of my clients into the National Honor Society… her and about 189 other deserving students, out of approximately 230 students. As my client put it, It would have been easier to count the kids that DIDN’T make it!
We have it on authority (double-secret source) that teachers at a certain affluent district are not permitted to give grades lower than a B, fearing blowback from parents over college admissions chances.
Back to the stats: so there maybe 30,000-something valedictorians and a similar amount of salutatorians (No. 2’s) in the country.
Newsflash: they don’t all get into Harvard, Duke, etc.!
In fact, thousands of them are rejected, often at the expense of lower-ranked, “lesser” candidates who are admitted “over” them.
Because the admitted kids were atypical.
Sure, a percentage of admits at most competitive schools fall into special categories that you may not, such as:
“Development” cases (super wealthy families who could donate to the college)
Sidebar: Ever wonder what’s behind the explosive growth of international students? Here’s a quick factoid: colleges are recruiting overseas in a big way. Brown University has an office in Mumbai. In 2010, Brown enrolled 249 Mumbaian undergraduates. (Mumbaian should be a word if it’s not.) In 2005, they had 98.
These “hooks” take up a majority (almost two-thirds of many top schools, according to Admissions Confidential, by Rachel Toor, former admissions officer at Duke.)
Another former admissions officer at a competitive colleges estimated that a scant 25% of the incoming class of his college were admitted for academic reasons only, according to College Unranked by Lloyd Thacker.
So it’s important to understand your odds if you don’t have one of the aforementioned “hooks.”
In other words, if your child is a “Plain White Kid” (I’m not saying this to be offensive, only to make a point. Many of my friends, are, indeed, white.), and the published admissions rate is 15%…
…After you factor in the hooks (the 67%-80% admitted for non-academic reasons), YOUR “REAL rate” is a fraction of the percentages published by the colleges!
When I tell my private consulting clients this, many of them say, “That’s not fair!”
My answer – Who said anything about “fair?” Colleges can do what they want, they don’t have to conform to your idea of what’s fair.
Here’s some tough love: complaining won’t do anything about it. The point is, now that you know the truth, you can do something to multiply your own odds of getting in.
How to you make your application stand out? Take the CASA Approach.© CASA stands for:
If a “magic formula” existed for admissions to top colleges for the “normal” kid, this is it. Here’s a breakdown of its elements:
“Consistent” means that you don’t wait until the last minute to pad your resume with a mish-mosh of unrelated extra-curricular activities. Sophomore year is a great time to add your first CASA activity, Junior year is more challenging, by Senior year it’s almost always too late.
So if you wake up Senior Year of high school, and your resume is a little thin, don’t rush out and join five clubs, because it won’t matter.
But if you’re a Sophomore, time is your friend. If a Junior, you may still be able to employ this strategy.
“Consistent” also means that, if you’ve played an instrument or engaged in another activity for three years, but drop it the fourth, it will raise a red flag to an admissions officer. She’ll want to know what happened.
Are there good reasons for dropping an activity? Yes, such as you had to make room in your schedule for something important (an internship, working, religious commitment, etc.)
Not that you just lost interest.
“Atypical” is important. “ATA’s” (Atypical Teen Activities) stand for the idea that you should not just do the same things that your friends or peers do if you want to stand out on a college application.
“Strategic” means that you have an overarching plan, a strategy that provides the framework for your ATA’s.
Let’s take a case where a child is interested in a particular field, say health care.
When I started working with Monique (not her real name), in the beginning of her Junior Year, she had a vague idea that she might want to be a doctor.
Monique (still not her real name) was a high achieving kid from an affluent neighborhood in Long Island’s Suffolk County. Like many of her peers, she was involved with a handful of extra-curricular activities: student government, debate club, Girl Scouts and a few others. Not to mention a bunch of AP classes, SAT and ACT review sessions, the whole gamut.
In other words, a BRWK (“Bright Well-rounded Kid” in admissions-speak).
Monique was not an ethnic minority, did not cure a deadly disease, was not a legacy, recruited athlete or fall into any other special category.
That’s why I, of course, suggested that Monique take on another activity (because sleeping is overrated!) – “shadowing” a doctor.
(I did not recommend a full-blown internship for Monique, as this would have been too time consuming and would melt her brain if I breathed a word about it.)
She was reluctant, not sold on the benefits of adding another commitment.
So I asked Monique if any of her friends were doing something along the lines of what I suggested. They weren’t.
That’s exactly why YOU should! I exclaimed.
Fast forward to her Senior Year – Monique got into both of her top choice colleges, whereas several of her peers – with higher grades and standardized test scores – did not.
Her parents and I were convinced that the thing that distinguished her from her competitor-applicants with similar, even better academic credentials, was her resume.
If you want to beat the admissions odds, think “CASA!”
– Andy Lockwood
P.S. If you’re the parent of a Junior (Class of 2015) or younger and have questions about what colleges you should be looking at, whether you can qualify for any type of tuition discount or other related questions, my advice is schedule a “Mini Strategy Session” with me on the phone. I still have slots available, but those allocated for Class of 2015 families are disappearing and may not be available in the near future.