Many people mistakenly believe that applying to a larger number of “reach” or top-tier schools increases the chances of being admitted to one.  There are two big reasons why this belief not only is wrong, but jeopardizes students’ chances of admission to even one of the top schools on their lists.

Reason #1 Why You Shouldn’t Apply to All 8 Ivies

The first reason you shouldn’t apply to all 8 Ivy League schools, or limit your list to the top of the US News list, is that they are different in fundamental ways!  If you love and fit at Columbia, then Brown would probably not be a great match for you!  If you think Duke or Johns Hopkins would be perfect for you, it’s unlikely you’d fit well at Yale.  And if you aren’t a good fit, that’s probably going to come through in your essays – or at least other applicants’ essays are likely to be stronger than yours.  Top-tier colleges aren’t interested in students who are only interested in their top ranking, and the bumper sticker that would look good on mom’s SUV.

Reason #2 Why You Shouldn’t Apply to All 8 Ivies

A few years ago, I gave a presentation with Shannon Miller, who’s been in the Admissions office at Johns Hopkins for over 10 years.  Actually, we gave the same presentation at three different conferences – one time, Sarah Godwin from MIT Admissions joined us.  I know it sounds counterintuitive, but the upshot is this:  submit fewer applications to top-tier schools – but make sure that they are really, truly a great fit for you, and make sure you can articulate that fit in really interesting ways.  Wrap your arms around each school’s mission, culture and style.  Doing this may actually increase your chances of getting in.  For once, less is more.

Nearly every top-tier/top-ranked college in the country wants to know how you FIT into their student body, and why they are a good MATCH for your skills and personality.  You may have heard those terms, “fit” and “match,” in the context of your college list before – hopefully this helps you understand what the folks using these terms mean.

In response to their “Why Us?” question, highly-selective colleges are not looking for students who repurpose the “what I’m looking for in my college experience” essay.  They’re really looking for you to share with them how you will contribute to their community, and how you will benefit from it.  SPECIFICALLY!  So in fact, you are really giving yourself more original thinking and writing to do than you may have time for, in the very busy fall of your senior year.  And that may reduce the quality, originality and effectiveness of the responses you write.

This is why most college counselors advise that you narrow the reach schools on your list down to the ones to which you are MOST connected, and throw everything you can into those essays.  

Everything. You. Can.

You only have so much “everything” in the fall of your senior year of high school.

You are welcome to ignore this advice.  Every year, students apply to all 8 Ivy League schools.  And every year, one kid gets into all 8.  And every year, that kid’s story is all over the news, on TV, and in national newspapers.  Pay attention to the details of that kid’s story by the way – that kid had perfect (I don’t mean close to perfect, I mean PERFECT) SAT or ACT scores, a perfect GPA and some extra-curricular activities that you never thought a 17-year old could accomplish.

Every year when that happens, I wish that the news would cover the stories of the kids who didn’t get into all 8.  Or into any of them.

The truth is, we spend far too much time hero-worshipping the Ivy League (you know it’s just a sports league, right, and there are non-Ivy colleges that are fantastic!) and not enough time helping students see that they can get a great college education at hundreds of colleges all over the country.  It’s more important to find the college where your kids will thrive – where they will be happy and successful.  Where they will be fulfilled academically, socially and emotionally.

That's our goal as college counselors; we hope it's yours as well.

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