The University of Pennsylvania accepted 3551 students this year out of 35,788 applicants. The ratio, of about 9.9%, is simple to explain arithmetically-one kid in ten got admitted-harder to process emotionally if you are one of the nine who was not. If your family member got the “we’re sorry; there were so many qualified applicants this year” letter, it’s hard to acknowledge the simple, blinding truth: U Penn gets a lot of qualified applicants. They don’t have room for all of them. Valedictorians were denied; students with 1600 on their SAT were denied; yearbook editors were denied; captains of football teams were denied.
Valedictorians with 1600 SATs who were captain of the football team and editor of the yearbook were denied.
What is the best way to beat these daunting odds? Here’s how to make getting into a top college as painless as possible. (The following may not be the answer you wanted, but after 30 years of counseling, I can tell you that it’s truer than true.)
1) Don’t tell anyone under any circumstances where you’re applying. Not ever. No matter what.
You’d be better off publicizing your bracket predictions or the fact that you anticipate spending time with Sofia Vergara in a hot tub. Admittedly, the odds of your being right about who wins every game in the basketball tournament (approximately 1 in 9.22 X 10^19) are easier to calculate than whether or not the star of “Modern Family” will join you in the Jacuzzi, but either way you’re setting yourself up to look like an idiot. Whether or not you win the admissions lottery is the same premise. Keep your mouth shut. None of your snarky, competitive classmates can make fun of you if the list of schools to which you’ve applied is a family secret.
The entrance ways to the bedroom and bathroom in your home have doors. There’s a reason for that. It’s the same reason that well brought up high school seniors don’t discuss their list of schools with anyone with whom they don’t share DNA.
“You know that kid, the one who took five APs as a junior, got a 1600 on her SAT and was captain of the lacrosse team? Did you hear that she applied to Dartmouth and got rejected?”
No one can talk about where you got rejected if they don’t know where you applied.
And don’t even tell me that you “only told your best friend and made her promise not to tell anyone else.” You might as well publish a front page ad in the paper.
Here’s some extra-credit advice: if you do get a particularly lucky roll of the dice and get admitted to Harvard (5.9% this year) and Columbia (6.9%) keep your mouth shut anyway. Nobody likes a braggart. Classy kids put themselves in the shoes of the less lucky and accept good news graciously. And quietly.
2) Don’t ask why.
It makes more sense to ask why, when your thimble was on Short Line Railroad, you ended up on Boardwalk after a roll of four rather than rolling a seven, passing “Go”, collecting $200 and picking a card from “Community Chest.” You got rejected from U Penn. So did nine out of ten other highly qualified, hardworking, smart young people. Accept that there is a highly arbitrary, random aspect to admissions decisions. Yes, Tommy, the valedictorian and captain of the football team from North Cornstalk High with a 1600 on the SAT was admitted to U Penn. But Timmy, the valedictorian and captain of the football team from South Cornstalk High with a 1600 on the SAT was not. You don’t know why Tommy got in and Timmy didn’t? Neither do I. Neither does anyone who works in admissions at the University of Pennsylvania.
3) Who you are is more important than where you go.
The saddest scam ever was when the parents of severely autistic, non-communicative children were told that the kids could actually converse if were hooked up to a Ouija Board and “helped” to express themselves by a trained practitioner. Of course, nothing of the kind is possible. A child who can neither read nor speak cannot express himself with a Ouija Board. I have played board games with developmentally delayed children whose mothers-despite repeated entreaties to let the kid alone-were unable to stop “helping” their kids strategize or move pieces.
Being admitted to a “name” school is as important to a top kid as a cognitively impaired child beating a 57-year-old educational consultant at a board game. A strong student will still do well by every meaningful measure wherever she goes to college. Just as the developmentally delayed child will continue to have issues to overcome even if he “wins” one game thanks to his well-intentioned mom. The kids with ability and motivation do well.
Even if they don’t get admitted to U. Penn.