David Altshuler, M.S.
(305) 978-8917 | [email protected]

Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Penn, and Stanford

What would you say to a request from money from Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, or Mark Zuckerberg, a request for contributions. Jeff, Elon, Bill, and Mark are asking for money. Not for a charity. But for their own bank accounts. What if they wanted you to send them money?

I wouldn’t contribute. Would you? These folks already have enough moolah, don’t you think? Jeff, Elon, Bill, and Mark have more money than you; they have more money than me; they have more money than El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Indeed, they have more money than El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua put together. The gross national product of El Salvador last year was $56 billion, Honduras, $54 billion, and Nicaragua, $36 billion for a total of $146 billion. Elon Musk has $151 billion all by himself. Harvard has an endowment of $41-something billion although six million fewer people than El Salvador.

Of course, these wealthy folks aren’t asking you for money. But, long standing readers will not be surprised to learn, an analogy is coming.

Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Penn, and Stanford invited me to a Death by PowerPoint presentation last week. They’re not asking for money. Not directly. Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Penn, and Stanford are asking for applicants. By pontificating about how great their institutions are, Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Penn, and Stanford are reaching out for more applicants.

I don’t know if Jeff, Elon, Bill, or Mark want more money. But these colleges clearly want more applicants. More, more, more. Lots more. More candidates, more aspirants, more hopefuls. Which of course means more rejections. Which means more disappointments for more well-meaning young people. Seventeen-year-olds don’t apply to Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Penn, and Stanford without hoping they’ll be admitted.

How piggish are these highly selective colleges? Harvard obviously isn’t satisfied with the 4.9 % acceptance rate last year. For the class of 2025, they were down to 3.4 %. Rejecting 19 students out of 20 wasn’t good enough. Rejecting 28 applicants out of 29 is better. Duke is down to 4.3 % from 7.7 % last year. U Penn is down to 5.7 % from 8.1 %. I could go on.

To my knowledge, Jeff, Elon, Bill, and Mark don’t communicate that they want more money, certainly not from contributions. I have never received a letter from any of them of the form, “Hey, Dave. Could I trouble you for twenty bucks? Does Venmo work for you?” But the college representatives are asking for more. Because what other agenda could they have for their Zoom presentation? Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Penn, and Stanford on a Monday night. Talking about how many wonderful majors they have, how great their campuses are. Kill me now.

Earnest folks, my colleagues. Just doing their jobs. Getting the information about their campuses out there. But what did they have to say? The admissions folks “taught” us—I was one of hundreds of counselors in the Zoom—about holistic applications: How do you fit? The transcript is the foundation of the application. What classes did you take? We’re looking for the whole picture.

Which–along with “drive on the right side of the road”–is good advice, but also fairly well known.

Have someone proofread your essay. Tell the truth about your extracurriculars. Test scores aren’t the most important part of the application. Uh, we already knew that. Because you’ve been selling the same information since I started attending these information sessions in person 37 years ago.

What none of the admissions counselors mentioned is that they aren’t making any more spaces at any of these schools. The size of the first-year class remains the same. Whether there are 50,000 applicants for 5000 first-year slots or 100,000 applicants for the same number of beds.

Nor did these well-meaning admissions folks mention the glaringly obvious: who you are is more important than where you go. If you have the ability to perform at Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Penn, or Stanford, you’ll muddle along just fine at North Cornstalk State.

I could write a book. Oh, wait: I already have.

The takeaway isn’t that your child shouldn’t apply to Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Penn, and Stanford. There is no argument but that Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Penn, and Stanford all have adequate libraries, passable facilities, and dormitories with clean bathrooms. Rather, the takeaway is that your child should relax and enjoy high school and the transition process because the odds are long—again, 19 “we had so many qualified applicants…” for every “we are pleased to inform you…” and there are wonderful colleges that even in these crazy times—especially in these crazy times—admit pretty much every qualified applicant.

Which means that if you child has some skills—gets good grades in tough classes, for example—she is going to be fine. And she doesn’t even have to waste a Monday night staring at boring slides about absurdly highly selective schools reaching out for more, more, more applicants for them to reject.

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2 thoughts on “Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Penn, and Stanford

  1. Roger D Soman

    ….yet ANOTHER reason I’m retroactively ticked off about getting hit up for fancy private schools asking for contributions to Booster Clubs, Building Funds and sending the band to Bethesda.

  2. roy black

    great column. I was in one varsity blues case where the admissions director at Penn bragged they reject 50% of high school valedictorians who apply. I said you should be ashamed of yourself for taking pride in that statistic. they have zero empathy. I also ordered your book.

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