The Ivy Coach Daily

May 16, 2007

Students Applying to Colleges in Multiple Tiers

Lehigh is a good school. But it’s not Harvard, as a school counselor seems to suggest (photo credit: Kenneth C. Zirkel).

Is it unusual to earn admission to one of America’s most selective universities but to be waitlisted or denied admission at a less selective university? Just about every year, students who were not our clients come to us and ask, “Why would I get into Brown and Columbia but not get into a school like Lehigh? It makes no sense.” The reason is typically a simple one: Lehigh likely didn’t believe the student intended to enroll if admitted. Maybe the student didn’t visit campus. Maybe the student didn’t say anything specific about Lehigh when asked why he wishes to attend Lehigh in an interview. Maybe he didn’t write anything specific about Lehigh when prompted with why he wished to attend the university in an essay. And, no, a sentence such as, “Lehigh’s diverse student body and its beautiful campus cement the school as the one I most wish to attend,” convinces no admissions officer that Lehigh is actually a student’s first choice.

Students Need Not Apply to Lots of Safeties If a Safety Is Truly Safe

But what goes without saying is why is a student who is applying to the likes of Brown University and Columbia University also applying to Lehigh University in the first place? While Lehigh is a very nice school, it’s simply not near the same level of selectivity as the Browns and Columbias of the world. We get that every student should have a safe choice on their lists. That’s perfectly reasonable. But, particularly recently, students have been adding schools to their lists that they think are highly selective but are not in fact nearly as selective as they may suspect. And why would that be, you ask? In our experience, school counselors often push to add certain schools to students’ college lists — and, for whatever reason, it’s often the same schools. When we see these outliers on a student’s list, we think to ourselves, “There are those usual suspects again. The school counselor must have added those on!”

School Counselor Suggests Lehigh and Lafayette Are in the Same Tier as Harvard, Yale, Princeton

In fact, in a piece in today’s The New York Times by Alan Finder entitled “Ivy League Crunch Brings New Cachet to Next Tier,” the director of guidance at Madison High School in New Jersey, Brett Levine, is quoted, “Now a kid who is applying to Harvard, Yale, Princeton is also applying to the Lehighs and Lafayettes. It’s the same tier, basically.” No, Brett, with respect, Lehigh and Lafayette are not in the same tier as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Instead, students seeking admission to the Harvards, Yales, and Princetons of the world are also applying to the Lehighs and Lafayettes because you’re misrepresenting the selectivity of the latter two institutions. In no world are Harvard, Yale, and Princeton in the same “tier” as Lehigh and Lafayette as wonderful as Lehigh and Lafayette may be.

A Core Objective of Our Blog is to Debunk Such Misconceptions to Make the Process Less Stressful For All

A core objective of our college admissions blog is to debunk misconceptions about the highly selective college admissions process and to keep everyone honest. When a school counselor suggests to “The Paper of Record” that Lehigh and Lafayette are in the same tier as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, you bet we’re going to call them out. Such untrue suggestions only serve to perpetuate misconceptions about the college admissions process and thereby make the whole process more stressful for all. While presumably this was not the intent of the school counselor at Madison High School, we’d suggest he be more circumspect in offering quotes to The New York Times on the selectivity of colleges and in helping students devise college lists.



You are permitted to use (including the content of the Blog) for your personal, non-commercial use only. You must not copy, download, print, or otherwise distribute the content on our site without the prior written consent of Ivy Coach, Inc.


If you’re interested in Ivy Coach’s college counseling,
fill out our free consultation form and we’ll be in touch.

Get Started