Unreasonable Expectations in College Admission

Admissions Expectations, Ivy League Expectations, Admissions Goals

Being on Melinda Gates’ list at Duke sure can help.

There’s a good article in “The Washington Post” by Susan Svrluga entitled “Former admissions staffer: Parents, calm down. Let Harvard go” that we’d like to discuss on our college admissions blog. In the piece, Ms. Svrluga writes, “… you need to assume, right now, that your child is not getting into Harvard no matter what he or she does. (And no, he’s not getting into Stanford either, or Yale, or Dartmouth, or MIT. Probably not UC Berkeley, either. No, I’m not kidding.) Your kid isn’t getting into the college you think he or she is. What? So-and-so’s child is at Princeton right now? And got what on his SATs? And did those activities? Hmmm. Interesting. Sure, you can prove me wrong with some examples. And I can prove myself right with a hundred more. Stanford’s rate of admission was below 5 percent last year. Do the math.”

We applaud Ms. Svrluga’s tell-it-like-it-is approach. Our readers might well find it familiar! Now don’t get too negative, though. Students get into Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Dartmouth, MIT, and UC Berkeley all the time. So it’s not quite as grim as Ms. Svrulga suggests but her point is that so many parents have completely unrealistic expectations. She’s absolutely spot on and we applaud her for her candor. We get calls all the time from parents with children whose combined SAT scores are around 1,650. Sometimes we ask, “Over how many sections” only to realize that 800 + 800 + more means that it’s on three sections. Such low scores just always surprise us when these same parents mention schools like Harvard, Yale, and Dartmouth in the same sentence. It reminds us of the “Sesame Street” segment “One of these things is not like the other…” Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, 1,650. It doesn’t take Malcolm Gladwell to identify the outlier!

We work with students every year who gain admission to the most highly selective colleges in the nation. But we won’t work with a student who has 1,650 SATs and has dreams of getting into Duke unless that same student is willing to crush those dreams at once and reset his or her expectations. We are not magicians. We help students with reasonable — or somewhat reasonable — goals achieve their dreams. And, yes, every now and then we help students with unreasonable goals get into highly selective colleges too (we have a habit of under-promising and over-deliverivering). But 1,650 out of 2,400…yikes. If this student hopes to get into Duke, he or she best be on Melinda Gates’ list. Or Coach K’s of course.

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