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The Ivy Coach Daily

April 24, 2022

An Unextraordinary College Applicant

A story in The Wall Street Journal centers on a high school senior at McKinney High School near Dallas who received a bunch of rejections from our nation’s most elite universities this year. In the piece, the student, who is white and middle-class, is described as a performer in the school’s choir, the founder of the school’s accounting club, a thespian, and a summer camp director who aims to study business in college. As respected education reporter Douglas Belkin writes for The Wall Street Journal in the piece entitled “To Get Into the Ivy League, ‘Extraordinary’ Isn’t Always Enough These Days,” “She is also a self-described perfectionist. At age 7, she began taking medication to calm her anxiety, she said.” Her school counselor at McKinney was incredulous that she didn’t get into the likes of Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Brown, Cornell, UPenn, USC, Berekeley, and Northwestern. As Belkin reports, the counselor said, “I don’t know what else she could have done.” Well, we do — and let’s start by redefining how The Wall Street Journal defines the word “extraordinary.”

The profile of the student, as presented in The Wall Street Journal, is entirely unextraordinary to us. In fact, the student seems totally well-rounded. She does accounting and theatre, singing and summer camp volunteering. It’s precisely the kind of profile America’s elite universities loved through the early 1980’s but have not loved in the nearly 40 years that have since passed. As we have written time and again on the pages of this college admissions blog, even back in the early days of the internet in 1998 (yes, we’ve been at this a while!), America’s elite universities do not want well-rounded students. Instead, they want singularly talented students. The recruited baseball player. The award-winning science researcher. The shoes entrepreneur. The zoologist. Together, these singularly talented students form a well-rounded class — which is distinct from a well-rounded individual.

With respect to Douglas Belkin, who has interviewed us so many times over the years for his pieces but for some reason never quotes us (oh snap, we said it — sorry Doug but we’re tired of being used on background!), we happen to think it’s somewhat lazy journalism on The Wall Street Journal‘s part to suggest that “extraordinary isn’t enough” to get into Ivy League schools when the student used as the case example in the piece is clearly not extraordinary in the eyes of elite college admissions officers. It is no secret that these schools seek out singularly talented students rather than well-rounded students — nor is this phenomenon new. Doug knows it. Yet nowhere in The Wall Street Journal piece does he state that this profile which wowed the student’s high school counselor has not wowed admissions officers for decades. And, frankly, in a holistic admissions process in which it’s all about inspiring admissions officers to root for students, who is rooting for the self-described perfectionist? The fact is, extraordinary is enough to get into Ivy League schools. The Wall Street Journal just happens to present the entirely wrong version of “extraordinary” in this piece.

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