Applying to Harvard

Harvard Admissions, Applying to Harvard University, Applying to Harvard College

More and more students are applying to Harvard…but does that mean it’s getting harder and harder to get into? Photo credit: Chensiyuan.

Students applying to Harvard this coming year and in subsequent years might be frightened by a piece up on “Business Insider” by Abby Jackson entitled “Nearly 40,000 people applied to Harvard this year — experts say it’s harder than ever to get into elite schools.” But these students shouldn’t be frightened because the headline is misleading. Indeed even Abby Jackson’s piece doesn’t support the argument that it’s getting harder than ever to get into Harvard.

As we’ve been saying for years and years on the pages of our college admissions blog, in the press, and anywhere we can find a soapbox, a highly selective university receiving more applications does not necessarily make that university more selective — or more difficult to get into. Think about it this way: If hundreds of ‘C’ students applied to Harvard this year, would it make it more difficult for you to earn admission to the university? No. As Mark Twain so famously once taught the world, there are “lies, damned lies and statistics.”

Assuming that a university is getting harder and harder to get into because the admission rate keeps getting lower and lower isn’t necessarily an accurate assumption.

The fact is that all highly selective colleges, including Harvard, are getting better and better over the years at getting students — both qualified and unqualified students — to apply. The more students who apply, invariably the lower the admission rate will be, and the higher the university will be ranked in “US News & World Report.” And if a college tells you that they don’t care about their “US News & World Report” ranking, smile, nod, and know in your heart of hearts that you were just told a lie. Because every single college cares about their “US News & World Report” ranking.

But Abby Jackson’s piece presents another argument — that highly selective colleges are getting better and better in particular at getting international students to apply. Students with perfect or near-perfect grades and perfect or near-perfect test scores. But while there has been an influx of international applicants these last several years, many of them are competing against one another. Sure, one could make the argument that if a school used to admit a class in which 10% of students hailed from nations outside the United States and now that same figure is 20% — that fewer American students are being offered admission. But here is an alternative argument, not to be confused with “alternative facts.” Writes Jackson, “The increase in international applicants, therefore, while it may drive down the overall acceptance rate, likely has less impact on US applicants than is sometimes believed.”

Thinking of applying to Harvard University? What are your thoughts on the piece up on “Business Insider”? We’re curious to hear from you so post a Comment below and we’ll be sure to jump in on the conversation.


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1 Comment

  • Jane says:

    I believe that colleges are becoming harder to get into. While it is true that not all applicants are competitive for admission, it can’t be ignored that the number of births in the US has been trending upwards. So, it would follow that more smart kids capable of getting good grades and scores are being born each year. For example, let’s say 2 million babies were born in 1970, and 3 million were born in 2000. If the top 1% of each batch is competitive for Harvard, that’s 20,000 kids in the class of 1988 up against each other, and 30,000 kids in the class of 2018 competing.

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