Why Your Brilliant Child Didn’t Get into the Ivies

Late last week, decisions from top colleges were delivered electronically to stressed-out high school seniors. By early evening, more than 90% of those who had applied to the eight Ivy League schools plus their partners-in-prestige, Stanford and MIT, had received a gently worded “Good luck elsewhere.” Or, even worse, “waitlist status,” which means sending a deposit check to a fourth choice institution, procuring a letter of recommendation from Nelson Mandela and spending the summer in limbo. These new Ivy rejects are far from slackers. They’re incredible kids with impressive resumes — 2,350+ SATs, straight As in their 16 APs, debate champions, flute soloists and MVPs. Parents who have been dreaming of an Ivy education for their kids since conception are scratching their heads, trying to figure out what went wrong. So, why didn’t your child get in?

1. She’s a girl. Fact: Female applicants are, plain and simple, better students. (I’m not sexist — check the statistics!) And girls are more apt to take ownership of the “process.” They require less adult help, making their applications seem more authentic… and heightening the competition.

2. Your child is a BWRK (bright, well-rounded kid). These days, colleges want a well-rounded class instead. Lopsided kids are beloved… Renaissance children? Not so much. It’s a lot easier for an admissions officer to convince the rest of the committee to admit a trapeze artist than a yearbook editor.

3. Your child’s application stinks of privilege. You had the best of intentions when you sent your son or daughter to Oxford last July to read the classics. But guess what? The colleges, who eventually are happy to accept your $200,000, aren’t thrilled about $11,000 summer programs, even the life-changing ones. Outward Bound now looks dubious as well — it used to be about achieving clarity through eating bark, but now could be a euphemism for “troubled teen.” And forget those service opportunities in Central America — the whole isthmus is now frowned upon.

4. A lame essay. Admissions officers are sick of reading essays about the challenges of building a latrine in Guatemala (see above) or how “I found the people of (insert name of developing country) to be exactly the same as in my home town of Greenwich, CT.”

5. Not enough leadership. Although team players are in demand in the real world, colleges seek those with a Machiavellian spirit. Colleges are also fans of “rigor,” but they are averse to “robots” who studied so hard that they’re now boring and obedient.

6. Not enough research experience. If I were a college professor, the last thing I would want is a messy, smelly high school student hanging around my lab. But the kids who get to do this win out.

7. The whole process is random and arbitrary. The admissions people, who say they consider each applicant “holistically” and pay no attention to who needs financial aid, are actually sitting in a room eating pizza and throwing darts. So find solace in the fact that they’ve rejected your brilliant child for no good reason at all. What now? Send in your deposit to a great non-Ivy (there are many) and never look back. And if your own alma mater dissed your kid, you can take out your anger by burning your sweatshirts and tearing the license plate holder off your car.


Why Your Brilliant Child Didn’t Get into the Ivies — 13 Comments

  1. The University of Pennsylvania accepted 3551 students this year out of 35,788 applicants. The ratio, of about 9.9%, is simple to explain arithmetically–one kid in ten got admitted-harder to process emotionally if you are one of the nine who was not. If your family member got the “we’re sorry; there were so many qualified applicants this year” letter, it’s hard to acknowledge the simple, blinding truth: U Penn gets a lot of qualified applicants. They don’t have room for all of them. Valedictorians were denied; students with 1600 on their SAT were denied; yearbook editors were denied; captains of football teams were denied.

    Valedictorians with 1600 SATs who were captain of the football team and editor of the yearbook were denied.

    What is the best way to beat these daunting odds? Here’s how to make getting into a top college as painless as possible. (The following may not be the answer you wanted, but after 30 years of counseling, I can tell you that it’s truer than true.)

    1) Don’t tell anyone under any circumstances where you’re applying. Not ever. No matter what.

    You’d be better off publicizing your bracket predictions or the fact that you anticipate spending time with Sofia Vergara in a hot tub. Admittedly, the odds of your being right about who wins every game in the basketball tournament (approximately 1 in 9.22 X 10^19) are easier to calculate than whether or not the star of “Modern Family” will join you in the Jacuzzi, but either way you’re setting yourself up to look like an idiot. Whether or not you win the admissions lottery is the same premise. Keep your mouth shut. None of your snarky, competitive classmates can make fun of you if the list of schools to which you’ve applied is a family secret.

    The entrance ways to the bedroom and bathroom in your home have doors. There’s a reason for that. It’s the same reason that well brought up high school seniors don’t discuss their list of schools with anyone with whom they don’t share DNA.

    “You know that kid, the one who took five APs as a junior, got a 1600 on her SAT and was captain of the lacrosse team? Did you hear that she applied to Dartmouth and got rejected?”

    No one can talk about where you got rejected if they don’t know where you applied.

    And don’t even tell me that you “only told your best friend and made her promise not to tell anyone else.” You might as well publish a front page ad in the paper.

    Here’s some extra-credit advice: if you do get a particularly lucky roll of the dice and get admitted to Harvard (5.9% this year) and Columbia (6.9%) keep your mouth shut anyway. Nobody likes a braggart. Classy kids put themselves in the shoes of the less lucky and accept good news graciously. And quietly.

    2) Don’t ask why.

    It makes more sense to ask why, when your thimble was on Short Line Railroad, you ended up on Boardwalk after a roll of four rather than rolling a seven, passing “Go”, collecting $200 and picking a card from “Community Chest.” You got rejected from U Penn. So did nine out of ten other highly qualified, hardworking, smart young people. Accept that there is a highly arbitrary, random aspect to admissions decisions. Yes, Tommy, the valedictorian and captain of the football team from North Cornstalk High with a 1600 on the SAT was admitted to U Penn. But Timmy, the valedictorian and captain of the football team from South Cornstalk High with a 1600 on the SAT was not. You don’t know why Tommy got in and Timmy didn’t? Neither do I. Neither does anyone who works in admissions at the University of Pennsylvania.

    3)Who you are is more important than where you go.

    The saddest scam ever was when the parents of severely autistic, non-communicative children were told that the kids could actually converse if were hooked up to a Ouija Board and “helped” to express themselves by a trained practitioner. Of course, nothing of the kind is possible. A child who can neither read nor speak cannot express himself with a Ouija Board. I have played board games with developmentally delayed children whose mothers-despite repeated entreaties to let the kid alone-were unable to stop “helping” their kids strategize or move pieces.

    Being admitted to a “name” school is as important to a top kid as a cognitively impaired child beating a 57-year-old educational consultant at a board game. A strong student will still do well by every meaningful measure wherever she goes to college. Just as the developmentally delayed child will continue to have issues to overcome even if he “wins” one game thanks to his well-intentioned mom. The kids with ability and motivation do well.

    • Wow, this wins for the longest, most comprehensive comment ever. I’m not sure if I agree with #1 though. Do you really think that most kids are “snarky and competitive” about the process? Not in this neck of the woods – most are huggy and empathetic. Okay if I address this in a blog post?

      • The only thing I would enjoy more than your addressing this issue in a blog post would be learning that things truly are different in your neck of the woods! :-) At some private day schools in Miami and some boarding schools across the country, parents view admissions as a zero sum game. Like norm referenced tests, the only way my daughter can score one standard deviation above the mean is if your daughter scores one standard deviation below.

        I welcome this discussion and am pleased to be part of it.



        • Great, will feature your comment in a post. Who knew Miami was such a neurotic city?? Proud to observe that SoCal kids ARE more chill. And parents around her realize/accept that all Ivies are crapshoots (including Penn) and decisions are ‘holistic,’ not score based. Admissions committees look to admit a class, not individual students, so the clarinetist might get shut out because the band needs an oboe…nothing personal. All the more reason to love thy safety.

          • JD. I agree with you. The kids here who keep their lust a secret are the ones who are snarcked upon. I know two girls who lost friendships from this tight lipped approach. Secretiveness was equated with a lack of trust and friendliness.

  2. #1 is for the weak, so do not apply to the Ivy leagues if you cannot handle rejection. That is simply already a sign you are sure to fail if you cannot handle the fact you did not get into your school of choice. Seriously, it is none of our business what anyone thinks about us. That is ego run amok. Fall down, brush yourself off and get back on the damn horse. These are high quality problems……there will always be somebody with more or less than you, be grateful you are not starving to death or dying. No one cares where you went to undergrad anyway and those who do you may want to reconsider.

  3. I’m so happy these days are behind me. Sigh. The biggest issue I witnessed first hand was that many parents were unrealistic and overly optimistic about their kids’ chances of getting into the top colleges and, big one, didn’t listen to their college counselors’ recommendations and warnings. I know one student/family who insisted on applying early to the most popular Ivy (30 others in her class applied too!) when her daughter’s scores were more in line with “second tier” (excellent, but not Ivy) schools, and are still miffed their daughter didn’t get in and wasted an “early” on it. Yes, everyone feels their child is special, and they are, but, there are a lot of special kids out there competing for the same spot. Ultimately, most kids end up liking where they get in and big shocker to many parents, an Ivy doesn’t insure a good or happy experience. P.S. Bingo on the lab research. All the kids that did lab work in my kids’ schools ended up at Ivys.

    • Many kids/parents think applying early will let you in with lesser stats – not true in many places, and a shame to “waste” an early. And you’re absolutely right about Ivies not being the ticket to happiness. We know many kids who get to those schools only to report, “It’s sooooo hard.”

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