The allegory goes like this: You're a high school sophomore or junior, thinking about going to college. You're a top student and your credentials are superior. Your stats show you to be among the best students in your school. You also have a wonderful array of activities and a crowd of people ready to sing your praises. You lack for nothing.
Your journey is ready to begin. You've made your decision and know where you're headed. So you hit the road for College Admissions City.
As you move on down the road through 10th and 11th grade and their associated summers (during which you don't waste a moment indulging in superfluous, time-wasting behaviors), you prepare for The Main Event: your college applications. As you think up outstanding essays and creative, even genuinely humorous, short responses, you keep an eye on the horizon.
Coming slowly into view are some impressive rolling hills. Off to the right you see Carnegie Mellon University, with its winding entrance roads leading to the big iron gates. Farther down, on the left, is a bigger rise: Swarthmore College. The greenery looks dense but well tended. And so on, as you travel and encounter more geographic attractions, always thinking in a hopeful, forward direction.
Finally, in the far distance, approaching fast, are some tremendous peaks. These awesome spectacles dwarf the other rises you've seen before. Their beauty is breathtaking and they cast a spell of mesmerizing attraction over you. They draw you like a magnet, and you can't resist.
You draw a deep breath, knowing in your heart that you have encountered your goal: the Mount Everest College Admissions Mountain Range, eight mighty peaks of such stunning magnificence that you can't even recall the details of the lovely rolling hills you passed by before.
The entrance gates are at the tops of these monumental mountains, almost hidden by the swirling winds that sweep snow and ice across them. The roads leading up each climb are long and winding, but you're prepared to make the treacherous trek. Yes, you're willing to risk anything to find a home here ... in the Ivy League!
Yes, this is a silly, maybe even stupid little fantasy, but, as you may see this week among the seniors at your high school, there's a reason for my allegorical excess. In case I haven't delivered the point of my story to you sophomores and juniors, here it is in a nutshell:
If you're going to be applying to one or more Ivy League schools senior year, be ready for disappointment.
It's a much bigger challenge than you realize and you'll most likely encounter a negative outcome. You'll also probably pass up some perfectly fine candidates along the way, as you keep your focus on those lofty peaks down the road. This is the week when all Regular Decision Ivy aspirants will learn about the steepness of the slopes leading to those Ivy gates.
So, enough of this symbolism. How about some hard truths?
There are a number of sources out there that summarize the numbers regarding Ivy League admissions, but one of the better ones comes from a source called Ivy Coach. To give you a completely objective sense of the extreme challenge of getting into an Ivy League school, I want to show you some stats gathered by IC.
First, the numbers:
Ivy League Colleges
Overall Accept. Rate
Regular Decision Accept. Rate
Regular Decision Apps Accepted
Regular Decision Apps Received
Early Decision / Action Accept. Rate
% of Class Filled by Early Apps
Early Decision / Action Apps Rcvd
Early Decision / Action Apps Accepted
Expected Number of Students to Enroll
Total Apps Received
Total Apps Accepted
* n/a = not applicable since an Early Action Policy was in place.
That first column, "Overall Accept[ance] Rate" should be the wake-up you need. If that doesn't phase you, let's look a little closer: "Regular Decision Accept[ance] Rate."
Within that column, let's glance at The Big Three -- HYP's Regular Decision rates: Harvard: 3.4%. Yale: 5.0%. Princeton: 4.3%.
Colleges take the very best of their applicant pools in the early rounds during Early Action (EA) or Early Decision (ED). So, if you are deferred from the early round to Regular Decision (RD), you must prepare for likely disappointment in the spring, which is what awaits many thousands of seniors around the world this week.
The Ivy Coach article goes on to detail the admission situation at each of the eight Ivies. I encourage you to read through those narratives. It provides a rather bitter icing to the Ivy admissions cake.
Ivy Coach goes on to illustrate the surprising difference between Early and Regular admission options:
The graph below of the 2021 Ivy League admissions statistics shows a comparison between the Early Decision / Early Action acceptance rates and the Regular Decision acceptance rates:
If there's possibly a silver lining to all this Ivy angst (yet more metaphorical imagery!), it would be the great disparity between EA/ED and RD. If you are, in reality (a critical condition), a worthy Ivy applicant according to their accepted-applicant profiles, then the choice should be clear to you: go early!
Even with the statistically advantageous ED/EA option, those Ivy peaks don't lose any altitude. My summary advice, then, for all of you who will attempt the Ivy admissions challenge is simple and direct:
Be sure to have a back up oxygen supply handy when you take that first step onto the road leading to one or more of those Everest-like summits. You're gonna need it.
Be sure to check out all my college-related articles at College Confidential.