Will Multiple Applicants from the Same High School Hurt Elite Admission Chances?

Question: If a large number of students from my high school all apply to the same highly selective college that I do, will that affect my chances of being admitted? Is it better to be the only applicant from my school? Should I try to discourage other students who are interested in the same colleges that I am?

You ask a good question. Many students (and parents) are convinced that multiple applications from the same high school to a highly selective college will surely diminish their own chances at decision time. Admission officials, on the other hand, usually insist that each student is judged on his or her own merits, regardless of how many classmates are in competition.

We feel the truth is somewhere in between. Colleges have varying systems that govern the way applications are read and decisions are made. At some, each candidate from your high school will be evaluated by different admission committee members, and it is only at the very end of the process that “school groups” are compared. Other institutions, however, pay close attention from the get-go to where you fall in the pecking order (e.g., GPA, class rank) in comparison to fellow applicants from your school.

There are a couple of other factors to keep in mind, too. First of all, the most hyperselective colleges are certainly looking for students with top test scores and transcripts, but they are also seeking those with special talents and experiences who will bring unique qualities to their campus. Thus, if ten people from your high school apply to the same college, it may not be the valedictorian or salutatorian who catches an admission official’s eye but someone slightly down the ranking list with good credentials but an extra spark.

Secondly, while some high schools (public, private, charter, etc.) seem to send unwieldy numbers of applicants to the same handful of top colleges, these colleges typically admit quite a few applicants from these strong and/or familiar “feeder schools,” which means that the chances of admission for an individual student aren’t significantly hampered by being one among a sizable crowd.

Nonetheless, if an applicant is what we call “an average outstanding kid” and is, say, number 9 of 16 from the same high school, then he or she probably would have been better off aiming for an institution that is less popular with classmates.

Of course, you will certainly not be admitted to an Ivy League college (or its equivalent) just because you are the only student from your school applying. Even if your grades and test results are well in the admissible range, you will need other qualities to make that tough final cut. Likewise, in some years, top colleges will take well beyond their typical amount of applicants from the same school if the pool looks particularly impressive.

Overall, the number of students who apply to the same college from your high school may have some effect on admission outcomes but not as much as you might suspect. If you are wise, you will apply to colleges that appeal to you, regardless of where your classmates are heading, and you won’t discourage others from pursuing their dreams. However, high school students too often select target colleges simply because they are “hot” on the home front. There are so many excellent choices out there that it would be prudent to have your final list made up of at least a couple places that won’t be trampled by a stampede from your school.