Admissions notices went out by the thousands last week. While many students received good news, plenty of rejection letters were sent out as well. Harvard, the standard by which many measure the world of highly competitive admission, reported an acceptance rate of 6.2%.
This is good news if you were among the 6.2%. Even better news for Harvard because dropping acceptance rates equal a higher selectivity rating, a key factor in US News’ annual rankings, and bragging rights.
But is 6.2% good news for the rest of us? I don’t believe it is.
1. It makes college admissions appear indeterminate and unattainable.
Harvard rejected plenty of valedictorians, students with perfect SAT scores, and applicants with stellar resumes. I worked with a couple valedictorians this year. Neither applied to Harvard. Both were admitted to a number of top universities, but they also received rejection or wait list notices from Ivy League or Ivy-like schools. These students seem to have everything colleges are looking for – grades, scores, activities, leadership, recommendations, outstanding essays, and great interviews. When top students like these aren’t admitted, it sends a powerful message to other students that the admissions standards are simply unattainable.
2. It creates a vicious cycle that promotes even lower acceptance rates for next year.
When students, parents, and counselors see record low rates of acceptance they conclude that extra measures will need to be taken to assure acceptance. Next fall, seniors, worried by the results from this spring, will apply to even more schools. It is becoming more common for students to apply to ten or more colleges. (I remember when my five applications were on the high end among my classmates!) As schools receive record number of applications for the same limited number of coveted spaces, the acceptance rate declines and the cycle begins all over again, fueling even more panic for the next year.
Congratulations to the 6.2% who were admitted into Harvard; best wishes for your college studies. But I can’t say I’m happy with what this 6.2% represents for the rest of us.