Highly Selective College Admissions


Thank you to our guest speaker Arun Ponnusamy, Head Counselor and Vice President of Collegewise, for joining us at BHHS and sharing his expertise and knowledge with our families with his presentation on Highly Selective College Admissions! Please take a look at a recap below:

Let’s define “selective” Colleges/universities that accept 20% or fewer students in admissions are considered selective institutions. So out of the over 3,000 four-year universities in the United States, about 40 to 60 are in the “selective” category. Keep this statistic in mind. Why? Because there are LOTS of accessible options for you. The truth is the vast majority of colleges in the United States are admitting their students. Even more exciting, there are some truly great schools! Great schools buried throughout the United States. So educate yourself on what highly selective colleges are actually looking for, but also gear up to explore more options.

What’s the mindset? There is now a pretty scary tendency to associate colleges with a sense of self worth. The sense that self worth is tied to the name of a college on a bumper sticker, or a sweatshirt, and that defines success…a measure of whether or not you as a student or your son or daughter will be successful in life. Let’s be frank, this is absolutely not true. So shift your mindset. Avoid setting up a narrative in your mind (or your son or daughter’s mind) that there is only one great program, one great college as an option.

What’s an actual measure of how successful a student will be upon graduation? A student’s four year experience (the classes they take, the professors they encounter, the mentorships fostered, the networking and connections they make with peers, internships, etc.) Keep this in mind when creating a list of colleges to apply to.

We encourage and strive to have everyone build a BALANCE list of colleges (balanced meaning not ALL reaches or highly selective) Students should be just as excited at the thought of attending their safety and target schools versus only the reach ones. Why? Well this is not an all or nothing deal. If a student doesn’t get into their reach choice school, their life is not simply over.

Grit, resilience, networking, being open to opportunity, goal setting, routine, hard work; these are a few qualities that make for a successful person in life.

So we challenge you to explore colleges that will be a good fit for you, beyond just the name. For a guide to a well-balanced college list, please download on the RESOURCE page.

Highly Selective Colleges and the Reality

Arun does a fantastic job of utilizing data to put this world into perspective. There are about 38,000 high schools in the United States alone. So when you are the valedictorian or your class president, or even the top 1% academically in your class, there are also 38,000 OTHER valedictorians, senior class presidents and even more students in the top 1%.

This isn’t meant to scare you, but it is meant to show you the reality of colleges accepting downwards of 13% to even lower. That while you may be the top in your class and have stellar extracurricular activities, there are thousands with equally stellar applications. And there still is a chance for rejection. So where do we go from here (and trust me, there are LOTS of places to go).

  1. Take a look at some of the traits highly selective colleges are looking for in applications…do you have what it takes to be considered?
  2. Explore great colleges that fit YOU and create a well-balanced college list

Traits highly selective colleges are looking for in applications

What’s the formula? There is none! Selective colleges have their pick of students who are thriving in their academic environment, taking the most demanding/rigorous classes at their high school and performing exceptionally in this coursework. So they’ll look to your character, your passion, your narrative, who you are as a person and why it’s a good match to attend their university.

Are you a good match? This is a really personal process in which colleges want to admit students who not only will be successful and handle the rigor academically, but be a good fit for the university and thrive. Admission officers will be thinking, “What would this person be like on our campus?” Selective universities are not all the same so it’s your job to get to know each university so when you write your application you are confident and can clearly identify with the mission and programs at each university you apply to.

  • What would be a perfect school for you (if you could dream up a university, what would it look like?)

Your application should not be a one-size-that-fits all. Do your homework, get specific.

Evidence of passion (academics and through extracurricular activities) Did you do something you because your mother made you or because you genuinely love it? You will be writing about your experiences and your interests, so be mindful, if it’s something that you picked up to check a box it’s probably not going to come through as genuine. Do an interest survey. How are you spending time outside the classroom? Is it meaningful to you? Get creative with your interests. Video games could turn into computer programming or graphic design! Summer is another opportunity that should be filled with exploration, don’t waste this time! (Also, an actual job should never be looked down upon either!)

Evidence of curiosity and a love of learning Professors will expect that you are engaging and an active participant in the classroom. Think outside the box (read for fun, listen to podcasts, be curious and interested in learning!)

  • Have you been taking the most demanding curriculum in your school and excelling?
  • Are you curious and engaging in the classroom?
  • Have you looked at your interests and explored them in a meaningful, creative way?
  • If you were to write an essay about yourself and your interests, what would it look like?
  • Why are you applying to (insert selective university)? Is it because someone told you to? Or because the school’s mission, curriculum and programs reflect you as a student?

Explore great colleges…why are they great…because you they are great for YOU

Remember when we discussed to be wary this all or nothing mentality? Remember when we reminded you that the definition of success is not defined by a single name of the university you attend? Well this is the fun part. There are hundreds and thousands of colleges that have incredible programs! So start searching!

See my recommendations for college search resources HERE.

Great guidebook!  Fiske Guide to Colleges by Edward B. Fiske http://www.fiskeguide.com/

Recommended read, Where You Go is Not Who You’ll Be by Frank Bruni

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