As August 1st approaches and deadlines loom, it’s easy for students and parents to go into the high alert phase. Common App opens for you, class of 2023. It’s time to add your colleges to the application. You have completed the Common App part of the Common App (or should have) and the Common App essay is in good shape. Whichever supplemental essay prompts were unknown will be there for us to see on August 1st. So many details and so much work!

But is it really? After adding colleges to the Common Application, you must answer their questions. Some of these ask if you have been employed at the college, have a relative who was employed there, which extracurricular activities you might choose, and if you have been arrested. Most official forms are far more complicated and nuanced.

So what requires more focused attention?

Supplemental Essays:

Most ask why you want to attend a college and/or choose a particular program. We have an easy formula to follow for creating a unique response for each school. Others are about extracurriculars and other common topics. A few are long, most are not.

Have a parent/student conversation about the following...have your answers now.

Choosing a major/college within the college to apply to: it’s the moment of truth, but be honest: if you’re undecided, say so. Remember that you will likely work for a business whether you major in business or not--that business major/college is tailored for students who know they have a strong aptitude/interest in a specific aspect of economics. Review Academic Offerings on the website before choosing.

Financial Aid:

Don’t check that you will be applying for “need-based financial aid” if you know you don’t qualify for it, especially if you are applying to colleges that are tough admits. Not sure? It takes 10 minutes: just go to the College’s EFC (Expected Family Contribution) or NPC (Net Price Calculator) and enter your financial information.

The way to less college stress is simply handling and completing tasks, one at a time, on schedule. There are plenty, but they are generally not complicated. How to make it happen: keep emotions out of the process after August 1st.


The truth:

  • Princeton and Stanford, among others, are not disclosing their admit rates. Harvard, Columbia, and MIT had admit rates under 4%.

  • Sixteen colleges and universities now have admit rates under 10%.

  • Some admit rates dropped precipitously in one year: New York University from 21% in 2021 to a 12.2% admit rate in 2022.

  • Northeastern University is now an “unlikley” for all applicants.

Test-optional policies and grade inflation caused by the pandemic drove this huge increase in applications. The above focuses on a small sample of highly-selective colleges because the result trickles down to affect all colleges. See 2019 (pre-COVID-19) numbers because the pandemic already caused a skew in the numbers for 2020.

Many parents went to highly selective colleges. They assume that their kids have high rigor and straight As and assume they can also attend highly selective colleges. But the landscape is nothing like what it was back then, or even two years ago. My colleague Bari Norman held a virtual presentation in which she brilliantly compared admissions rates at all 8 of the Ivy Leagues in 1992 to today’s admissions rates and the equivalent colleges.

It’s a fact that many kids have worked very hard. When they hear how difficult it is to get into many highly selective colleges, they often wonder, what was it all for? The truth is that every one of these students will go to a GREAT college even if does not have the name they thought it would have.

Being prepared with the truth means knowing and understanding why you will likely not be admitted to the most selective schools–those I call unlikelies. The right college is one that gives you the resources, space, and support to go out and create your success–that’s what we mean by fit. Research, visit, and learn about colleges to discover the truth about them–then go out there and make real changes in the world.


From a Kaplan survey of College Admissions Officers:

  • 68 percent said that a 3, 4, or 5 on an AP exam generally earned a student college credit.

  • 66 percent said such a score would earn a student the right to skip entry-level courses.

  • Only 22 percent said it would result in a boost in an applicant's chances of admission.

Surprised? Even though well over half of the responding colleges gave college credit for a 3, less than a quarter said a score of 3, 4, or 5 would provide any admissions boost.

This is, however, to be expected based on NACAC's State of College Admissions report. We see that what matters to college admissions is the GRADE students received in college prep courses, which would include AP courses (rated as Considerable Importance, the top category, by 73% of responding colleges), NOT the AP test score (only 5.5% rated it Considerable Importance, while 41% indicated it was of no importance at all in admission decisions). That may be why the grade in the rigorous college prep course might be the more fair thing to use (instead of an AP test score, even a 4 or 5).

If applicants hope that their AP scores would literally pay off (save money by graduating earlier) once they got to college, they need to check the AP score policies at their colleges. As that Kaplan data suggests, 68% said a score of 3 would generally earn the student credit at their institution. This is where having a 4 or 5 can make a big difference. Curious to see which colleges give credit/advanced standing for which AP courses and for what scores? Check this link.

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