Did you know Warren Buffett was rejected from Harvard Business School? Yes, the most successful investor of the twentieth century was once upon a time turned down by admissions officers from Harvard before his last-minute application and acceptance to Columbia University (and I’m sure Columbia U is laughing all the way to the bank). While Buffett’s isn’t exactly a rags-to-riches success story, it does illustrate one thing: getting into an Ivy League is hard for anyone (unless you share a surname with a building on campus, then maybe not so much).
In the past, College Compass Blogger Calvin wrote a smashing series on the Ivy League admissions process. A Columbia grad himself, Calvin is an excellent resource on the subject, and anyone looking at Ivy League schools would benefit from perusing the series. However, the intent of the series was certainly not to scare potential Ivy Leaguers from even applying! So, in light of the number of comments we’ve received on the series from students concerned that that ONE B in APUSH will forever shatter their dreams, I’ve decided to write a blog that addresses some common concerns in order to assuage some of the admissions-anxiety blues:
What if I made a B?
Trust me, in college, I was .02 GPA points away from graduating Summa Cum Laude, but my diplomas will always say “Magna,” so I know frustrating it is to be almost there. That urge to over-achieve is probably a big part of why you set your sights on the Ivies to begin with and will help drive you through this admissions process, but only if you don’t let your need to be the best keep you up at night.
What if you made a B? Sometimes, even our best work is only deserving of a B. That’s something we have to come to terms with. What’s done is done; study harder and try again next time. Calvin’s article about grades can give a more comprehensive view of how grades enter into the Ivy admissions process.
Life happened, will this affect my chances of getting in?
We get a comment once in a while from a student who has an outstanding record, except for one part of high school where some type of hardship disrupted the usual swing of things. If you, for instance, lost a parent during high school, or were hospitalized for months, this could explain a lapse in high school performance. Most schools have a section on the application where they ask if there’s any other statement you’d like to include; this is not a place to whine about how stressed you were because you took four AP classes junior year, but if you’ve experienced a circumstance that most high school students would not have had to deal with, a short explanation of that circumstance and the time frame (if it affected your grades significantly) is not uncalled for. Though it may seem as though they’re heartless robots, admissions counselors are humans, willing to factor in a shred of empathy if the situation calls for it.
Should I even still apply?
OK, you’re getting a little dramatic. As hard as I try, I don’t understand this question. If your dream is going to an Ivy League school, how are you going to accomplish that if you don’t even apply? Life happens. Again, I know you were hoping to—maybe even haughtily looking forward to—sending that perfect application off to U Penn, but that crabby old spinster whom the school calls a French teacher has tarnished your all-A-since-pre-K record. That’s no reason to tap out in the final hour. Worst case scenario, they reject you and you end up going to one of those liberal West Coast schools that you’ve secretly had your eye on but that your dad claims he won’t pay for (or is that just a Texas dad thing?).
WHAT ELSE CAN I DO?
Sometimes there’s nothing really left to do. I know, again, this advice goes against the very part of your soul that makes you Ivy League potential, but you also don’t want to have a nervous breakdown before you get to college. If your application is full of honors societies, volunteer work, advanced courses, outstanding grades, fabulous test scores, and character-building extracurriculars, what is there to worry about?
Actually, that’s not really a fair question, because there are two things you still need to think about: essays and interviews. Sometimes the most capable, ambitious, and deserving students shoot themselves in the foot because they come off as unsympathetic automatons who have only lived their lives to apply to college. Yes, it’s wonderful that you started your own business in high school, but you’re applying to school with the best of the best and Harvard’s acceptance rate hovers just above 6%. As much as you might think your resume will make you stand out, most of the other applicants are banking on the same thing. In order to truly stand out, you need to be likable, and students who can’t stop talking about their great personal achievements, well, aren’t. It’s a double-edged sword, for sure. Again, Calvin provides great tips and tricks for Ivy League essays and interviews.
Finally, What if I don’t get in?
Give up and don’t go to college. Resign yourself to a life of under-achieving. Settle for less.
In case you couldn’t tell, I was being facetious. At the end of the day, you can only try your best in the admissions process. Beyond that, you have to remember the admissions officers have a few more years in the game than you do; even though you think you’re the perfect Dartmouth applicant, they might think you wouldn’t be the right fit and that you’d be miserable in quiet Hanover, NH. Getting rejected hurts, but if you don’t let it get the best of you, you’ll be just fine. Yes, having a degree from an Ivy League would help you in life, but ultimately, where you go to school is not as important as how you take advantage of the resources you’re provided. In fact, some less competitive schools may look at your incredible application and decide they want to pay you to take advantage of their opportunities, and, depending on who you ask, graduating from undergrad debt-free can be even more valuable than an Ivy League education.
And if you don’t get in, you’re in good company: Ted Turner, Meredith Vieira, and Tom Brokaw are all Ivy League rejects. Perhaps Lee Bollinger, the current president of Columbia University who received a “thanks, but no thanks” letter from Harvard himself many years ago, offers the best advice in this situation: to “allow other people’s assessment of you to determine your own self-assessment is a very big mistake.”