Posted on April 25, 2022

To Get Into the Ivy League, ‘Extraordinary’ Isn’t Always Enough These Days

Douglas Belkin, Wall Street Journal, April 21, 2022

Kaitlyn Younger has been an academic standout since she started studying algebra in third grade.

She took her first advanced-placement course as a freshman, scored 1550 on her SATs as a junior at McKinney High School near Dallas and will graduate this spring with an unweighted 3.95 grade-point average and as the founder of the school’s accounting club. Along the way she performed in and directed about 30 plays, sang in the school choir, scored top marks on the tests she has so far taken for 11 advanced-placement classes, helped run a summer camp and held down a part-time job.

“She is extraordinary,” said Jeff Cranmore, her guidance counselor at McKinney High School.

Ms. Younger, 18 years old, was cautiously optimistic when she applied to top U.S. colleges last fall. Responses came this month: Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Brown, Cornell, University of Pennsylvania, University of Southern California, University of California, Berkeley, and Northwestern all rejected her.

“I expected a bunch wouldn’t accept me,” she said. “I didn’t expect it to be this bad.”

The responses are part of a wave of rejections swamping top students who applied to many highly selective schools during the most competitive year on record. Now, students have until May 1 to let schools know where they will attend.

Harvard received a record 61,220 applications during the current admissions year and accepted 1,954 (3.2%). Brown received a record 50,649 applications and offered admission to 2,546 (5%). Yale received 50,015 applications and admitted 2,234 (4.5%). University of California, Los Angeles, received a record 149,700 applications, 10,000 more than last year; the school’s acceptance rate wasn’t available.

A reason applications were so inflated is because more than three-quarters of colleges and universities have stopped mandating entrance exams. With that barrier removed, more students tried their luck at selective schools that placed greater emphasis on grades, academic rigor and racial and socio-economic diversity.

The result is that while many less prestigious schools are struggling to fill their classes, the most selective U.S. schools are drawing from a broader applicant pool—and that is driving the bar for admission higher than in past years.


For students such as Ms. Younger, the odds are particularly long. She is a middle-class white female from a public high school in Texas who wants to study business. Each characteristic places her in an overrepresented group, said Sara Harberson, a former admission officer at University of Pennsylvania and now a private college-admissions counselor.

Nearly half of white students admitted to Harvard between 2009 and 2014 were recruited athletes, legacy students, children of faculty and staff, or on the dean’s interest list—applicants whose parents or relatives have donated to Harvard, according to a 2019 study published in the National Bureau of Economic Research.

At Harvard, low-income students with top academic scores had an admit rate of 24% compared to 15% for all other applicants, according to a 2013 study by the school. Harvard has said it believes enrolling a diverse student body is important because the school wants students to learn to work with people from different backgrounds.

“The middle class tends to get a little bit neglected,” said Hafeez Lakhani, a private college counselor in New York who charges $1,200 an hour. “Twenty years ago, Ms. Younger would have had a good shot at an Ivy League school.”


Ms. Younger said she doesn’t know why she was rejected but thinks her two B’s during sophomore year were problematic, along with her demographic profile.