PrepWell Podcast


Ep. 220 | Admissions Results, Explained

Learn how an unhooked student faces the prospect of competing against 10,000 similarly-credentialed students for just 300 openings.

In this week's podcast, I dive into this year's crazy admissions results. Take a look at the admit rates of a sampling of popular colleges:

  • Amherst 9%
  • Bowdoin 7%
  • Brown 5%
  • Colby 6%
  • Columbia 4%
  • Dartmouth 5%
  • and the list goes on...

What exactly is going on here?

Single-digit acceptance rates as far as the eyes can see.

I walk through an example of how an unhooked student has to compete against 10,000 similarly-credentialed students for just 300 spots at a popular college.

Show Transcript:

Hello friends, and welcome back to the PrepWell Podcast. Today we are going to confront the realities of this year's college admissions results. By now, with the exception of some waitlists, which usually don't bear much fruit. Most final college admissions decisions have come out and the dust is beginning to settle. And statistically speaking, a lot of you have probably come face to face with the reality of what it's like not to get into your top choice, selective or highly selective college.

For those of you who did get into your top choice school, congratulations! I know a lot of focus is on how tough this year has been, but I do want to celebrate your success and acknowledge how excited and relieved you must be. Enjoy this moment and seize this opportunity to do great things next year. For those of you who didn't get into your top choice school or schools, let's review what you are up against because the numbers are now in.

I want to walk through this year's admit rates for some of the most popular schools that I know many of you applied to. Just to give you an idea of how things turned out, these are 2024 admit rates at about 20 popular colleges in alphabetical order. Let's start off with Amherst. 9% Bowdoin. 7% Brown. 5% Colby. 6% Columbia.

4% Dartmouth. 5% Duke 5% Georgia Tech 14% Harvard 4% MIT 4%. Northwestern 7% Notre Dame 11%. Rice 7%. Swarthmore 7%. Tufts 10%. University of Richmond 22% USC 9% UT Austin 11%. Yale 5%. There you have it. These admit rates are ridiculous. They really are. And I'm not going to rehash all the reasons why this is happening and why it's getting worse by the year.

I've covered that issue in some level of detail in prior episodes. Today I want to discuss why you, as an above average applicant when it comes to grades and apps and SAT scores and extracurriculars and leadership from a good school. Maybe even a great school with a good head on your shoulders. Have your work cut out for you.

When it comes to getting into selective and highly selective colleges. So let's start with an example. Duke University, which this year, as I mentioned, had an admitted rate of 5%. Duke receives about 40,000 applications. I think it may even be close to 50,000. But let's for the for the numbers here, let's assume it's 40,000 applications, which is on the low side.

It only admits about 2000 students. Let's just use that as an example. This describes, by the way, a typical medium sized school. Like many of the ones I just rattled off. So think about it. 40,000 applications for 2000 spots. I know we throw these numbers around sometimes without really thinking about what they actually mean in practice. 40,000 applications for 2000 spots.

Let's break it down even further. Let's say the male to female ratio at a school like Duke is 50%. Now, between you and me, it's probably more like 55% females to 45% males. That's what it's like at most of these schools. But for the sake of easy math, let's just say it's an even split 5050. That means that the school in this case Duke, only admits 1000 males and 1000 females out of 40,000 applications.

That's it. If you are a male, only 1000 acceptance letters go out to other males like you. So other than the obvious low probabilities. Why else is it so hard for you to be one of those thousand? Let's go through the numbers. Starting with 40,000 applications, of which a thousand males get the nod. Let's take a guess that 20% of the thousand male admits were recruited athletes, which means they are definitely getting in.

And let's assume that you are not one of them. That leaves 800 male spots left for you. Now, let's say another 10% of the male admits go to children of faculty, deans, department heads, provosts and other let's call them connected alumni. And you're not one of those. So now we're down to 720 spots left for you. Now let's assume another 25% of the male admits are international students, and they are admitted for the sake of diversity, of course.

And importantly, since they all are full freight payers, meaning they're going to pay full tuition, room board, no questions asked. Assuming that you don't live in Dubai or anywhere else outside of the United States, you don't fall into this category. And now we're down to 540 spots left for you. Let's assume another 25% of the male admits go out to high priority D-ii communities, such as underrepresented minorities, first generation students, the LGBTQIa, plus communities of which you do not belong.

That brings us down to about 400 spots left for you. Now let's carve out another 50 students who have parents who are big donors or celebrities or heads of state or wealthy enough to be considered what they call development cases. And you don't fall into one of these buckets. So the number of spots left for you is now down to 350.

Let's subtract out another 50 students who are from unusual states or territories like South Dakota or Puerto Rico, or they have ROTC scholarships, and students who intend to major in subjects like Greek literature or archeology, which the school needs to keep its humanities department open, as opposed to psychology or computer science or biology or business, which are super popular.

And since that doesn't describe you, we are now left with 300 spots left for students like you. Now, as a practical matter, certainly there are students who fall into several of these categories. Both an LGBTQIa plus student from Puerto Rico. And thus, I might be overstating the case here a little bit. But let's just buy the premise that each of these admitted students falls under just one of these categories, or one of these hooks.

So here's how you have to think about this. Number one, do you fall into any of the above categories? Let's assume not. And two, how many of the other 20,000 male applicants fall into one of these categories? Let's assume not that many. In fact, let's be generous. Let's say that 50% of the 20,000 male applicants like you do not fall into one of these categories.

That would mean that there are 10,000 other male students like you vying for 300 spots. Let me repeat that. 10,000 applications from males without one of these big hooks vying for 300 spots. Of those 10,000 applications, of which yours is one. How many of them do you think have profiles similar to yours? For example, how many of the 10,000 other applications do you think have a four point something GPA?

Took a lot of AP in honors classes. Got a 14 something on the SAT. Got fours and maybe a couple of fives on a few AP exams. Were super active in school clubs. Played a sport. Volunteered during the summer. Founded a nonprofit. Wrote pretty good essays. Received good letters of recommendation. Presumably tutored students during lunch. Live in California or Massachusetts or New York?

Does that sound like your profile? Don't get me wrong, this is a great profile. If this profile represents you, you are absolutely killing it. You are doing life right. You are working hard, studying, taking challenging classes. You're excelling. You're doing everything expected of you and more. You and your parents should be extremely proud. But, but, but even though all of that might be true, that doesn't mean that you're getting into Duke or Bowdoin or Tufts or Yale or Notre Dame.

It just doesn't. And I know that's hard to swallow. And if you weren't thinking about your chances in a realistic way, as I've tried to lay out above, you might have thought that you had a real shot of getting in. You should not. You cannot expect to get into these schools. That's why there's a new category called lottery schools.

Low single digit acceptance schools, especially if you are not a hooked applicant, meaning you don't have one of those elusive checkmarks next to your name. Maybe you would have had a shot five years ago when the admit rate was more like 25% before the world imploded. But that is not the case today. It does not mean that you're not smart enough, or that you didn't work hard enough, or that you wouldn't thrive at any of these schools.

It doesn't mean you did anything wrong or wasted your time. It just means that not every one of those 10,000 highly qualified, smart, energetic, and really motivated male students who look very much like you will get in. There's just not enough room. So where does that leave you? Well, for those seniors who are licking their wounds and trying to come up with a plan B or C or D, I have good news.

About six months from now, what you thought was going to be the be all and end all decision of your lifetime will turn out not to be quite as important after all. You're going to pick a school and visit and get excited and move in and meet your roommates and make friends and start taking classes. And you're never going to look back.

It is very rare that I talk to a students six months into their freshman year in college, and they're still regretful and they're still bitter about why they didn't get into school X or Y. In fact, the most common refrain I hear over and over again is, I can't imagine being anywhere else. And I know that's still tough to hear right now while you're still processing it all, but things have a way of working themselves out, especially if you've done everything right.

So I wish you great luck transitioning, and I commend you for facing a lot of headwinds during this crazy admission season. And for those of you who are in middle school, ninth grade, 10th grade, 11th grade, this admission season should not be cause for panic, but it should be a wakeup call to take this process seriously and deliberately, especially as the cost of college begins to exceed in some cases, $100,000 a year at many of the schools that I've been referencing.

My guess is that until we have a major shift and I mean a major shift in how our country's leadership handles higher education and how the institutions themselves operate, that things will probably get worse. And mind you, we haven't even talked about the UC schools, the University of California schools and their 150,000 plus applications. We think 40,000 50,000 is bad.

How about three times that at the UC schools and their test blind. And they don't take letters of recommendation. I don't even want to get started going down that path. We'll have to deal with that on a different day. If you are an underclassman now and you don't fall into one of those hooked categories that I referenced earlier, recruited athlete LGBT, Q I a community child of a provost, full pay international student, first gen student, ROTC student, and you're still dead set on going to one of these types of schools.

Here are some of your choices. Number one give up. Assume the world is conspiring against you and throw up your hands and get out of the arena. If you can't go to Harvard when you're just as qualified as a classmate who did get in and is going, then you should take your ball and go home. Forget all about college.

Now, I would not suggest taking this path, at least not for that reason. But I guess it's an option. Option number two find your way into one of these categories, into one of these hooks. Now, assuming that you can't change your race or who your parents are, the categories that may be most in your control are probably the recruited athlete pathway or the ROTC pathway.

Both, by the way, take up a lot of upfront work and guidance, which we obviously provide here at Prep Academy. Option number three keep working hard. Keep grinding. Don't let the craziness distract you from developing a relentless work ethic. Be it academic or athletic, or in your volunteer work or in your job, work ethic will trump what any college will do for you.

No matter how selective or fancy sounding. Option number four improve your chances. Leave no doubt be so good that they can't ignore you. Instead of worrying or complaining or scheming, just get better. Become the best version of yourself. You can do this by joining Prep Academy, listening to my weekly advice, working with me privately or one on one, tightening up your application, being more intentional about the process.

Telling a tighter and more compelling story, writing better essays, getting stronger letters of recommendation, being thoughtful and strategic about your extracurricular activities. I work with many students who don't fall into one of these hooked categories, but who still get into some of these schools. But it's not without work and early planning and motivation. Option number five. Manage your expectations.

Don't find yourself becoming a slave to a top ten school or God forbid, an Ivy League school if you can pull it off and afford it. Great. I'm all for it, but don't become obsessed by it, especially if you don't fall into any of these categories. Number six. Start early. I harp on this all the time. The earlier you start figuring these things out, the better.

The longer you wait to find your place in this college admissions process, a deeper hole you will dig. Which is why I want you to be diligent about watching your weekly prep well, videos early, starting in ninth grade, 10th grade, and checking in with me as needed to make sure you're staying on track. Option number seven. Keep an open mind if you actually do what I ask of you and your weekly prep will lessons.

You will have a much better idea about what you might enjoy studying in college or doing for a living. And that might mean that you take a gap year. That might mean that you start out at a community college, or you go to a trade school, or you consider the military, or you wind up taking the traditional path.

But by doing these things and keeping an open mind, you will understand that not all roads have to lead to the Ivy League or a top 20 school, and you will be more than okay with that. Some of you will embrace this path and never look back. That's all I've got for you today, folks. Thank you for tuning in.

Thank you for your continued support. In case you didn't know, this podcast supports Prep Academy's online mentoring program. Or high schoolers and their parents receive weekly videos from me where I break down important topics and give timely advice about college admissions, particularly for top tier colleges, service academies, and for ROTC and athletic scholarships. Many parents who listen to this podcast already have their high schoolers enrolled in Prep Academy, which is great.

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Podcast Host:

PrepWell Academy's Founder, Phil Black, has spent a lifetime cracking the code on the world's most competitive programs: Yale University, Harvard Business School, Navy SEALs, Goldman Sachs, Entrepreneurship, Shark Tank (2X), etc.

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Inside PrepWell Academy, Black teaches students everything they need to know about the college admissions process in a series of expertly-timed, 3-5-minute, weekly training videos starting in 9th grade and continuing through 12th grade [Note: this program can only be joined in 9th or 10th grade]. My specialties include military service academies, ROTC scholarships, Ivy League, and student-athletes.

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