Bradshaw College Consulting

Wednesday, June 1, 2016


Dear Mr. Bradshaw,

I am putting together a list of colleges to apply to this fall and I have been told that I should consider a few backup college choices in the event that I do not get admitted to one of my top choices. So far I have 20 top tier colleges on my list, but I plan to pare that down to ten or 12. My concern is that all of the schools that interest me rank at or near the top in the college rankings. My guidance counselor tells me that even second-tier colleges are becoming more selective and suggested that I take that into consideration when I select my backup schools. I would like your thoughts.

— High school senior

Dear High School Senior:

Back up your college choices in competitive market



Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth and the other Ivy League colleges are considered first-tier schools and are very difficult to gain admission to even with an outstanding academic record. Admission rates range from 5.2 percent at Harvard to 10.5 percent at Dartmouth. Stanford, while not an Ivy, admitted only 4.69 percent of applicants to the class of 2020.

Your counselor is right in saying that second-tier colleges can be as admissions-competitive as first tier schools. Each year the admissions percentages at these schools is diminishing. Northwestern and Notre Dame are generally considered second-tier colleges with admission rates of 10.7 percent and 18.3 percent, respectively, but many students who apply to these schools as backups are rejected even though they have records similar to those of students admitted to the Ivy League. With the huge increase in outstanding international applicants at top colleges, second-tier colleges are now considered "the new Ivy League."

It is true that 30 to 40 second-tier colleges and universities like Northwestern and Notre Dame actually benefit by admitting students turned down from schools like Harvard and Princeton because the academic records of these students have actually helped them climb in the overall rankings.

Many students are shocked when they are rejected or wait-listed by a second-tier college. Students who may not get admitted to Northwestern, Notre Dame, NYU, Washington University in St. Louis, Rice, Emory or Georgetown are grateful that they picked backup colleges where admission is less competitive.

One of the reasons that admission to top-tier schools is getting more difficult is simply one of supply and demand. The number of students graduating from high school has been increasing, and more students are interested in applying to top universities. Many high achieving students also are applying to more colleges than in the past — hedging their bets due to the uncertainty of the admissions process.

The overflow of students applying to second-tier colleges also has created its own spillover. Many state colleges and universities are seeing their rankings increase because students with higher grades and test scores are now enrolling.

Listen to your high school counselor and begin to think more broadly about the college application process. You need good backup schools to depend on but you need to make sure that all of your choices are a good "fit." Review your options carefully, read the blogs, and make sure that you schedule a visit to the campus.

Gerald Bradshaw is an international college admission consultant with Bradshaw College Consulting in Crown Point.

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