Bradshaw College Consulting

August 29, 2019

Educated Advice Columnist
Gerald M. Bradshaw

Dear Mr. Bradshaw, 

I am compiling a list of colleges to apply to next fall. So far, I have 20 top-tier colleges on my list, but I plan to pare that down to 10 or 12. My concern is that all of the schools that I am interested in rank at or near the top in the college rankings. I have been told that I should consider backup selections in the event that I do not get admitted to one of my top choices. My guidance counselor says 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

A range of college choices that match your interests
will make the application process easier

Dear High School Senior, 

In general, most students apply to seven to 10 colleges. This total is split among reach schools, target schools and safety schools.

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. This year admission rates ranged from 4.5 percent at Harvard to 7.9 percent at Dartmouth. Stanford, while not an Ivy, is certainly considered a top school, and they admitted only 4.3 percent of applicants in 2018, the latest published figure.

Second-tier colleges are now as admissions-competitive as first-tier schools. Each year the admissions percentages at these schools is diminishing. Northwestern and Notre Dame are considered second-tier colleges with admission rates of 8.9 percent and 15.4 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 Ivies. Because of the increase in outstanding international applicants at top colleges, second-tier colleges are now considered “the new Ivy League.” Thirty to 40 second-tier colleges and universities have actually benefitted by admitting students turned down from schools like Harvard and Princeton. The academic records of these outstanding students have helped them climb in the overall college 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 ticking upward for several years now, and more students are interested in applying to top universities.

Many high achieving students 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.

Your high school counselor is right about having backups. Begin thinking more broadly about the college application process. First of all, you need to make sure that all of your choices are a good “fit.” You did not mention your career aspirations, but I would urge you to consider state schools on your list because it could be financially advantageous as well as academically wise. This is why you need to do a deep dig into all of your choices. Review your options carefully, read the blogs, and make sure that you schedule a campus visit. 

Contact Gerald Bradshaw, The US States Top college consultant. One-on-one college consulting. Get help with the college application essay. Make you dream of being admitted into Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Cornell, Brown, Dartmouth and the University of Pennsylvania a reality. 


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