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If Highly Selective Colleges Are on Your List

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The first colleges that many students learn about are famous, highly selective schools like Yale and Harvard. But what does it take to get in?

About 50-60 U.S. colleges are considered "highly selective." They have admission rates of 33 percent or less. For some, admission rates are in the single digits.

An Outstanding Academic Record Is No Guarantee of Admission

Many applicants to highly selective colleges have perfect GPAs, strong performance in AP and IB courses, sky-high SAT and ACT scores, amazing extracurricular and leadership resumes, enthusiastic letters of recommendation, and compelling personal statements. They show exceptional talent in academics, athletics, and the arts. Many are turned away. And most are turned away by the most selective colleges.

It Takes an "X Factor" to Get In

Admissions officers at highly selective colleges say that they look beyond grades and test scores when evaluating students for admission. But just what gets one stellar student admitted and another denied is so elusive that for almost every student, a highly selective college is always a reach.

Will a Selective College Really Give You What You Need?

Highly selective colleges are not for everyone. For some students, they are a perfect fit. For others, not so much.

  • The competition doesn't end after admission. The academic pace at these colleges is blistering. You will be surrounded by top-achieving students, many of whom actually enjoy the pressure. Professors will expect you to master challenging course material without much hand-holding. Even if you were a top student, you may struggle to get top grades and be noticed by professors.
  • The extracurricular action can be just as demanding and intense. You might find yourself participating in an award-winning student newspaper or a championship intramural sports team. While these experiences may be highly rewarding, you might find yourself wondering when you'll have time to breathe.

Highly Selective Colleges Have Their Own Personalities

No two colleges are alike, and highly selective colleges are no exception. Some are small and some are large. Some are located in cities and some are rural. Some emphasize academic achievement and some highly value real-world experiences. Some attract serious, intellectual students and some boast of their "wacky" student culture.

Evaluate such schools the same way you would any college by first considering how well such a school matches your own requirements.

Have Some Backups Just in Case

No matter how determined you are to attend a highly selective college, and no matter how good you think your chances are, find plenty of "backup" schools. Many colleges offer the qualities of the highly selective schools, minus some of the pressure.

And you may very well attend one of them.

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