Stop applying to Harvard. Yes, we’re serious. Stop applying to Harvard. More than 37,000 college hopefuls applied to Harvard for the class of 2019, with just under 2100 accepted. We’ll save you from doing the math — that’s less than a 6% acceptance rate. Yet, the reason you shouldn’t apply to Harvard isn’t because you likely won’t get in — exactly the opposite — it’s because almost anyone that applied could have.
Hear us out. We can assume that, by and large, all applicants to Harvard meet a modicum standard of excellence: stellar test scores, AP coursework, myriad extracurriculars, and talents galore. Is the 2100th student admitted to the Harvard class of 2019 objectively more excellent than applicant number 2101? No, he isn’t. More than that, any one of the 2100 admitted students could be replaced with many of those rejected and the class of 2019 would maintain its caliber.
Selecting which colleges to apply to is a huge decision. You’ll be spending four or more years of your life, and possibly tens of thousands of dollars there, so you want it to be a decision you’ll be happy with. And so, applying to schools based on a fuzzy concept like name or prestige is the wrong motivation, and applicants that focus on these criteria alone do themselves a disservice. If you’re finding yourself applying to all Ivy League schools, ask yourself why any of them would take a chance on you if you see them as interchangeable? In your application essays and interviews, you’ll need to make a case for how you fit each school, and how that school fits you, and this is much easier to do if you’re sincere in your desires, and not just after a prestigious name.
Instead, look beyond single-digit rankings and shiny names and think about your journey through and beyond college. What do you want to be in college? What do you want to do after college? If you want to experience the bright lights and big city, Dartmouth is not going to satisfy this craving. If you’re looking forward to a career in engineering, you’d do better at Harvey Mudd College or at UC Berkeley. No level of prominence is going to supplant the opportunities you’ll miss by attending a school that doesn’t match your needs. As a great student, you can seek and find your opportunities at any school, regardless of ranking. Remember that the school won’t make you, and that you ultimately will have the responsibility of shaping your college experience.
So, stop blindly applying to Harvard, and start applying to colleges with purpose. If Harvard makes sense for you, great, but you may find out that after honest soul-searching, you have a far better match elsewhere.