(The following is a guest post by JJ Shaw, an incoming freshman at Columbia College, and pretty much sums up why you should never visit the “chance me” forums at College Confidential.)
College Confidential is “the world’s largest college forum.” Except in this world, 2400s aren’t merely enough.
It has a long history of feeding the egocentric tendencies of high achieving seniors. It inflates the self-worth of some, all while crushing the confidence of otherwise perfectly capable college-bound students.
1. It attracts the obnoxious.
Some describe the site as the one of the worst sections of the internet–a cesspool of elitist and overqualified applicants. Others see it more as a coagulation of otherwise stressed kids trying to relieve some of the pressure. With 17 qualified students vying for a single spot at the nation’s top colleges, one can only wonder what happens behind the scenes and beneath the veneer of anonymity.
2. Chance Me’s kill your esteem.
Let’s look at a popular post: the Chance Me thread, which has long been enshrined in College Confidential’s long history. The premise of Chance Me is straightforward: a person posts his own statistics (GPA, test scores, interests, or clubs) and seeks his chances of admission to a school from supposedly random CC members. Sufficient information is given, but not enough to identify the exact person.
Sam from New York:
Hello, my name is Sam. I was wondering if I could get into any colleges with these terrible credentials. Will someone please help me!?
Here it goes: 6.0 GPA (on 4.0 scale); Perfect SATs; President of 5 clubs and Vice President of another 3; Started 2 new clubs; Valedictorian of cohort; 5 hours of Community Service every week bar Sundays; Volunteered in Lagos to build homes; Wrote a Pulitzer Prize-ready College Application essay; Phenomenal recommendations from Michelle Obama; Captain of Ice Hockey, Soccer, Tennis and Rugby; Conductor of Jazz Band; Fluent in Greek, French, Chinese and Spanish.
Do you think I am ready for community college?
A cursory look and we know that “Sam” is a typical overachiever.
No 4.0 GPA? You’re out. Only President of 2 clubs? Get out of here. Asian without a perfect SAT? Good luck even getting an interview.
3. Liars are everywhere.
While Chance Me threads have traditionally been useful for students to benchmark themselves against their competition, it has developed over the years to be a dumping ground for cynical and often contemptuous students.
Potential posters lurk in the shadows of the Ivy League thread and post demeaning comments that discourage other applicants. They spread false rumor and sarcasm, often to the point of humor. The word on the street goes that these keyboard warriors will claw their way to regaining fractions of a percentage benefit of eventual acceptance to their dream school.
4. Fortune tellers are just round the corner.
Some CC regulars absolutely implore that one must retake a 2390/2400 for the SATs as top colleges demand perfection. Other seasoned members instead push test takers to try for a less than perfect score because “2400s are regularly rejected”.
And exactly once did I see the mysterious happen: 5 CC members collectively agreed that user1098, after publishing his collection of “stats,” had a 22.8 chance of getting into Yale. Harvard was then judged to be a “high reach” school for user1098, while MIT was very much “a strong possibility.”
College Confidential does indeed bring out the best of internet trolls.
5. College Confidential knows you’ll always come back.
While these threads may serve as an escape valve for much of the anxiety and nervousness surrounding the college admissions process, they almost always end up making the journey a whole lot more frustrating.
You’re always looking for the next post, the next chance me, and the next rant on how the admissions game has become so inhumane.
But every time that notification comes, a rush of dopamine shoots through your nerves: someone has finally “chanced you”–for a 29.8% chance at UC Berkeley.
Guesstimations from other applicants won’t help–but that email in late March will.
Applying to college isn’t all about the essays, even though it can sometimes feel that it is. The essays are one of your chances to stand out from the pile, but without the grades, scores, rigorous high school record, and teacher recommendations, admission to the uppermost most selective colleges is generally out-of-reach.
Part of being a successful applicant is choosing wisely where you’ll apply. How will you know? Study the college’s website and its writing supplements for clues about the kind of students they’re looking for. Read the entries in The Best 380 Colleges, and in The Insider’s Guide to the Colleges – and look honestly at your own record. Yale and the other top universities don’t make decisions based exclusively on top grades and top SAT/ACT scores. Keep in mind these words from the Yale admissions website:
“We estimate that over three quarters of the students who apply for admission to Yale are qualified to do the work here. Between two and three hundred students in any year are so strong academically that their admission is scarcely ever in doubt. But here is the thing to know: the great majority of students who are admitted stand out from the rest because a lot of little things, when added up, tip the scale in their favor. So what matters most in your application? Ultimately, everything matters. The good news in that is that when so many little things figure into an admissions decision, it is fruitless to worry too much about any one of them.
“Every applicant brings something unique to the admissions committee table. Perhaps one application stands out because of sparkling recommendations, while another presents outstanding extracurricular talent; maybe your personality shines through a powerful written voice, or maybe your keen mathematical mind packs more punch. Our goal is to assemble a diverse, well-rounded freshman class, and that means admitting exceptional individuals of all types. You may find this answer unsatisfying, but we assure you that it is true: the part of the application that carries the most weight is different from applicant to applicant.”
This article from the Yale Daily News lays out the numbers for recent classes, including the class of 2020 – and it includes this excellent news for this year’s applicants: “The class of 2020 will be the last class of roughly 1,360 students, as subsequent classes are set to expand by 15 percent for the four years after Yale opens its two new residential colleges in fall 2017.” Yale admitted 1972 students from the most recent pool; final class size will be about 1360 students.
This past year, Yale reviewed 31,455 applications, the largest applicant pool by 500, and chose 6.49% for admissions to the class of 2020.”This is the fifth year in a row that Yale’s acceptance rate has remained in the 6 percent range, after hovering around 7.5 percent from 2009 to 2011.”
If Yale University is on your list, visit its website and watch the four videos by members of the Admissions Office, especially the first, on writing the essays. Yale requires the Common Application essay as well as a few supplements. One is 100 words on Why Yale. Another is 500 words on a subject of your choice – anything: academic, personal, or an elaboration on something you mentioned elsewhere. Another is on what you’d bring to the suite you’re likely to live in. And you’re likely to see a group of questions requiring very brief answers.
I’ve had the privilege and pleasure of working with a good number of Yale applicants – of whom a good number were admitted. All were top students and, I imagine, all could do the work at Yale. Those who got the letter that began “Congratulations” stood out even in the crowd of excellent students: As high school juniors and seniors, they displayed impressive accomplishments in many areas and an unmistakably high degree of intellectual and cultural curiosity, sophistication, and dexterity. Each was very different from the others in their specific talents and interests – and none, as I recall, were athletes or legacies.
As you turn to your college application essays this summer, whether it’s the Common App essay or the many supplements that highly selective colleges require, keep in mind that they are one piece of the admissions puzzle, not the entire picture of you.
If you’re a top flight student applying to the most selective colleges, the essays need to confirm the rest of your application – and show another dimension of who you are, beyond what’s in your transcript and on your activities list.
If you’re applying to less competitive schools with a good but not outstanding record, the essays can really help call attention to your application, and the essays might need to work a little harder.
And if your academic profile has more than a few weaknesses, the essays can do a lot to compensate for them.
There are hundreds of excellent colleges beyond the Ivies and beyond the most selective. There’s good news in the reference books I mention above.
Please contact me for more information: Liz@DontSweatTheEssay.com 1-855-99-ESSAY.