In 2021, the Common Application received more than six million first-year applications to over 1,000 colleges in their system, an 11% increase from 2020. As more students pursue a college education, gaining admission into most schools is getting tougher and tougher.
High schoolers boost their chances by choosing difficult classes, founding clubs, seeking internships, volunteering and much more all at once—all for the goal of impressing their dream school.
“I am a full IB student, co-president of DECA this year, president of Chinese club, the team captain of the badminton team, I won second place at KingCo badminton tournament—just a lot of random accomplishments that’ll hopefully make me stand out,” said senior Katherine Zuo (she/her).
Since most students aiming to attend top colleges have good grades in rigorous courses, students interviewed believe that colleges rely heavily on academic and extracurricular achievements to differentiate applicants.
Junior Justin Huang (he/him), founder of Inglemoor Coding Club, believes that colleges imply that they value clubs, but only if students are passionate for the club’s activities.
“If you just found seven different clubs, but you don’t really do much or have much passion, it won’t really help you in college applications, but if you’re really passionate, as I am for coding or technology, then it will really help you,” said Huang.
Leadership is something colleges look for in potential students. Huang mentioned that one way to show it is through forming clubs and holding leadership positions within them. He feels that the selectivity and high expectations of Ivy League schools are justified by the small number of spots available and the high number of qualified students who apply.
In the class of 2022, four Inglemoor students ended up at an Ivy institution, and College and Career Advisor Jim Allen (he/him) expressed similar sentiments on the selectiveness of such schools.
“We have so many great students that [apply to Ivy League schools] and they don’t get in. You just don’t get that many students in the Ivy League,” said Allen. “It’s valuable to make the effort there. You grow and learn, and you’re doing those things, and you’re really pushing yourself to be the best that you can be at an early age. That draws great things out of students—even though it’s a low probability of admission.”
Allen has worked in college counseling for over 20 years, helping with application instructions and assessing students’ chances of admission. The average application fee is $50, and he wants to save his students as much money and time as possible.
Based on his experience of observing which classes and extracurriculars students participate in over the years, he advised senior William Wang (he/him) on which institutions would best suit him in terms of prospective majors and admissions.
“I didn’t try my best in high school. I think colleges are really good. They don’t need SAT, and I feel like they aren’t too strict. They just really care about your academics, like your GPA,” said Wang, adding that he wished he committed to more extracurricular activities in high school to boost his applications.
For the class of 2023, few colleges require students to submit standardized testing scores. This shifts the focus from earning high test scores to strengthening your applications by highlighting leadership and community engagement.
As a direct effect of the pressure to create clubs and have an impressive resume of extracurriculars, seniors like Liana Moldovanu (she/her) who are applying to top universities continue to worry about college applications.
“Every student who gets into one of the top, prestigious colleges are doing absolutely everything at once—they have to have perfect grades, high test scores and loads of extracurricular activities,” said Moldovanu. “For most students, I think it can feel really overwhelming. A lot of us feel like we’re stretched too thin just trying to do what colleges consider the bare minimum for their applicants.”
However, Allen wants students to realize that Ivy Leagues aren’t the only pathway to a successful future.
“I think the overall idea that you need to go to one of these schools is just garbage,” said Allen. “Just because a school’s easy to get into doesn’t mean it’s not a great school. I think high schoolers and their families could be a lot happier if they didn’t put so much pressure on themselves.”