Today is Ivy Day – a day that top US high school seniors have fearfully anticipated for almost four years. For most international college applicants, on the other hand, it is a completely unfamiliar or very recent source of anxiety. The Wikipedia entry says something about the ceremonial placement of an ivy stone, but for nervous students and eager parents, Ivy Day is the day when Ivy League schools release their acceptance decisions to the rest of the world.
The clock is ticking and I only have a few hours left to post this before decisions are released (7:00 PM EST). And there’s so much I want to say to my students and their friends: past, present and future. But this is Ivy Day for the Class of 2022, so past and future will have to wait. To those of you, today, sitting by your computers, or keeping yourselves busy, or telling yourselves to wait a week before you check your results (so that you can sincerely tell friends and family that you don’t know the decision yet), I want to tell you how proud I am of you.
The fact that you even took this shot means that you worked your butt off to get here, not just in the past whirlwind year of applications, essays and standardized tests, but in grinding out extra-curricular, founding clubs, filling leadership roles and pursuing academic excellence. You should take these moments to appreciate how lucky you are and how much you have accomplished so far.
Today, some of you will get into Ivy League schools. Most of you will not. And while that may sound depressing initially, it shouldn’t be. There is a phenomenon that happens all over the world: many parents and students approach the application process with the unspoken expectation that being the best in high school means attending the very best universities. In my little island home of Trinidad and Tobago, this becomes especially worrisome when coupled with scarce knowledge of acceptance statistics.
Even when applicants come to terms with their slim chances, they still have to deal with the crippling pressure from well-meaning loved ones, who think they are being encouraging with phrases like, “Of course you will get into Cornell. Fingers crossed for Harvard! But we will be proud of you no matter what.” From the moment the applicant hears “of course”, he/ she assumes that not getting into Cornell (for example) means falling below expectations – getting a B where she should have gotten an A. And I can’t stress enough how untrue this is.
Last year, for the class of 2021, 6,277 students were accepted to Cornell out of 44,966 applicants. And the numbers only look worse for the remaining Ivy League schools. The number of valedictorians and club founders and prodigies that will not go to Ivy League schools is staggering. The pool is intensely competitive and some of it is just sheer luck. But more importantly, getting into any of the other top colleges in America is NOT an under-performance. In fact, many of those other schools are even more rigid about their standards, requiring higher GPAs, higher SAT/ ACT scores and more extra-curricular achievements.
I messaged some of my students today to wish them good luck. Student 1: “Oh, I got into all my other schools but they’re safe schools, so waiting for [Ivy] decision!” A quick search confirmed my suspicions – that two of this applicant’s “safeties” were top forty schools. Student 2: “Not sure what time [Ivy] comes out. By the way, I got into my back-ups: [Top 30] schools.” As I spoke to more high-achieving applicants, a theme emerged: these students did not realize what they had already accomplished, had not even thought it worth mentioning prior to today.
I was once in the same boat. I took it for granted that I was a top student with her pick of universities. I remember my parents’ outrage when I got waitlisted to two top programs – how dare they? Then, I remember how grateful I was when I learned that many of my peers, with similar accomplishments and grades, were refused admission outright. Finally, when I stepped foot on Princeton’s campus, I was humbled by the bewildering array of talents that each of my classmates possessed. Had I known my chances prior, I would have been far more realistic.
My fingers are crossed for all of you. I want nothing more than to receive phone calls, texts and emails that are like this, but the process is often mixed and looks something like this or this. Either way, my fellow over-achievers, you should be extremely excited about every single one of your acceptances, not just the top ten schools. You have achieved so much already. University is a stepping stone, not a destination (a big mistake I made in my own life – more to come in later posts). What will you accomplish in the next four years and beyond? If an Ivy is still your ultimate goal (which it should never be), there are graduate school and post-bac programs that will be lucky to have you.
Today is Ivy Day. It is not your list of acceptances or denials tonight that will shape your future, but how you respond to them and who you become from here.
Good luck and congratulations Class of 2022!