We are the last people to tell you that reputation and prestige don’t matter, but you can get an amazing education from more than just a handful of well known colleges and universities. Maybe your parents have their hearts set on Stanford because it’s where they went. Maybe your grandmother wants you to go to Harvard because, even though she never finished high school, she knows that Harvard is the best university in the world.
Decades ago, these colleges had much higher acceptance rates, mainly because they considered applications from a much smaller number of students. If you were a young gentleman from the Northeast who came from the right sort of family and your father and brothers all went to Princeton, you had a pretty good shot of getting in, even if your grades weren’t anything to write home about.
Fast forward a few generations and the elite universities no longer discriminate against women and minorities and they actively recruit students from all other the world, not just their own corner the U.S. With more and more qualified students competing for the same number of spots at the best known universities, virtually no one is a shoo-in for the Ivy League or Stanford or MIT.
So what can you do to maximize your chances at getting accepted into a great school that will help you on the path to academic and professional success?
Broaden your search.
Don’t limit yourself to schools you already know. There are some amazing colleges and universities across the US you may never have heard of. Figure out what’s important to you first, then start looking at schools that will meet your needs. Don’t limit yourself to schools where your friends are applying or only those schools your parents already know. When you start your college search, start with as broad a list as possible. You can narrow the list down very easily, but later in the process, when you are focused on getting good recommendation letters, writing your essay, and taking admissions tests for the last time, you will feel a lot less freedom to start expanding that search and considering places you hadn’t even heard of the week before.
One of the most amazing things about the United States is the extraordinary diversity of our higher education offerings. It is why we are a top destination for international students. So many of the best universities in the world are right here in America, give some of the lesser known ones a chance to surprise you. You might just find your dream school.