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Is It Really More Difficult To Get Into the Ivy League Now Than It Used to Be?

Oooh…I can’t resist.

As a college admissions consultant, I am just going to have to disagree that somehow kids today are “better” than we were.  This is not true.  We were all pretty amazing in our own right.  Sure, back in the fall of 1980, we were all more amazed by the incredible people around us than we were in ourselves.  Many of us crossed the Green every day, looked up at Baker Tower, and wondered how the heck we were so fortunate to be chosen to attend Dartmouth.

Today’s kids are certainly much more busy than we were.  The “requirements” for admission have seemingly gone up.  And in a sense this is because there is a perceived need to be all things to all people in order to get admitted.  But in my experience, the kids who are admitted are not superhuman.  They have focus.  They have some drive and energy.  And as a result of that focus, they have accomplished some pretty cool stuff.

And we, ourselves, accomplished more in high school than we give ourselves credit for–on the field, in the classroom, on the stage, in our communities.  Yes, today’s kids applying for college are a talented bunch. But so were we.

One last thing:  our message to kids today should not be that they should be superhuman.  Rather, we should teach them to focus on contributions and achievements in the things that matter to them.  We should not reinforce the message (that is well-established urban legend in high schools today) that kids must break their necks to do thousands of hours of service, win the state championship, write-and then star in–the school play, AND win the Intel science award.  Any one of those things, by itself, will be plenty–and if coupled with good grades/scores and good recommendations–will be enough to get accepted to a highly competitive college or university.

By reinforcing this idea that “busy is better,” we are actually driving our young people into the ground.  I work with many who never sleep, who worry incessantly, who are just, plain unhappy in high school.  Why?  Because they believe this myth:  that only the superhuman get into places like Dartmouth.  So they try to attain this mythical ideal such that they lose their focus, spread themselves too thin, and ultimately fail in their bid for the top schools.

Two things do remain true. First, it’s not easy to get into places like Dartmouth.  Second, Dartmouth people, by and large, have figured out what’s important to them.  Each of us has talent, skill, drive, and commitment.  The nice thing is that we all have different sets of those things.  And we had those things back in the spring of 1980 when we received our acceptance letters–just as a new crop of lucky kids has them in equal measure.

So my message:  recognize that getting into Dartmouth today is essentially no different than it was in our day.  A few things have changed about the admissions process itself. But today’s young people are no more or less capable than those of yesteryear.

Mark Montgomery
Educational Consultant
Dartmouth College Graduate

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