I went to an Ivy League School, and there were plenty of people who were just devastated that they did not get into Harvard (a smaller number for Yale and Princeton, I think; see also "We Didn't Go To Harvard"). Cornell has a reputation as the easiest Ivy to get into and the hardest to get out of, and to a certain extent maybe the numbers bear that out. It's accept rate is higher than many of the Ivies, around 20%.
The stories in the New York times in the last several days (For Girls, It’s Be Yourself, and Be Perfect, Too and A Great Year for Ivy League Schools, but Not So Good for Applicants to Them ) have been interesting, but send conflicting messages about what may really be going on.
The article about how in order to secure admission to the best colleges, especially liberal arts colleges, suggest that these high school girls feel pressured to excel in all subjects, play a sport, do community service, and be perfect perfect perfect (sorry, I just keep thinking of Empire Records). I wish I could feel sorry for them. Is there a lot riding on the college you choose, and which options you'll have in April of your senior year of high school/after graduation? Hell yes. Is it worth sacrificing your own personality just to look like the perfect applicant? Hell NO.
One student at my high school was reportedly admitted to a state school just for being able to play a particular instrument- this may or may not be true, but it was disturbing to me then because I had real qualms about gaming the system- I thought it was questionable. Upon reflection, it would just be a sad compromise of one's integrity.
But as to the claims that students with perfect SATs and grades might still be rejected by Harvard:
- High test scores and grades don't make you interesting. Plus, with the number of favors that are doled out in admissions to super-elite universities, the number of spots open to truly interesting and excellent students gets an automatic cut (see The Price of Admission by Daniel Golden; review)
- High test scores and grades don't mean what they used to. The SAT has be re-centered twice in the last 10 years, and it is surely just as possible as it was when I was in high school to miss some questions and still receive a perfect score on the SAT. Grade standards and curricula are not as stringent as they used to be, all across the country. See the decline of public education everywhere. So doesn't that mean it's easier to end up with "perfect," thereby rendering the statistics less valuable?
Did I miss anything?