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The Swarm of the Super-Applicants

Ivy League mania has created a generation of high-school kids so overqualified it’s a wonder they even need college. But will they get in?

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How are these for alarming statistics: With more students than ever applying to college—a full 1.2 million more last year than in 2000—not even flawless SAT scores can open doors at Harvard, which rejects one in four applicants with a perfect 2400. Is your kid ranked first in his class? So are some 36,000 others: Last year, Penn and Duke rejected about 60 percent of the valedictorians who applied. If you know anyone in high school (or preschool) you’re already aware that the annihilative admissions climate has spawned a new hyperspecies: the college super-applicant. But do so many hours spent filling in practice circles or hunching over petri dishes really work? We recruited some of the area’s most credentialed college hopefuls, who gamely volunteered to have their grade-point averages, standardized test scores, after-school pursuits, and academic awards reviewed by Katherine Cohen, CEO and founder of IvyWise, a school-admissions consulting company. Cohen assessed their strengths and weaknesses and made a guess where each student will get in. She stresses, however, that this is only a partial picture; she’d need to see transcripts, essays, AP course load, and written recommendations to make an accurate evaluation. Disclaimer: The following material may not be suitable for anxiety-prone high-school students.


Courtney Sachs
Convent of the Sacred Heart, Manhattan
GPA: 97
SAT: 2340 (800 reading, 770 math, 770 writing)
AP scores: English lit (5), French language (5), and U.S. history (5)

Academic honors: Bausch & Lomb Science Award, given to one junior per participating school. Ranked in the U.S. top 10 in the National French Contest. Wellesley Book Award for academic leadership, given to one junior per participating school. Ranked in the top 30 of the Catholic School Mathematics League.

Extracurricular activities: Stem-cell researcher at New York-Presbyterian’s Columbia University Medical Center, approximately twenty hours per week. Wrote a research paper on the in vivo and in vitro growth of osteoblasts derived from fat stem cells. Has begun research on the repair of rat cranial defects using osteocytes differentiated from fat-derived stem cells. Editor-in-chief of the yearbook. As a senior leader of Helping Hearts (the school philanthropic group), organized a fashion show to raise money to build a well in a village in India. Volunteers at Lenox Hill Hospital and Habitat for Humanity. Tutors disadvantaged students. Member, Model U.N.

Applying to: Princeton (early), Harvard, Yale, Brown, University of Pennsylvania, Cornell, Columbia, University of Chicago, Stanford, and Duke.

Her chances: “The fact that she has been doing independent research since ninth grade shows commitment to a single cause or passion, which the most selective colleges like to see. She is academically qualified to attend any college, but it is also important that she is not simply locked away in a lab all year; she is involved in her high school as editor-in-chief of the yearbook. I believe she has a strong chance of getting into Princeton early.”


Paul White
Urban Assembly School for Careers in Sports, the Bronx
GPA: 92
SAT: 1930 (710 reading, 650 math, 570 writing)
AP scores: Statistics (4), U.S. government (4), psychology (5)

Academic honors: Student of the Year (2004), for achieving highest GPA in his grade.

Extracurricular activities: One of 60 students (chosen out of 400) to participate in Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America (leda), a fourteen-month academic program that includes Wednesday-evening and Saturday classes during the school year and summer sessions at Columbia. Works fifteen hours a week at leda to supplement his family’s income. Research assistant for a Ph.D. candidate in the government department at Harvard. Member, Model U.N. Wrote application essay about his brother’s imprisonment at Rikers Island.

Sports: Linebacker on high-school football team (grades 9 to 11).

Applying to: University of Pennsylvania (early), Amherst, Boston College, Bowdoin, Brown, Case Western Reserve, Cornell, Davidson, Emory, Georgetown, Morehouse, University of Virginia, and Wesleyan.

His chances: “His SAT score looks mediocre for Penn—especially his writing score—but it still puts him in the right range for a minority, socioeconomically disadvantaged student. He has a shot at Penn, which likes kids who put their ideas into action, and he seems to do that. When you consider the huge time commitment leda classes take, the fact that he is still actively involved in his high-school community shows superb time-management skills.”

Since 1993, the number of students applying to Columbia each year has nearly doubled.


Vadim Shteyler
Brooklyn Technical High School
GPA: 94.4
SAT: 1960 (650 reading, 750 math, 560 writing)
AP scores: World history (4), biology (5)

Academic honors: National Honor Society.

Extracurricular activities: Volunteers at a suny Downstate Medical Center lab, running experiments on pancreatic carcinoma. Wrote research papers on the affects of p53-derived peptide on pancreatic-cancer-cell growth, submitted to the American Cancer Society and American Association for Cancer Research. Involved in student government since freshman year. One of three student-government members to teach a leadership class. Member, the Brain Bee Club, an array of other clubs.

Sports: Member, Ping-Pong club (takes outside lessons as well).

Applying to: Yale, Cornell, Columbia, cuny Honors College, suny–Binghamton, B.A.-M.D. programs at Brooklyn College and suny–Stony Brook.

His chances: “Yale, Cornell and Columbia might be a stretch, but he definitely has a shot at the others. His SAT score is unbalanced, but his work with pancreatic carcinoma is very impressive, his GPA is strong, and he’s a leader at school. However, he seems to be a serial joiner. A red flag is the Ping-Pong club, given the fact that he has little community service.”


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