What constitutes reaches, matches, and safeties

It’s not marching band. It’s they cured cancer…
Or this real world teen:

It’s they organized a nonprofit that delivered meals to the elderly during Covid, while also having their art displayed at MOMA.

Truly perfect holistics means they truly standout in a positive unique way. And such students tend to get accepted to nearly every school they apply to… if they are also valedictorian and 1600.

You’re underestimating the difference because you’re overestimating the chances for many.
Remember, school rankings are heavily tied to a low acceptance rate. So many schools truly encourage underqualified candidates to apply, just to help them lower their acceptance rate.
My son… who is a very good student but not an elite student… keeps getting brochures and emails from U of Chicago. He has no chance of getting in. But I was told by a counselor that they automatically heavily recruit applications from everyone with an SAT over 1300. 1500 is their 25th percentile – So they are heavily recruiting applications from people they know have no chance.

So let’s look at Harvard with a 5% acceptance rate.
Half the applicants have a nearly 0% chance. 3.9 and test optional? 0% chance. 4.0 and 1350 on the SATs? 0% chance. Class valedictorian but never took an honors class or AP class? 0% chance.
So eliminate all the people with 0%… the other half of the class has 10%.
But now… There are 24,000 Valedictorians in the US. How many are going to apply to Harvard? Maybe half… That’s 12,000 applicants. How many of those had extreme rigor? Tons of APs, etc? Maybe 1/3rd… That’s 4,000.
How many of those have perfect 1600 SATs? Maybe 1/4th of them…
That’s 1,000.
So extreme rigor, 1st in class, 1600 SATs… probably only about 1,000 such applicants per year.
Now, Harvard accepts 2,000 people per year approximately. So they could actually accept 100% of those top applicants. But certainly, for recruited athletes, URM, etc… They accept less than being Valedictorian/1600/20 APs.
But still, they are accepting a pretty high percentage of those top 1,000 students.

And take those top 1,000 students – Add being URM, or add being 1st Gen, or add that they are an award winning author, or add that they won a science prize for discovering a Covid treatment…
And their odds aren’t just boosted from 5% to 10%… their odds are boosted over 50%. It’s the type of student that goes 8/8 with Ivy league applications.
(I do know a couple students who did get into every/almost every Ivy over the last couple of years… and they fit this type of profile).

Exactly. What makes it difficult to chance people is often an incomplete or inaccurate description of their background. But when you have a fully flushed out background… Knowing whether they have won prestigious awards, whether they have truly special volunteerism, internships, etc… It does become possible to say more than “everyone is a reach”

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That’s not very accurate… I actually think the table is incorrectly labelled. Bot example, I know Boston University in need blind in admissions.

This young woman is on an easy glide path to several HYPSM acceptances as long as she is well-liked by her teachers and performs well in school. Since she has already achieved this level of recognition as a freshman, she can ask to do research with professors at Stanford, Harvard, or MIT and one of them will agree to work with her, possibly leading to published papers and additional science awards. Her resume by senior year will be one of those that makes AOs say “wow”.

At least at our school, being valedictorian wasn’t important. The person with the fantastic ECs just had to be in the top few percent to get 3+ HYPSM acceptances. They had to score well enough on class rank, but it was the ECs that got them in.

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USNWR ranking methodology does not include acceptance rate. USNWR is the only ranking system that college administrators and trustees care about.

BU is not need blind, but they do meet 100% demonstrated need for domestic students. The Prep scholar site is not accurate, similar to many 3rd party aggregators…have to go to the source (school websites).


Actually, I’m not sure that’s correct. First, of the schools on the original list, BU is the only school that Prep Scholar includes as need-blind that the Dataverse says is not need-blind. According to BU’s site, they meet full need. On the admissions page it says, " Introducing affordableBU: Admitted students who applied for financial aid and are US citizens or permanent residents will have 100% of their demonstrated need met."

This site also had BU as a need-blind school. But when you clicked on the site’s description for BU, it showed that BU only met about 85% of students’ need (appears to be SY19-20). I suspect that when BU decided to meet 100% of full-need, it stopped being need-blind. As colleges will usually advertise if they’re need-blind, and BU isn’t, I suspect that it’s not. If you find evidence to the contrary, I’d love to see it.

Last year there were 57,435 applicants to Harvard (source). Let’s say that 20% were really “Wow” candidates (i.e., less than one fourth, per your interviewing experience). 20% of those applications means that there were 11,487 wow candidates. Harvard accepted 1,968 students. That means that if only the “wow” applicants were truly given consideration for admission, only 17% of them were accepted. Yes, much better than 3%, but it still means the odds of acceptance are unlikely.

But yes, if someone is winning prestigious national or international awards, that student is hooked and spiked and is likelier to gain admission than other excellent applicants without those recognitions.


If a school doesn’t explicitly say on its own website that it’s “need-blind”, it either isn’t need-blind or is transitioning away from being fully need-blind.


Need blind admissions is different than meeting 100% of need. NY Times, a few years ago, had a detailed article specifically addressing that exact issue at BU.
Just means they won’t let need affect whether you’re admitted. Not that they will guarantee that they fill the need.

Inside the Financial Aid Office at Boston University - The New York Times.

Now, it’s certainly possible that BU stopped being need-blind more recently, but not that I know of.

Yes, I understand the difference between meeting full-need vs. need-blind. The fact that BU now says on its own website that it meets full-need of admitted students is highly indicative of the fact that it’s now need-aware while meeting full need. The sources are linked in my post #147.


1/4th were wow… Apart from their stats.
So that’s 11,487 “wow” holistics. How many of them were 1570+ on SATs? Maybe 1/4th of those… That’s 3,000. How many of those were top 1% of their class with a dozen APs? Maybe another half of those… that’s now 1,500. They could accept all 1,500 and still have 500 more acceptances for lower ranked students.

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This thread has long passed the point of being useful, but I’m just morbidly curious about your calculations here and confidence in stating that such a high proportion of superstar candidates didn’t pursue the most rigorous coursework available to them or didn’t have a certain GPA or test score.

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Example – Only a few hundred to a couple thousand students score perfect SATs each year. Yet, there are 24,000 valedictorians. So over 90% of Valedictorians do not have perfect SATs. And its way over – As there are plenty of schools with more than 1 perfect SAT, and people with perfect SAT who weren’t Valedictorian.
Or take a look at AP exams – The most popular AP exams, about 250,000 students take them in a given year.
So take a 500 person graduating class… The top 5% of the class, the top 25 students – On average, only about half may have taken that AP.
While there are schools, such as my own local high school, where 2/3rds of the students take multiple APs.

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They very well may have shifted sometime in the relatively recent past.

I’m not following your logic here.

  • Class rankings are generally based on weighted GPAs with weight given for APs/Honors track courses. So it is very unlikely that kids who didn’t take a significant number of AP/Honors track classes will be in the top 5% of their class.
  • Even where class rank is not weighted for rigor, it still seems like high achieving kids would be much more likely to have taken AP/Honors track courses than the entire pool of high school students.

With this issue and others, I think you are drastically underestimating the number of academically qualified kids who are applying to these schools, and drastically overestimating their odds of admission.

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From my perspective, I stated that a portion(but not a majority) of top-number kids do not have maximum rigor and stellar LORs and all the rest because I have access to concrete examples of top-scorers that do not have all that (and their outcomes overall were less successful than those that did).

Part of the GPA issue in our area is that honors and AP weight the same, in addition to not all APs are created equally rigorous. Some top-rank high scoring kids do not take the hardest courses. They just don’t. Afraid of a lower grade? Don’t like the challenge? Who knows. But it is very easy to be top 10% and dodge the most rigorous course, in multiple schools in our area.

In schools with multiple APs available (which AOs see on the profile), the kid with these 8 (gov, psych, APES , AB calc, Geo, world, Apush, econ) is very different than another set of 8 (Chem PhysicsC BCcalc Literature Bio APUsh Econ Gov) . When a large number of students take most APs in that second group and a few kids at the top of the class do not, I doubt it goes unnoticed.

I wouldn’t overgeneralize. My own school does not give any meaningful weighting, and they anyone with universal straight A’s is automatically a co-Valedictorian.
We have about 10 Valedictorians per year… Some took lots of AP, some not so much.

Then there are schools that simply don’t offer a whole lot of true rigor opportunities.

But most critically – On this board, we are generally looking at unweighted GPA. Not every 4.0 is someone who was actually at the top of their class in weighted ranking, nor were they necessarily the top in rigor.

Yes… they are more likely. But the idea that every 4.0 student also has 10 APs is flat out wrong. It might seem that way on this forum, but it’s not the case.

Give you an example of my friend’s nephew last year – 2nd in HS class, 1590 on SATs, 4.0, tons of APs…
Got into Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Duke, Stanford and U Chicago. Didn’t get rejected from any top school.
If his odds of admission were only 5-10%… then he pulled off a statistical impossibility.

Or my co-worker’s daughter who was Valedictorian, multi-award winner, 1580 SATs… got wait listed at Yale, but got into Harvard, Columbia, Princeton, Cornell, and MIT. Again, if nobody has better than a 10% chance of admission, then she pulled off a statistical impossibility.

Obviously, these students had far better than a 10% chance of admission.

There really aren’t that many students who truly reach that plateau. The idea that Harvard gets 50,000 applications that are all valedictorians with 1600 is a great exaggeration.

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Earlier in the thread you wrote that your school had 60 students who graduated with a 4.0 or better, and 30 (of 35) of these kids attend Ivy or equivalent schools, and that there were only 9 “co-valedictorians” who had unweighted gpa of 4.0, and they all attended Ivy or Ivy equivalent.

  • If 60 students (20% of the class) had over a 4.0 or better and half of them attend Ivy or equivalent schools, then there is some pretty meaningful weighting going on.
  • Whether or not each co-valedictorian had 10 APs each, they all apparently had enough rigor to meet the academic standards at Ivy or equivalent. While surely there are exceptions, I’d suggest that this pattern of kids with better grades having more rigor is probably pretty indicative of what happens at most high performing schools.

As for your friend’s nephew, and your co-workers daughter, congratulations to them, but such anecdotes have limited value in understanding the odds of admission for a kid with a 1500-1550, a high grade point and solid rigor.

And the issue isn’t whether “nobody” has better than 10% chance of admission. Obviously some do. Recruited athletes for example, and students who have won an international math contest, or discovered a potential Covid treatment, or are ALDC. The issue, in my mind, is what are the odds of the “typical” highly qualified kid who hasn’t done anything extraordinary. Those are the kids/families who come here and ask what their chances are, and almost always their chances are very slim.

Of course it is. But it is your exaggerated straw man, and not a real position anyone is taking. Harvard gets plenty of well-qualified applicants who don’t reach the valedictorian/1600 level, and their odds of admission are relatively slim. Those students are what is being discussed.

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Essays and (especially) recommendations are also opaque influential parts of college applications. Neither the applicant nor any outsider (i.e. outside of the admission office) giving advice or “chances” typically has any knowledge of how they compare to the applicant pool at a highly selective college. I.e. they seem like randomizing variables to outsiders, even though they are definitely not random to insiders (i.e. admission readers).


There are far more than 104 need-blind for admission colleges in the US. Probably about 70% of colleges in the US are need-blind for admission.

However, most of them make no promises to give good financial aid to all students.