BY SCOTT McMAHON
The admissions season has come and gone. Letters have been received, celebrations have been had, and hearts have been broken among CHS’ graduating class of 2018. And this particular season, heartbreaks were in great supply.
“With the ever-increasing number of applicants and applications across the country, we’ve seen both a steady rise in competition and decline in admission rates,” CHS college counselor Darren Johnston says. “We did witness an uptick in the number of students who were either rejected or deferred—particularly during the early application process.”
Evidence of this is abundant among CHS’ graduating class.
“I think I had a pretty likely chance of being admitted to the U.C. schools, and I probably would’ve attended UCLA if I was admitted,” says Quinn Spooner, who, while possessing a weighted GPA of 4.66, was waitlisted at U.C. Berkeley and denied by UCLA, Harvey Mudd and USC.
Gianluca Douros, who is currently on track for valedictorian honors, notes that student demographics also have a large hand in the admissions process.
“I did expect to get into UW [The University of Washington], and I have to admit, it was pretty surprising,” he says. “As for reasons why, the ever-increasing number of foreign students applying to the same schools that [Carmel seniors] apply to definitely plays a part. To put it bluntly, it’s a bad year to be a white male.”
In characteristic contrast to Douros, Iran native Niki Panahizadeh found the same sort of letters in her mailbox. She points at one major element of the application: standardized test scores.
“I knew [UCLA] was insanely competitive, but I was really optimistic about my story and how ‘unique’ I was in comparison to the others I knew who were applying,” Panahizadeh says. “I think a lot of us didn’t realize how huge of a role standardized tests play. A lot of us had really high GPA’s and extracurriculars and everything, but if you don’t have the numbers first, they cut you off.”
Nationally in 2018, the number of applicants at U.C.’s and other top-tier universities hit an all-time high, with acceptance rates subsequently hitting an all-time low. Johnston reports that UCLA saw over 113,000 freshman applicants in 2018, the highest in the nation. U.C. San Diego was close behind at 98,000 applicants, followed by U.C. Santa Barbara at 92,000 and U.C. Berkeley (Cal) at 89,000.
While these statistics are both relevant and noteworthy, they don’t fully explain this year’s atypical rejection numbers for specifically CHS students. Then again, perhaps they are the only explanation.
“Typically Carmel seniors earn between 40 and 50 admits to the U.C.’s each year, and while we won’t collect all senior admissions data until late May, based on initial reports and feedback, we appear to be on track to match that this year,” Johnston notes. “To be honest, student performance at CHS is at an all-time high. Unfortunately, so are everyone else’s. Every year more and more students are applying to ‘reach’ and ‘lottery’ schools in an ever-growing application frenzy.”
And so, the ultimate question remains: Was the apparent drop in acceptances to first-choice schools simply a result of students’ overconfidence in their chances for admission? Was it a mass influx of moon-shooters, knowing that their chances were low, but also that they had nothing to lose?
AP Literature teacher Barbara Steinberg has a different hypothesis altogether.
“One trend I do notice is that students apply to many more schools than they are actually interested in attending,” Steinberg points out. “This saturation of non-serious applicants can saturate the applicant pool, leaving fewer slots for those who are genuinely interested in the school and thus more rejections.”
In other words, students are hedging their bets by applying to an excess number of “safety” schools—colleges that students are more than qualified for and apply to in order to ensure that, if they don’t get into any of their “target” or “reach” schools, they have a fallback plan.
Luke DePalatis, a projected Film major (and frequent Sandpiper photographer), found similar results as Spooner and company when applying to UCLA, USC, Chapman University and the American Film Institute. He, however, was doing what Johnston described as “taking the shot.”
“I had some hope, but not anything grounded. All my hope was founded in the possibility of random dumb luck, you know?” DePalatis says jokingly. “I really didn’t expect to get in at all because these film programs are so selective. If I did get in, however, I would’ve absolutely gone. Without a shadow of a doubt.”
Despite the ever-increasing admissions competition, both Johnston and DePalatis encourage students to maintain a positive outlook throughout the process, no matter what news they receive.
“Keep your chin up, no matter where you get in, because most likely whatever you’re looking for in any one particular college or university you can find elsewhere,” Johnston emphasizes. “You are not defined by your college acceptances nor do college rankings and reputations have any implications on future successes and opportunities.”
DePalatis echoes this advice.
“Your chosen career doesn’t rely too much on the name of the school,” the senior proposes. “It has much more to do with your skill level in the field. If you’re really good at what you do, they’ll disregard what it says on your diploma. My rejection from all these high-profile colleges has done nothing but motivate me further.”