Ohio State

UC Berkeley

UC Los Angeles

U Texas–Austin

U Michigan

49%

64%

58%

45%

66%

20,500

19,100

17,800

16,800

16,700

Ohio State. What?!! Who knew? Well, maybe they did, but I sure wouldn’t have ever guessed. I probably would have said UC—Berkeley or maybe Michigan.

And indeed, there’s Berkeley at number two.

UCLA, interestingly, comes in at number three.

Then comes the University of Texas, with the lowest percentage in the top 5, but the second highest total population.

And not too surprisingly, the University of Michigan rounds out the top five. All, as you’ve probably noticed, are state universities.

Numbers 6 through 10 are also state schools, including my alma mater in the number 10 slot.

U Illinois

U Washington

U Wisconsin

Texas A&M

U Maryland

49%

49%

44%

27%

54%

14,800

13,800

13,500

12,800

12,600

And here are the rest with 7000 or more. (Note #1: NYU is the only school on this list that is SAT optional for applicants to some of their majors, and they also don’t report ACT data. They do they belong on the list, though, so I’ve estimated where they would fall. This number might be off by quite a bit and is probably an underestimate.) (Note #2: Cornell, the largest of the Ivy League universities, is not too surprisingly the first private school on our list at number 11; the asterisk after their percentage indicates that they didn’t provide ACT data, so I estimated this information for them.

Cornell

Purdue

U Southern California

Boston U

UC Santa Barbara

U Virginia

U Florida

New York U

Brigham Young

U Minnesota

Penn State

Georgia Tech

U Georgia

U Pennsylvania

UC Davis

UNC Chapel Hill

U Pittsburgh

Indiana U

78%*

40%

69%

64%

47%

63%

32%

60%

31%

35%

26%

73%

33%

86%

38%

43%

42%

24%

11,600

11,500

11,300

10,900

10,800

10,100

10,100

10,000

9800

9700

9200

9200

8800

8800

7800

7700

7400

7400

Don’t overlook that many on this list are frequently used as “safety” schools but have higher numbers than many of the universities that are often preferred.

So if your very bright, hard-working son or daughter has to “settle for” Boston University because they were turned down by Harvard and MIT, point out to them that they’ll have more top 5% math students at BU than at the other two universities combined, both of which are among the most selective on the planet.

Boston University

10,900

vs

Harvard + MIT

10,300

The same is true for the University of Maryland vs. Georgetown and Princeton…..

University of Maryland College Park

12,600

vs

Georgetown + Princeton

9100

And mighty Ohio State beats out Vanderbilt, Washington University in St. Louis and Stanford together…..

Ohio State

20500

vs

Vanderbilt + Washington U in St. Louis + Stanford

16600

You get the point. Schools that are a bit–or perhaps even quite a bit–less selective than those your kids may have as their number one choices will have many students who are just as bright and hard-working as they are. Whether it’s UCLA, UC Santa Barbara or the University of Washington instead of Stanford or CalTech; the University of Texas instead of Rice; or Florida, Georgia or Georgia Tech instead of Emory; the notion that attending a slightly less selective school means going to college somewhere that there won’t be lots of other students who match up well with you intellectually is simply not true.

With regard to the ability level of their students, the distance between the most selective colleges and those just behind them in selectivity is nowhere near as great as many people think. And the same goes for the distance between that level and the next level below it.

It’s a continuum with significantly overlapping layers, not a pyramid with discrete steps.

‘Safety’ schools know what to do with extremely capable students. Their top students, those who in many cases applied to and barely missed being admitted to one of the most highly selective colleges, need classes that are taught at a level that challenges them. And they get them.

How do we know this?

Well, it would be a huge scandal if they didn’t, right? Journalists would be writing about the lack of adequate preparation available at ‘second-tier colleges’. Employers would be complaining about the dearth of strong applicants from anywhere other than the top schools. Students and parents would be extraordinarily unhappy at the money wasted on an education that didn’t prepare them for the jobs their lucky peers who attended colleges with better-known names were getting. Transfer applications would be through the roof, with students who had a phenomenal first year at a less selective school trying once more to get into one with bigger name recognition.

Everyone would be talking about this, and there would be a movement to correct the situation. But that’s not happening. Why? Because schools that are a bit less selective are very capable of taking those who barely missed getting in somewhere else and giving them an education that prepares them for a successful and happy career.

There are close to 3000 4-year colleges in the US, and your very bright, talented, hard-working, all-around awesome kids can look significantly deeper than, and are very capable of being happy and well educated at more than, the top 1-2% you may have been assuming they should stick to.

They should be looking for schools that meet their individualized criteria and putting together a list based on the proverbial ‘best fit’, not on a one-size-fits-all overall rankings score or fear of not meeting the expectations of family or friends.