NEW HOPE, Minn. - Marek Zorawski isn't one to slack off. The Cooper High School senior aced the SAT and is graduating with a 3.97 GPA. In between homework he also volunteers. He believed the hard work would get him into at least one dream school.
He applied to top schools like Stanford, Brown, Yale and Columbia. His number one pick was Columbia University. Data from Columbia shows 31,851 students applied to be a part of the 2016 class. Only 2,363 were admitted. Zorawski wasn't one of them.
Fellow classmate Sabina Verghese shared the same disappointment. She applied to ten schools but really hoped to get into Georgetown. She only got into two; Georgetown wasn't one of them. She was admitted and accepted at Clark University in Massachusetts.
"I guess this kind of sign you know, like, Boston is probably a better place for you," she said.
Zorawski and Verghese are part of a growing trend of top students not getting into top colleges. In fact, Ivy League schools that have traditionally had low acceptance rates have become even more stringent. This year Harvard accepted a record-low 5.9 percent of applicants. Yale only accepted 6.8 percent and Stanford only 6.8 percent.
It's a trend that's hitting home in Minnesota too. Milyon Trulove, director of admissions at Hamline University, said they've seen a steady increase in applications.
"One of the challenges is that we're not able to admit as many students and so to date, probably about two or three percentage points less than last year about the same time," Trulove said.
A personal statement can be a key ingredient to becoming a "stand-out" student according Trulove.
"I think the new challenge is to give them tools where they can really highlight what's important to them within two or three really sharp statements rather than saying I'm a student who does everything all the time," he said.
With increased competition Laura Ritter, a college counselor at Cooper, urges students to start thinking about school early.
"Colleges are definitely looking for students that have kind of that extra piece about them. Not just the GPA and the test score, but are they in some sports? Are they in art, music things like that that make them stand out from the rest of the crowd," Ritter said.
Zorawski thought he had all that. He's still not sure why he didn't get to Columbia. But he did get into his other top choice, Pomona University in California-a school US News ranked as the number four liberal arts school in the nation.
Zorawski isn't sure what he'll be studying yet, he's just glad he got in.
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