ASPEN, Colo.—Everyone knows how to get to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice. But what about how to get into the nation’s most venerable university?
For ambitious high-school students today, the formula for getting into that reach school can seem just as simple. The conventional wisdom is that keeping your head down in the single-minded pursuit of qualifications is the path to success. It makes every election for every tiny organization a heated battle and makes classes almost an afterthought. Every hour not spent in class is spent building a formidable resume: student council, National Honor Society, captaining the football or volleyball teams, and joining a dozen other student organizations. Of course, that isn't to say that a 4.0 with a raft of AP classes isn't still essential.
Do all of that and you'll get into Harvard, right? Well...
“We could fill our class twice over with valedictorians,” Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust told an audience at the Aspen Ideas Festival, sponsored by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic, on Monday. That means admissions officers rely on intangibles like interesting essays or particularly unusual recommendations to decide who comprises the 5.9 percent of applicants who get in.