My class of 2018 clients are currently working on their college lists and there is one thing that keeps coming up that drives me a little bit nuts. I call it “Las Vegas.” Here is what happens: students feel that their applications are super competitive so they apply to all of the Ivy League and toss in Stanford and MIT for good measure. I think they are trying to be one of these folks or are misguided and submitting more and more applications with the incorrect assumption that more apps to these colleges means more acceptances. This is why it is problematic:

1) In general, one school does not rely on admissions from another school. Brown doesn’t look at what Harvard is doing to determine what Brown does, and I think they would be annoyed that students don’t see them as separate campuses. It’s why those supplemental essays exist, in my opinion. Most of those questions are “why here” questions and I’ve seen a lot of students answer those with some version of, “I get bragging rights” and nothing to do with what the school could actually do for you.

2) In all honesty, there are only a few majors that applying to all the Ivy League actually makes sense. Most do not. I think the most obvious example is engineering. It’s not to say that they don’t all have engineering programs but there are more prestigious programs out there that are more supportive and have a higher acceptance rate. And the colleges are aware of where else you are applying.

3) These schools are selective, meaning they accept 4% to 7% of students with perfect grades and test scores, students who all invented stuff while playing varsity something and starting a non-profit and interning with her/his congressperson. The overwhelming odds are against the student so students should not be shocked when they are not admitted.

This brings me to “Las Vegas.” I realize the kiddos don’t necessarily know about gambling so let me break it down a bit. On the main floor, there are lots of slot machines and then there are tables. The tables have games such as blackjack, poker, and roulette.

Some people sit at one slot machine and put in coin after coin, waiting for it to hit. Other people occupy multiple slot machines and put in coin after coin in a few machines. The odds of these machines hitting are terrible. And also consider that one slot machine’s win doesn’t determine the next machine’s win. I also think people play slot machines because there isn’t much strategy involved; they are just putting coins in and hoping it hits. I think applying to all the Ivy League when your major isn’t quite in line with their offerings is like playing those slot machines

Sometimes in Las Vegas you see someone who is super serious about winning. That person plays poker, blackjack, and maybe even a slot machine. They want to win but they aren’t putting all their hopes in one method. The goal is winning, the outcome, not how they win. I think mixing up that college list and focusing on the true goal, is this. And it’s not say that one game is better than the other; they are all different and deserve different attention.

As you know, I have three goals for clients: graduate, in as close to four years, with as little debt as possible. So to that end, here are some schools you probably didn’t think about, that meet those goals, and are worth a second glance (and they accept more than 10% of applicants):

Engineering: Carnegie Mellon; Cooper Union; Georgia Tech; Illinois Tech; Lehigh Univ; Purdue; Rensselaer Poly; Virginia Tech; and Worcester Poly.

Business and Social Science: American Univ; Amherst; Bates; Clemson; Emory; Franklin and Marshall; Georgetown; Lafayette College; Northwestern; and Swarthmore.

There are more but you get the general idea. In short, play your odds by diversifying your list and really think about why you are applying to a school. If you can’t find tangible reasons, then you shouldn’t be applying there.