I’m often asked how to get into Stanford, Dartmouth, or another selective college. Boy, that sure is a silver bullet question and hard to approach.
The admissions probability depends on a number of factors. What makes this probability even more dynamic is that students are admitted within the context of a cohort. In short, the other applicants during any given year may alter your chances of admission.
For example, one of the considerations for many admissions officers as they admit a cohort of students is geographic distribution. In 2010, there were 18 freshmen at Stanford hailing from Ohio. (See this cool interactive chart for the freshman geographic distribution of other US colleges.) The highest number of Ohioans in a recent Stanford freshman class was 26, back in 2004. If there are 100 students applying from Ohio during your application year then your chances based on geographic distribution alone are roughly 20%.
The other admissions factors, such as rigor of high school curriculum, recommendations, essays, etc. are then layered onto this consideration. In short, there is no science to predicting how easy or difficult it will be to gain admission to Stanford, whether you’re from Ohio, Chicago, or Palo Alto, CA.
The key for all applicants to remember is that there are so many great colleges that could be an excellent fit for you. There’s no such thing as only one college.