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The Record

Get Smart, then Smarter

Friday, June 20, 2008
BY ASHLEY KINDERGAN

The Record

This was projected to be one of the hardest years ever to gain admission to Ivy League schools, thanks to a large class of 2008 and changes in admissions policies.

Tell that to the handful of North Jersey students who beat the odds by getting into not just one Ivy League school but two, three or even five.

Paul Robalino was the first graduate in recent memory at New Milford High School to be accepted at more than one Ivy.

He will attend Yale, having given thumbs down to Harvard and Princeton.

The son of Ecuadorean immigrants, Robalino is valedictorian, president of the French Honor Society, editor of the school newspaper and active in peer leadership clubs.

"I was just hugging my mom for so long. I couldn't believe it," Robalino said about finding out he got into Yale.

Steven Sloane, valedictorian at Northern Valley Regional's Old Tappan campus, chose Princeton over Harvard, Brown, Yale and the University of Pennsylvania.

Sloane was captain of the soccer and lacrosse teams this year, worked with handicapped children and served as the president of the Technology Students' Association.

"I was far from confident about getting in," Sloane said of Princeton. "You heard that all the rules were changed, and you had to make sure you had really solid safeties, because you really could end up with nothing."

But even for the overachievers, the odds were tougher.

First, a population bubble made for a large graduating class.

Changes in the admission policy at Harvard and Princeton also made things more difficult, said Robert Shaw, owner of IvySuccess, a consulting firm that helps kids apply to Ivy League schools.

Both schools cut their early admissions program, which Shaw said put more stress on the regular admissions pool.

"Kids who would have been taken off the market in the early admissions process, those kids are competing in the regular pool," Shaw said. "If they are qualified enough for Harvard or Princeton, it's just as likely that they're qualified for the other Ivies."

In North Jersey, students with perfect grades, SAT scores and extracurricular resumes abound. Guidance counselors often don't know why some talented students get into multiple Ivies, while others get into none.

"People believe there is a formula, and if you do A, B and C, you'll get into Brown, Harvard and Yale," said Margaret Loonam, Ridgewood High School's assistant principal for guidance and instruction. "I have been at this 15 years, and I have to tell you I can't make much rhyme or reason out of this."

Counselors say that college admissions officers tell them they are trying to admit a wide range of students. Depending on the applicant pool in a particular year, a tuba player could round out an incoming class one year, while North Dakota residents could be the most sought-after group the following year.

"They're looking to build a community," said Daniel Jaye, principal of Bergen County Academies, where 13 students were admitted to multiple Ivies. "When our children apply to college, we just hope they fit."

School officials also pointed out that admission to multiple Ivy League schools is not the ultimate measure of college success.

Some students got into schools through early decision programs and withdrew applications to other places. Other colleges, including Massachussetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University, rival the Ivies in prestige.

Most Ivy League universities would not comment on the multiple admissions. Gila Reinstein, associate director of the Office of Public Affairs at Yale, said that the answer was fairly obvious.

"These are extraordinarily talented, capable, interesting young people," Reinstein said.

The notion of what he has achieved is still sinking in for Robalino.

"You always hear these stories about brilliant people getting in, who are inventors or started their own company," he said. "Being around all these accomplished people, these future leaders ... that's sort of intimidating to me."