​Harvard's acceptance rate dips to record low

Harvard has always been selective, but this year's chance of receiving an acceptance letter was the slimmest ever.

Just 5.3 percent of this year's 37,307 applicants to Harvard received an admissions letter, the college said on Wednesday. That's a record low for the Ivy League institution, which last year had a 5.9 percent acceptance rate. Other Ivy League colleges announced their acceptance rates after sending out their admissions notifications at 5 p.m. on Tuesday.

Other Ivy League colleges also posted low acceptance rates, with Columbia University posting a record low 6.1 percent admissions rate. The slimmer chance of acceptance comes as top colleges are increasingly marketing themselves to high-achieving seniors, causing some college counselors to criticize the efforts as "misleading" since it raises hopes that are likely to be dashed given the difficult entry statistics.

Many applicants to Harvard had "strong academic credentials," admissions director Marlyn E. McGrath said in a statement. More than 16,000 of the applicants scored above 700 on the SAT math test, for instance, while 3,000 were ranked first in their high school classes.

Given that Harvard and other Ivy League schools are viewed as a ticket to gaining a higher step on the socio-economic ladder, a huge industry has grown up around preparing high school students to make the best presentation to admissions officials. Aside from SAT prep classes and the like, there are special coaches who, for small fortunes, will help make students into ideal candidates.

Take the case of Steven Ma, the founder of tutoring center ThinkTank. He told Bloomberg Markets that a Hong Kong CEO agreed to pay his company $1.1 million if his son got into the top-ranked college in U.S. News' 2012 rankings, which at the time was a tie between Harvard and Princeton. The son didn't make the cut, but ended up going to Syracuse University, earning Ma $400,000 for his work.

Cornell University had the highest acceptance rate of all the Ivies, giving the green light to 14.9 percent of all applicants, up from 14 percent in 2014, according to Business Insider. Stanford University, which isn't an Ivy League college, was the most selective of all, with a 5 percent acceptance rate, a record low for the institution.

For the thousands of students who spend years cultivating the perfect test scores and after-school activities to appeal to Ivy League admissions officers, receiving a rejection can be devastating, even though the acceptance levels are so low that it can seem like a crapshoot to some.

"Sometimes there's no rhyme or reason, or there is and you can't really figure it out," senior Jake Millman, who was waitlisted at Harvard and Stanford but accepted at other schools including Princeton, told Bloomberg News.