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Hot topics: Stakes for entrance into top universities continues to intensify

Scoring perfect SATs, landing class valedictorian and mastering the violin don't cut it anymore. Now it's about priming resumes in middle school, turning science projects into patented inventions and dissecting your life's achievements in 500 wor...

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Students looking to get an education at an Ivy League school like Harvard, shown above, continue to face increasing pressure to offer impressive life stories during the admissions process. (Wikimedia Commons)

Scoring perfect SATs, landing class valedictorian and mastering the violin don't cut it anymore.

Now it's about priming resumes in middle school, turning science projects into patented inventions and dissecting your life's achievements in 500 words or fewer. In the battle to entice big-time universities, good is no longer good enough.

The college admissions process has morphed into a focused fight to prove individual exceptionalism and convey unparalleled drive. And it may only get more intense. Colleges nationwide have seen swelling numbers of early applicants this year, fueled by an industry pushing college readiness and the growing influence of online marketing.

This could breed a generation that works harder and achieves more in its early ages, but it also threatens to promote those who can afford a competitive advantage and punish those who can't.

"Sorry, I'm an average middle-class American and I've never done anything life-saving," said Rachel Brooks, a senior at Liberty High School in Frisco, Texas. She shoulders five advanced placement classes, plays in the marching band, and edits the school newspaper. She also skipped her junior year. The 16-year-old was denied early admission to Northwestern University.

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"It seems unfair," she said, "that you have to have all these superhero requirements to get into an Ivy League."

Admissions officers blame the aggressive mentality on the HYP -Harvard, Yale, Princeton - effect. Spots continue to dwindle in the nation's most renowned universities, yet the majority of schools still accept about half their applicants.

But as the college-bound pool broadens, the stakes rise for everyone.

The charged atmosphere stems partly from demand. High school graduates topped 3.3 million in 2009, bolstered by kids of baby boomers - who themselves came from more educated backgrounds than their parents - and today's pressing need for a college degree.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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