WHY Such Low Admit Rates?

We just compiled the admissions statistics for the Class of 2020 at many of the nation’s top colleges and universities.  The numbers are staggering.  We’ve been flooded with questions from parents, students and the press…WHY ARE ACCEPTANCE RATES DROPPING?

Here are five reasons you’ve seen rates go from 17.7% 10 years ago (Class of 2010) to 9.41% this year (Class of 2020) at a school like University of Pennsylvania, or from 9.3% ten years ago to 5.22% this year at Harvard, not to mention smaller less well known schools such as St. Olaf in Northfield, Minnesota that went from an acceptance rate of 82% in 2003 to 36% last year.

  1. Colleges are aggressive in marketing to students. Colleges market to students with gusto just to turn them away because the more selective they appear to be, the higher their rankings in places like U.S. News and World Report.  Colleges buy thousands of names from companies like the College Board (who administers PSAT, SAT, Subject Tests and APs) and often appeal to students’ egos with a VIP seal or something to make them feel as if they are wanted.
  1. Students are applying to more schools. When we began working with students over 15 years ago, many hardly knew what an “application strategy” was. They had 2 or 3 schools in mind and applied to 5 or 6. Now, we hear students tell us they have “selected” 20 of their favorite schools and want to apply to them ALL. 95% of our clients get into their early school and are DONE. According to the most recent data reported by the NACAC in their 2014 State of College Admissions Report, in 2013, 81% of students submitted 3 or more applications, while 32% of students submitted seven or more applications. But, if you search ‘average number of colleges applied to’ for any given graduating class, you repeatedly find data such as what we found in a New York Times article stating “In the class of 2014, according to Naviance, 16.5 percent of seniors using the system said they intended to apply to 11 to 20 colleges.”
  1. More students applying overall. There are just more students applying to all level colleges – especially since the launch of the Common Application online, as it’s so easy to apply. There are now more international students (about 15% of the Stanford applicant pool this year), students who are the first in their family to go to college (‘first generation applicants’), and students who in years past might have selected vocational or professional schools now throwing their hats into the ring for liberal arts colleges.
  1. Bad advice from school counselors and parents. It’s not a surprise that parents of today’s teens have indulged their children’s sense of self with endless praise. Many colleges are now hiring “parent liaisons” for accepted students and preventing parents from ever contacting professors, deans, or other on-campus adults.  These same parents assume Harvard will love their son or daughter as much as they do.  What this means is students with no chance at top schools apply anyway.  Even high school counselors are not setting up proper screenings and evaluations to best target a student’s choices. If your scores and grades are ‘out of range’ at a certain college, no amount of charisma or leadership will get you in. Academics make up the majority of the admissions decision and less than stellar grades and scores can be a deal-breaker.
  1. Static freshman classes. Most colleges are simply not adding housing or expanding the freshman class. This means that every year there are more applicants for the same number of seats, which translates into lower admissions rates.

If you’d like some levity around this situation, read Frank Bruni’s funny article in the New York Times about Stanford’s 0% acceptance rate – (spoiler alert: he’s kidding, but not all parents thought so and the hysteria continued).