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Is College Admission Really More Competitive?

Is College Admission Really More Competitive?

college admissions Jan 02, 2022

The media makes it seem that it is getting harder and harder to be accepted to college each year. But is that really true? Is college admission today really more competitive?

There is no denying that many parents wouldn't be accepted at their own alma maters if they were applying today. SAT scores have inched up, and acceptance rates have dropped. Why is it so much more difficult to be admitted? The stats each year demonstrate just how much more competitive the world of college admission has become. Stanford rejected more than 96 percent of its applicants, and many of them had perfect SATor ACT scores. It's obviously not enough to be a strong student with excellent test scores. Those objective characteristics will get you considered, but the softer, subjective items end up sealing the deal.

Think about it... there is a valedictorian and a salutatorian at every high school in the country. Don't forget there's also a newspaper editor and student government president at every turn, and then think about the number of soccer players, cheerleaders, BETA club members, and National Honor Society inductees. It's difficult for students to set themselves apart.

To be fair, the frenzied college admission panic is among only the country's most elite 50 to100 colleges and universities. Nationally, the acceptance rate for undergraduates is actually close to 70 percent. At the top tier of public and private liberal arts institutions, the number of applications has increased significantly in the last few years, partly driven by the welcoming of test-optional applications. Yet, the available spaces have remained constant.

There are several reasons for the increased competitiveness in college admission. Although the number of high school graduates in each state has either plateaued or decreased in recent years, there are still more applicants since a larger percentage of graduates apply to four-year colleges. Thirty years ago, only half of the high school graduates applied to college. Today, due in large part to our increasingly global economy, over two-thirds of all high school graduates seek a college education.

In addition, many students are trying to hedge their bets by applying to more and more colleges. In 1975, only 3.2 percent of students applied to seven or more colleges. Today,
seven or more applications are more the norm. Use of the Common Application makes it even easier: www.commonapp.org. It's one application used by over 900 colleges across the country. With a keystroke and the caching of a credit card, students can spontaneously apply to more and more colleges. And they do.

So, is it really more competitive to be accepted to college these days? According to an annual survey by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, 76% of first-time applicants are accepted by their first-choice college. That number has held relatively steady since 2007. So while the number of applications and applicants is increasing, most students will have many wonderful options for college.


Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

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