Catie Costello & Katelyn Klapper, CEP
Every spring headlines are filled with college admission “shock stories”. Media reports have once again focused on sinking admissions rates across the Ivy League, with Stanford dropping to a 4.3% admit rate and Harvard dipping below 5% for the first time. The list of schools reporting record-low admit rates includes many familiar names—BC, BU, NYU, Tulane, USC, Wellesley, Bowdoin, to name a few. And yes, for a select number of schools, it has been another competitive admissions season for the class of 2022.
The good news is that every one of our College Options seniors has several well-vetted college choices, most with at least two merit grant offers. That is how we measure our success! So, in light of these daunting statistics, it is important to understand how to interpret this information and what we can learn to ensure choices for students looking towards the college Class of 2023.
A continued increase in the number of applications filed by first-year students helps to fuel the admissions frenzy. NYU reports 75,307 applications–the most applicants received by any private US university. USC reports a record, 64,000 applications— a 14 percent increase from 2017. Five University of California campuses—Berkeley, Irvine, Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Barbara—received more than 100,000 applications each. With colleges ramping up recruitment through the web and social media, and centralized access to applications through the Common Application and the Coalition Application, we have the perfect recipe for increased application numbers.
Another probable reason for the increase in applications to highly selective schools is a result of the revised SAT. Student confidence was bolstered by the perceived strength of their test scores. It is important to note however, that the new SAT scores are comparable to results that would have been 60 to 80 points lower on corresponding sections of the old SAT. At College Options, SAT/ACT concordance is an important aspect of our admissibility conversations, as we help students to maintain a balanced list.
But headline numbers can be deceiving, so it is important to always take in the broader context. According to US News and World Report, only 19 schools reported an admit rate of less than 10%. If you pull the admit rate up to 20%, the pool increases to 53 schools. And a cumulative total of 98 schools admitted fewer than 30% of applicants. Which means that more than 95% of the colleges in the U.S. have an admit rate greater than 30%. This is why we prioritize extending the conversation beyond a narrow list of schools to prioritize fit over name recognition.
As you finalize your college list, your high school’s admission history with colleges continues to be the most reliable gauge to ensure admissibility balance. However, admission statistics captured through tools like Naviance don’t tell a complete story. Our experience allows us to clarify the context of 3-5 year results, and to interpret the nuances between a school’s most selective and least selective programs—engineering vs. liberals for example—or decisions made that reflect a variety of recruitment goals.
We always support our students’ desire to stretch for a dream school, but we equally encourage a realistic review of the admissions landscape and exploration of all the genuinely amazing options available at schools where we have greater confidence for our students' admission. And while the stories of 2017 -18 might spook you, we know the prospects are far from bleak. With the majority of colleges in the country admitting more than 60% of their applicants, our goal is to help students cut through the headlines and find their fit!