Musical Chairs and Admissions at Highly Selective Colleges

Posted on Apr 18, 2017 3:15:00 PM

With each new round in musical chairs, one chair disappears, leaving one too few for the remaining contestants, one of whom will be eliminated. The “admissions game” at highly selective colleges shares some characteristics with musical chairs: At the beginning of each new round – in this case, each new application season – two chairs might be added, but so are 20 new contestants. That means a lot more somebodies will end up with no place to sit in the lecture halls, no place to sleep in the residence halls – no chance for admission.

The metaphorical “two chairs added” concept reflects the fact that – on balance – colleges tend to increase incoming class sizes as demand increases and when budgets allow for expansion of facilities and staff.  Alas, there’s an inevitable lag time between planning for more student admissions, having the funds to increase campus capacity to pull it off, and then actually having real capacity in place to accept a larger freshman class.

Unfortunately, there’s no lag time in demand for admissions, which have been increasing relentlessly: According to the national Center for Education Statistics, between 2004 and 2014, the number of full-time students in degree-granting postsecondary institutions rose 17%. Internet platforms such as the Common Application, which is now accepted by about 700 schools (and soon to be 740+), have made it easy to apply to multiple schools at the same time. Add to that ease of applying the fact that the number of high school graduates who apply has increased. In 1970, 25% of young adults between the ages 18 and 24 were enrolled in postsecondary institutions, a percentage grew to 40% by 2014.

A higher percentage of a larger number equals more applicants. Those applying are coming from almost everywhere, with U.S. minorities and international students contributing significantly to the total. Regarding minorities, Duke University received a record 34,300 applications this year, up almost 7% from last year. Almost 55% of all applicants were students of color; there was a 22% increase in Latino applicants. On the international front, 27% of the record-breaking 67,232 students who applied to NYU this year are non-U.S. citizens.

 

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So here’s the reality: burgeoning applicant numbers without the capacity to accept them means that smaller percentages of applicants are being accepted. That’s especially true about “highly selective” schools: Consider the eight Ivies (Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, U Penn, Princeton, and Yale), along with MIT and Stanford. Applications for those 10 schools for the 2021 class increased by 9,324 students over the previous year, while admissions dropped by 384 students — in short, lots more contestants and even fewer chairs.

Over the course of the last nine years, the “admit” rate for those 10 highly selective schools has fallen by one-third, from 11.5% of their applicants to 7.61%, but the same trend can be seen at schools at the next tier down in selectivity. Many such schools now have admission rates below 15%, and a few of them have admission rates below 10%.

So what’s a student who wants to attend a “selective college” to do? Well, that’s too big a question to fully answer in this post, but, briefly, you’d better understand that you’ll need to be the “best of the best” in everything, including GPA, SAT/ACT scores, strength of high school curriculum, and extracurricular commitment – and that even then you might need divine intervention. And you’d better plan to apply Early Decision or Early Action if you want to truly enhance your chances – the subject of a future blog. Stay tuned.

 

 

EARLY

REGULAR

OVERALL

Applied

Accepted

% Accepted

Projected % of Class Filled Early

Applied

Accepted

% Accepted

Applied

Accepted

% Accepted

Brown

3,170

695

21.9%

46.3%

29,554

2,027

6.9%

32,724

2,722

8.3%

Columbia

4,086

650

15.9%

46.4%

33,303

1,535

4.6%

37,389

2,185

5.8%

Cornell

5,384

1,378

25.6%

43.1%

41,654

4,511

10.8%

47,038

5,889

12.5%

Dartmouth

1,999

555

27.8%

47.2%

18,035

1,537

8.5%

20,034

2,092

10.4%

Harvard

6,473

938

14.5%

55.2%

33,033

1,118

3.4%

39,506

2,056

5.2%

Penn

6,147

1,354

22.0%

55.4%

34,266

2,345

6.8%

40,413

3,699

9.2%

Princeton

5,003

770

15.4%

59.2%

26,053

1,120

4.3%

31,056

1,890

6.1%

Yale

5,086

871

17.1%

64.0%

27,814

1,401

5.0%

32,900

2,272

6.9%

Total Ivies

37,348

7,211

19.3%

51%

243,712

15,594

6.4%

281,060

22,805

8.1%


Topics: College Admission Common Application Ivy League ACT/SAT

 

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