As students, parents, and guidance counselors watch acceptance percentages drop each year at the very most selective US colleges and universities (last year, Stanford and Harvard were below 6% admitted, Princeton , Yale and Penn were hovering below 8%, etc.), in reality, how much has really changed?
According to Kevin Carey (“For Accomplished Students, Reaching a Good College Isn’t As Hard As It Seems,” New York Times 11/29/14), “For well-qualified students, getting into a top college isn’t difficult. It probably isn’t that much harder than it was generations ago.”
Mr. Carey posits that the percentage of admitted students statistic is driving the hysteria, and that as we peruse the consequent slim percentages, we should consider the multiple-applications factor. With applying to any number of colleges is easier than ever due to the Common App, students can easily apply to many of the top colleges at once if they are willing to put a little sweat equity into the supplemental essays. While some of these students are well-qualified, a great number is not. These students are applying in a similar way that a gambler places a bet: Why not?
Admissions offices at highly competitive colleges do not spend a lot of time reviewing applications featuring weak test scores, low GPAs, weak teacher recommendations or modest curricula. They just don’t. Those students are efficiently moved to the “reject” group and the time is spent carefully reviewing the balance of the applications. In other words, a significant group that makes up the high number of applications aren’t qualified at all.
While students are applying to more colleges, they can still attend only one. Admissions office know that when their application numbers go up, their “yield” (percent of students who chooses to enroll) goes down. Mr. Carey suggests that the real statistic we should all we watching (were it available!) would not be the percent of students accepted, but rather the “… percent of top students who are accepted to at least one top school… that number isn’t 5 percent or 20 percent or even 50 percent. It’s 80 percent. It turns out that 4 out of 5 well-qualified students who apply to elite schools are accepted by at least one.”
Bottom Line, says Mr. Carey: “The… data suggests that students who apply to many schools are more likely to strike gold than those who apply to only one or two… So the next time you read about terrifyingly low admission rates, don’t panic: If you work hard and get good grades and test scores, there is very likely a place at the top schools for you.”
Sarah C Reese, Informed Educational Solutions