While Yale and other Ivies continue to announce record-low rates of admission, higher education experts say this phenomenon may not continue for much longer, and some are questioning the importance of acceptance rates in judging such institutions.
This year, Yale posted an acceptance rate of 8.6 percent — a record low for the Ivy League — as 1,823 students were admitted from a total pool of 21,099 applicants. Other Ivy League schools also posted decreased or record-low acceptance rates, a trend that experts said reflects a peak in the number of high school seniors in the United States that will level off in the near future.
Yale Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeffrey Brenzel said he does not necessarily place high stock in the acceptance rates, though he said he does believe Yale’s increased selectivity indicates a great interest among applicants that is reflected by the University’s high yield.
“I would say that admission rates do signal some great things about Yale but are subject to multiple interpretations,” he said. “The admission rate is a function of two variables — expected yield and number of applications.”
Yale’s acceptance rate has dropped dramatically during the past decade. Last year’s overall acceptance rate was 9.7 percent. In 2004, Yale accepted 9.9 percent of its undergraduate applicants, versus 18 percent in 1996.
Brenzel said that whether Yale’s acceptance rate continues to decrease will depend on future yield rates.
“Regarding the future, it is very hard to say,” he said. “Only Harvard surpasses our current yield number, and it seems to me that our yield percentage could go up some more, could come down a bit or could stay the same without signaling anything about a change in perception of Yale. There’s some natural fluctuation in these numbers.”
Harvard accepted 9.3 percent of its 22,753 applicants this year. Harvard Director of Admissions Marlyn McGrath Lewis said she places more value on the strength of the applicant pool than acceptance figures.
“The [acceptance rate] percentage is probably irrelevant,” she said. “The only thing that really matters is the quality of the students we enroll.”
McGrath Lewis said a lower acceptance rate usually only indicates a college is receiving a higher volume of applications.
Doris Davis, Cornell University’s associate provost for admissions and enrollment, also said acceptance rates do not necessarily reflect the desirability of a school.
“We have to remember than an acceptance/admit rate is a mathematical data point,” she said in an e-mail.
Other admissions officials gave more credence to the ability of the acceptance rate to reflect a school’s visibility in the crowded market.
“[Acceptance rates] reflect the level of quality of the pool,” University of Pennsylvania Dean of Admissions Lee Stetson said. “They give you a feel for how discerning an admissions committee can be.”
Stetson also expects the decreasing rates to stabilize in the near future. The University of Pennsylvania accepted its own record low 17.7 percent of 20,479 applicants this year.
“The numbers might level off,” he said. “The applicant pool will start to settle down a bit. I don’t think it will grow much for the next three to five years.”
Other Ivies have also exhibited lower acceptance rates this year. Brown University accepted 14 percent of its 18,313 total applicants, making this the most competitive year in the school’s history. Columbia University saw an acceptance rate of 9.6 percent, with 1,653 students accepted from 17,148 applicants. Stanford University admitted 2,430 students for an acceptance rate of slightly less than 11 percent, the lowest in their history.
David Hawkins, director of public policy at the National Association of College Admissions Counselors, said he is not surprised that such schools are posting record-low rates at this point in time.
“It is no coincidence that we’re seeing the lowest rates in history when we are at the highest population level for people of that age,” he said.
Richard Wong, executive director at the American School Counselor Association, said the high school class of 2008 will be the largest graduating class ever.
“This is the peak of the sine wave,” he said. “It’s like the baby boom, which peaked and then decreased. Most of the colleges are not adding a large number of spots because they know that this boom in students is going to subside.”
But admissions rates will likely level off in the near future, both Hawkins and Wong said.
“We may start seeing a slight increase in acceptance rates,” Hawkins said. “One of the factors that can mitigate is simply the number of students graduating from high school.”
These low rates have important effects on the applicants themselves as well, Wong said.
“More students are enrolling in test prep earlier,” he said. “They are taking harder classes in high school, and, because of the ease of submitting applications, they are applying to more schools.”
Dartmouth College and Princeton University have not yet released their regular decision admissions figures.