Despite the hype of ever-decreasing admissions rates, most American universities’ acceptance rates have actually remained fairly noncompetitive as the college admissions cycle kicks off for the class of 2017.
The vast majority of American public and private universities have only become modestly more selective in the last 10 years, according to a recent study by the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Though the average national admissions rate has hovered steadily around 60 to 70 percent, experts interviewed said the general public tends to view mistakenly all college admissions as becoming increasingly elite because media discussions focus on a small number of highly selective universities, including Yale, Harvard and Princeton.
“The college admissions process itself has a much higher profile than it used to have,” said Lloyd Thacker, executive director of educational non-profit The Education Conservancy. “Kids are applying to more colleges. The most popular schools are continuing to receive an increasingly disproportionate share of applications.”
Thacker said parents and students who value the status and prestige of universities are growing more concerned with getting the most “educational return” for their financial investment, especially in the current state of the economy. Students are more likely to send in a greater number of applications to schools known for their selectivity, he said, because “more and more kids are thinking about the cost-benefit return.”
Yale’s acceptance rate hit an all-time low of 6.82 percent this year, compared to a roughly 14 percent acceptance rate a decade ago. Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeffrey Brenzel declined to comment on how the differing national trends reflect attitudes toward higher education.
Chuck Hughes, president of college admissions consulting service Road to College, said he believes that the increasing selectivity of schools is not due to media attention, but rather the nation’s economic situation — with an economy that has not yet recovered from the 2008 financial crisis, students put more emphasis on job placement, which many think can be enhanced by attending a selective university. Certain families will only pay for a child’s college education if the child is accepted at an “elite” university — a trend that causes the number of applications at only top tier universities to rise, he said.
“It’s really interesting — families put a premium on a certain tier of education now,” he said. “It’s a small number [of schools for which] families are willing to pay whatever that cost is for school. Those families are very conscious of value.”
Thacker said other factors, such as media rankings and increased marketing from colleges, have also driven up application counts and lowered the acceptance rates of elite institutions. Hughes added that a rise in international applicants has contributed to the lowered rates as well. He said he does not think the pool of students applying to college from within the United States has increased, but rather the acceptance rate of more selective institutions has gone down partially due to the growth of international applicants.
Many people have a misperception that applying to any college in the United States is as competitive as applying to the schools of the Ivy League, said David Hawkins, NACAC director of public policy and research, in an interview with Inside Higher Ed.
The study also reported several other findings, such as a long-term decline in the importance that colleges place on high school class rank and in-person interviews.