The Damian SAT ACT Prep Center is advising student that “The myth of selectivity, that college admissions getting harder with each passing year, is both true and untrue.”
It is very common to hear and chuckle about at alumni dinners or gatherings these uncomfortable words: “Chances are most of us here would not even be admitted to this college today.” Is it new or is it already heard about and part of the history of college admission? This isn’t new: I’ve heard that refrain at several alumni events now, and it’s always intended, unequivocally, as institutional pride. The message: Our school is so competitive and selective now that if you applied today with the same SAT’s and grade point average you had a decade or two ago, you probably wouldn’t get in.
To hear schools tell it, getting into college has become an uphill battle, with each new freshman class eclipsing the one before it. The University of Pennsylvania announced that the class of 2018 was the most competitive class yet, as UPenn’s admit rate had dropped below 10 percent for the first time in its history. Interesting enough we say at Damian SAT ACT Prep Center. Can we take their experience and extrapolate to similar ranking colleges? Well, what we have read few days after that in the online news was really astonishing. Harvard said that it had accepted 5.9 percent—2,023 of 34,295—of the students applying for the incoming class of 2018.
To parents, high school kids and college counselors who follow these numbers religiously, this was a sliver of hope. Harvard’s 2014 overall admit rate was a slight increase from previous years—although the percentage of admitted applicants considered under regular decision (including those deferred earlier this fall) was only 3.1 percent, a .3 percent drop from last year.
If you think a bit, the changes are minuscule. But while Penn’s admit rates were down, and Harvard’s were up this year, the perception of the fact remains the same: Getting into college seems harder than ever before, with the odds unlikely to improve anytime soon. The reality of college admissions, however, is a more complicated picture. As it turns out, getting into college actually isn’t any harder than it was a decade ago. It’s just that the odds of admission to your particular college may have decreased. That is the issue if you look at the overall picture and breakdowns.
The bad news is that getting into any specific school is less likely than it was a few years ago, and certainly more difficult than it was 15 years ago, because the number of strong applicants to selective schools has mushroomed. While 15 years ago, applying to 5 schools was plenty, not applying to 10 is really a low end. Many high achieving students will apply to 10 or 15 schools, so you’re looking at doubling or even tripling the number of applications from the same pool of applicants.
Application inflation is linked, Damian SAT ACT Prep Center believes, to the Common App, an application and essay that works for multiple schools, so there’s no extra paperwork associated with applying to many more places. In 1998, the Common App went online, and today, the vast majority of “selective colleges” allow students to use it—driving up their own selectivity.
But the good news is that while an increase in applications generally leads to a smaller admit rate at top tier schools, the number of American high school seniors is shrinking, having peaked in 2011. At the same time, according to several reports, the number of seats at competitive colleges has grown faster than the total pool of qualified applicants—raising a student’s chances of getting into a “selective college,” though not necessarily the one she has her heart set on.
The most important item people forget or avoid to accept is that the American demographics are very useful for figuring out Medicare and Social Security, but they’re meaningless in terms for college selectivity. And why is that true? Because of the globalization of applicants has changed the nature of college admissions.
Today, an American college education has become a consumer good—and schools are actively marketing themselves overseas. In growth economies like China, India, Korea and Brazil, and certain parts of the Middle East, and Eastern Europe, there is a certain status associated with attending an American college—and not just traditional marquee names like UPenn and Harvard. In fact, state schools that historically were easier for American students to get into, or were the flagship campuses for a state’s most qualified students, have earned international cachet.
Take China for instance. With a strong one-child policy, the Chinese middle class increasingly wants to send their single offspring to an American university—and by and large, these international applicants don’t need financial aid. In light of the last recession, the international application market has become economically vital to the “next tier” of schools or flagship state campuses. International applicants will pay out-of-state tuition at places like Michigan State and Berkeley and UCLA, and automatically making these schools much more competitive than they once were for in-state applicants, which puts pressure on the whole system.
If schools that were once considered “safeties” now have admissions rates as low as 20 or 30 percent, it appears tougher to get into college every spring. But “beneath the headlines and urban legends,” reports shows that it was no more difficult for most students to get into college in 2004 than it was in 1992. Students with the same SAT and GPA in the 90’s basically have an equal probability of getting into a similarly selective college today. The problem, according to the report, is that there is a “silent achievement gap” as low-income and minority students are much less likely than their higher-income and white peers to earn the same credentials.
As more state schools recruit out of state and internationally, there may be a squeeze on working class kids in their own home state as a result of these pressures on admissions—making schools more selective. At Damian SAT ACT we advise students to prepare and be as ready as possible to compete for their schools of choice.