Reality of College Admissions Competitiveness

By Huntington Learning Center

How hard is it really to get into college? The answer: it depends. There are schools that are known for being much more selective and schools that are more accepting of all kinds of applicants.

Here are a few interesting facts from the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s 2019 State of College Admission report to help you understand college selectivity and how it affects your teen:

  • Same top factors for admission of first-time freshmen – Admission officers continue to care about the same things they have cared about for the last 20 years. The top factors for admission decisions are overall high school GPA, grades in college preparatory classes, strength of curriculum and admission test scores.
  • Admission factors vary depending on college type. While the top four factors mentioned above were reported by ALL types of institutions, institutional characteristics do impact those factors:
    • Private colleges placed more importance on the essay/writing sample, interview, counselor/teacher recommendations, demonstrated interest, extracurricular activities and work.
    • Public colleges valued admission test scores more highly than private institutions.
    • Smaller colleges gave more weight to the interview, teacher and counselor recommendations, and demonstrated interest.
    • Larger colleges tended to place more value on admission test scores.
  • More applications – The number of applications from first-time freshmen rose between 2017 and 2018. As shared in the State of College Admission report (and reported by the Higher Education Research Institute’s The American Freshman report series), 36% of first-time freshmen applied to seven or more colleges during the fall 2017 admission cycle.
  • Many students apply to selective schools – The most selective four-year colleges—those accepting less than half of all applicants—received 37% of all fall 2016 applications but enrolled only 21% of first-time undergraduate students. About 65% of first-time, full-time freshmen were enrolled in institutions with selectivity rates (the percentage of applicants offered admission) between 50% and 85%.
  • Increased average acceptance rate – If this all sounds daunting, here’s some good news: most schools select most applicants. Average selectivity rate was 66.7% for fall 2017 (the percentage of applications offered admission at all four-year colleges and universities in the U.S.). This is up from 63.9% in fall 2012.

Bottom line: yes, there are certain colleges and universities that are hard to get into. The eight schools that make up the Ivy League are notorious for their low acceptance rates as are other non-Ivy schools such as Duke, Stanford and Vanderbilt. But more students are applying to college (and more schools per applicant). This impacts institutions’ yield—meaning, the percentage of students that enroll out of those admitted.

If your teen is starting to think about college, remind him or her that fit is most important of all. Your teen should focus on finding the school that feels right where he or she can succeed. Colleges do not accept everyone—that is a reality. But if your teen works hard in school and puts forth effort to prove that to the schools to which he or she applies, those chances of acceptance are a lot higher.

If your teen needs help getting the grades up or with the college application process, call Huntington.