If you have a student who is currently applying to colleges or is planning to apply in the next year or so, you likely know that college admissions can be a stressful process. You also probably know that there is a lot of competition for spots at top schools. However, parents and students should have an even better sense of what is driving the competition for spots and a more realistic expectation of admissions process outcomes.
Why is Competition at Top Schools Increasing?
A major reason why the competition is greater at many schools is that there are simply more people applying to college in general. In our current economy, a college degree is becoming necessary to pursue nearly any career. According to US News and World Report, the demand for space at top institutions has grown while schools have added relatively few new spots to accommodate that demand.
If students want to attend a top-tier school — including the Ivies and flagship public institutions like UC Berkeley, University of Michigan, etc. — they have to realize that the competition will be extremely stiff. For the 2015-2016 school year, Berkeley’s acceptance rate was only 15.3 percent, and Michigan’s was not much better at 26.2 percent. The University of Pennsylvania accepted only 10 percent of applicants for 2016-2017. And Yale, Harvard, and Stanford all accept well below 10 percent of applicants.
Realistic Expectations About College Admissions
Undeterred by the low acceptance rates at these top schools? That’s great — but students and parents should have realistic expectations about what it takes to make it into one of those coveted spots. We stress that there is NO GUARANTEE of admission at any school for any student. Even if you have excellent grades and test scores, you may not get into the school of your dreams (in fact, “only about 3 percent of 18-year-olds in the U.S. go to schools that admit fewer than half their applicants,” according to a recent article in The Atlantic).
Even if you’re one of the best students in your class, you will be competing with thousands of other students who were also at the top of their high-school game. As Harvard notes on its website, hundreds of valedictorians and candidates with perfect SAT/ACT scores are rejected every year.
There is a flip side to this story: you can be a valedictorian and not be accepted to Harvard, but you could also be someone with a lower class rank who shines because of other attributes and is therefore accepted. Still, class rank does matter: those in the top 10 percent of their class are much more likely to be accepted at a top university like Princeton or Yale.
In the end, parents and students need to be aware that AP classes, high standardized test scores, and stellar GPAs are musts for admission at top-tier schools, but even these achievements aren’t enough to guarantee results. Applying to a range of schools and staying resilient even if you don’t get into your top choice are some of our top tips for staying sane through the admissions process.
Here’s one important thing to remember: there IS a school for you out there. As noted in The New York Times in April 2016, even though top schools are more competitive than ever, “the average acceptance rate at four-year colleges has remained stable at about 65 percent nationwide.” Casting your net wide may be the best assurance of college admissions satisfaction.
Stay tuned for more in our series about College Admissions Mistakes. In the meantime, our college counselors are on hand to walk you through any specific questions you have about understanding the competition at your preferred schools.