Yes, It IS Getting Harder
You are not going crazy -- but college admission rates seem to be!
Harvard and Stanford are both below 5%. USC and Wesleyan are under 20%. Places like Northeastern, Tulane, American and Bucknell take fewer than 30 percent of their applicants.
The listservs of the professional associations I belong to are burning up with tales of woe like these:
"My biggest surprise of the year was a 33 ACT, 4.3 GPA, 9 APs, multiple debate awards, varsity basketball player -- rejected from UVA (out-of-state) and Emory. Finally accepted to William & Mary, thank goodness!"
"I had a great student, perfect 36 ACT, 4.25 GPA, 8 APs, impressive activities (including global competitions) -- wait listed at Wash U, Boston College and Johns Hopkins, rejected outright from Northwestern."
"My shock was a kid in the top five students in his class -- 4.5 GPA or something crazy like that -- wait listed at Case Western."
There are clear reasons behind this madness.
GPAs are steadily climbing. Whether through pressure on teachers to affirm their students, students taking more extra-weight AP courses, or simple grade inflation, colleges are receiving ever-more 4.0 GPAs in their applicant pools. As a result, many if not most colleges recalculate GPA based on their own formula -- either adding weight based on their own system or stripping weight altogether. To get an accurate read on your chances, you'd be wise to recalculate yourself based on what the admission officer will see when he or she opens your file.
Test results are getting higher. Some will suggest that the SATs and ACTs are actually easier than they were years ago. It's certainly true that scores on the new SATs are about 70-80 points higher on average than the old scores, making a lot of students feel they are competitive for admission to colleges that used to be (and probably still are) far out of reach.
More applications are flooding in. The number of high school seniors graduating in the United States keeps declining -- and yet the number of applications keeps rising. Why would this be? No question that more students are applying to more colleges, for essentially the same number of seats, spurred on by the higher GPAs and SATs referenced above. That's a recipe for rejecting more students.
How should an applicant respond to this reality? Try these suggestions for the savvy student.
Prepare a balanced list -- even if it's tricky.
Developing a list with a proper number of Likelies, Targets and Reaches may be easier said than done, when colleges seem to be changing their admission criteria each year. In response, be sure to add a few more Targets and Likelies to your list, and go lighter on the Reaches. Just know that ultimately your results may be unpredictable.
Home in on 4-6 good-fit schools -- and let the rest languish.
Colleges like to "feel the love," especially now with their expanding applicant pools. With all the demands on a student's time, it's impossible to focus individual attention on more than a handful of colleges. Choose your best-fit colleges and connect: meet with your regional rep, attend a presentation, visit if possible, and be sure to carefully complete any supplemental essays. Applying to a college used to be enough to demonstrate interest, but not anymore!
Love your safeties -- because you may be attending.
The final advice for a happy application season: Be prepared to love every school on your list, and be prepared to wait. The trends this year, with higher rejection rates and lengthy wait lists, is likely to become the new normal. Never has it been more important to make sure your list includes a range of colleges that you would be happy to attend.
If you need help understanding the landscape of college admissions today, or implementing a plan to deal with it, give me a call at 847-660-8625, or click "Contact Me" at the bottom of the page.