The Hyper-Competitive World Of College Admissions

For the Fall, 2011 freshman class, Harvard University accepted only 6% of its applicants.  This was the lowest in the Country.  Yale, Princeton and Columbia followed close behind, each admitting only 7% of its applicants.  To emphasize how difficult it is to be admitted to one of these schools, it’s important to note that 95% of Harvard’s incoming class ranked in the top 10% of their high school class, and the middle 50% of admitted Harvard students’ SAT scores was 2080 to 2370.  That means that a student in the 25th percentile of the admitted Harvard class (the bottom quarter) scored in the top 6% of the 1.6 million students who took the SAT last year.  Those in the middle, an “average” Harvard applicant, scored within the top 2% of all SAT test takers world-wide.

These numbers are no surprise to an experienced college admissions consultant, but they may shock an unsuspecting family entering the process.  A family with whom we recently worked was astonished by the fact that their son was not admissible to Harvard despite the fact that both parents and 2 of his 4 grandparents graduated from Harvard.  The student in question had better grades and higher test scores than both of his parents!  And this hyper-competitive environment has filtered down through the universe of public and private colleges throughout the nation.  This all begs the question:  Why is college admissions so competitive these days?  There are 3 primary reasons:

1.  Today’s American students are competing against a global student body.  Twenty five years ago, few international students sought admission to America’s colleges and universities, but with the rapid population growth in China and India, not to mention many other countries, more students are seeking entrance to U.S. colleges, which are considered by most to be the best in the world.

2.  There are more students in the pipeline.  While the overall population of American high school students has stabilized, it’s still at its highest level in more than 15 years.  More importantly, the percentage of high school graduates who go directly on to college is at its highest point ever, about 70%, according to the National Center For Education Statistics.

3.  Finally, more kids are applying to more colleges than ever before.  Online applications, like the Common Application, make this much easier than ever before.  The average student applies to approximately 6 colleges, compared to only 3 twenty years ago.

So, with more applicants, more applications and the same number of colleges as there were two decades ago, the admissions process has become much more of a numbers game.  This means that good grades in college prep courses, strong SAT or ACT scores, a powerful essay, solid extracurricular activities, and strong teacher recommendations are critical for admission to the Ivies and many other schools.  The most important action students can take is to study hard, and do well in high school!

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