Current research on college admissions…

According to Scott Jaschik, editor of “Insider Higher Ed,” the new “State of College Admission” report, issued by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), sends the message that it’s actually not as hard as we are led to believe to get into college. “The average four-year college admits nearly two-thirds of those who apply, and this is true from year to year in the study, going up or down by a point or so. For fall 2016, the year covered by the report (for those data), the figure was 65.4 percent, down slightly from 66.1 percent the year before.”

Here is one of the charts from the NACAC report:

Influence of Personal Characteristics on Admissions Decisions, First-Time Freshmen

Characteristic Considerable Influence Moderate Influence Limited Influence No Influence
High school attended 3.6% 18.1% 36.7% 41.6%
Race/ethnicity 2.4% 13.0% 20.7% 63.9%
State or county of residence 1.2% 7.9% 23.6% 67.3%
First-generation status 4.2% 12.6% 32.3% 50.9%
Ability to pay 1.2% 4.2% 13.7% 81.0%
Gender 1.8% 3.0% 17.9% 77.4%
Alumni ties 1.2% 11.3% 38.1% 49.4%

What do colleges really want to see?

Grades in a student’s academics and the rigor of their coursework consistently outweigh all other admissions factors, and that has increased over time.  The study shows that in 2007, only 52 percent ranked that factor as of “considerable importance” compared to 81 percent in this year’s survey.

Probably one of the most interesting trends revealed in the NACAC report is a slightly decreased value placed on standardized tests. In 2007, 59 percent ranked test scores as of considerable importance, and that figure was 54 percent last year and 52 percent in the new survey.

What often happens, especially at the more elite schools, is that lots of students end up looking alike on paper. They take mostly the same courses; multiple AP classes and exams, they participate in many of the same activities, etc. So, admissions decisions often come down to the subjective characteristics, items that include among others: extracurricular activities, community service, leadership, a student’s essays, their letters of recommendation and something called “Demonstration of Interest”.” Demonstration of Interest is when a student intentionally communicates with a college or university, letting them know of their interest in attending. This can include campus visits, interviews, communications with the admissions office, etc. Many of the most prestigious schools feel that Demonstration of Interest can provide an unfair advantage to certain students and don’t consider it as part of their admissions process.



Top Factors in Admissions Decisions, First-Time Freshmen

Factor Considerable Influence Moderate Influence Limited Influence No Influence
Grades (all courses) 80.9% 10.4% 5.8% 2.9%
Grades (college prep) 70.8% 17.5% 8.8% 2.9%
Test scores (SAT, ACT) 52.3% 30.8% 14.5% 2.3%
Strength of curriculum 51.2% 29.3% 12.9% 6.5%
Essay or writing sample 16.7% 36.9% 20.8% 25.6%
Counselor recommendation 10.8% 46.1% 28.7% 14.4%
Demonstrated interest 15.5% 21.4% 34.5% 28.6%
Teacher recommendation 7.1% 46.4% 29.2% 17.3%


How helpful is applying early? 

Whether it is Early Decision (ED), which is binding, or Early Action (EA) which is non-binding, this year’s survey shows students are flocking to these early options.  According to Inside Higher Ed  “the data confirm the conventional wisdom that, for most applicants, odds of admission are greater when applying early than regular decision.”

Here are the most up-to-date numbers from the NACAC report, provided by Insider Higher Ed. “Between fall 2016 and fall 2017, colleges reported an average increase of 4 percent in the number of early-decision applicants and of 5 percent in those admitted through early decision. This builds on previous increases. From fall 2016 to fall 2017, colleges reported that the number of early-action applicants increased by 9 percent, and the number accepted through early action went up 10 percent. Early programs were most popular with those colleges with greater levels of competitiveness (lower admit rates).”

“Among all colleges with early decision, their regular admit rate was 50.7 percent, but the rate for early decision was 62.3 percent. For colleges with early action, the overall admit rate was 64.1 percent and the rate for early-action applicants was 73.6 percent.”

Here’s the good news…

It’s actually easier than you think to get into college. According to the report, “The average four-year college admits nearly two-thirds of those who apply, and this is true from year to year in the study, going up or down by a point or so.”