College Admissions Trends - We've got your number!

By: Judi Robinovitz | Last Updated: February 5, 2014

We’ve got your numbers! No, not the winning megabucks ticket, but the numbers about that other “lottery,” college admissions. Each year the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) accumulates some pretty interesting statistics about admissions trends. You’ll want to know these.

Our long-standing affiliation with NACAC provides us with keen insights into the annual college application cycle. From NACAC’s 2013 State of College Admission report, we’ve gleaned some findings about recent admissions years that we thought you’d find illuminating. Read these statistics and draw some of your own conclusions as you approach college applications yourself.

For the first time since the 1990’s, enrollment in postsecondary education declined slightly in 2011. Minorities continue to be underrepresented among both high school graduates and college students.

While the high school graduate population has declined in the last few years, it is expected to rebound in three to four years and to remain level for another five after that. The overall picture suggests to us that the competitive nature of college admissions will continue to be with us. There are considerable differences by geography – some states are reporting considerable declines in high school graduates. Florida's graduation rate has climbed 18% since 2003, when it was 56.5%, but the current 74.5% still places it among the six lowest high school graduation rates in the country.

We’ve all heard about how college enrollment statistics differs considerably by socio-economic status. Slightly more than half of high school graduates in the lowest 20% income bracket went on to college in 2011, compared to 82% from the highest 20% income bracket. In 2011, while Black and Hispanic persons constituted about 35% of the usual college-aged population, they represented only about 29% of enrolled college students. Hispanics were particularly underrepresented among private and four-year institutions. Some colleges are looking for ways to find a better balance through their admissions process.

Some Further Averages:

The selectivity rate—the percentage of applicants who are offered admission—at four-year colleges was 63.9% for Fall 2012, continuing the trend of decreasing acceptance rates since 2002. The average yield rate—the percentage of admitted students who actually enroll—was 36.9% percent, continuing a downward trend in yield since 2007. Because more high school students are each applying to a greater number of schools, it’s more difficult for many schools (even the top tier) to predict how many of their admitted students will actually enroll.

Admission Strategies: Early Decision, Early Action and Wait Lists

Early Decision, Early Action and wait lists are used by only a small minority of US schools, often the most selective. Here’s a view into that process:

  • Early Decision (ED) Activity Holds Steady; Early Action (EA) Activity Continues to Increase: Half of the colleges surveyed reported increases in Early Decision applications in 2012. 47% of colleges reported increases in ED admission for Fall 2012, up from 36% percent for Fall 2010. A large majority (69%) of colleges reported increased Early Action applications and increases in the number of students who were admitted that way. For Early Decision, a gap of about 10% exists between acceptance rates for ED students and for all applicants. So, the chances of ED acceptance are slightly better than through regular admission.
  • Acceptances from Wait Lists are Declining: Three years ago about a third of wait-listed students were accepted, but that figure has dropped to a quarter of wait-listed students receiving acceptances

Factors in the Admission Decision

No change here! The news is the same: getting good grades in challenging courses is the single most important factor in the eyes of admissions officers. It has been that way for the past 20 years. The big deal is this: grades, strength of curriculum, and SAT/ACT scores are critical to acceptance.

If you look at the criteria in order of importance, they rank this way:

  1. Grades in college prep courses
  2. Strength of curriculum
  3. Standardized admission test scores
  4. GPA

On the next tier are:

  1. The application essay
  2. Student’s “demonstrated interest” in the institution
  3. Recommendations where appropriate
  4. Class rank
  5. Extracurricular activities

Among colleges, 25% indicate that race/ethnicity, first-generation college attendees from a family, and the high school attended have some bearing in how the other factors listed above are evaluated.

School Counselors and College Counseling

We couldn’t agree more with NACAC’s findings about counseling, and the numbers are eye opening! On average a public school student-to-counselor ratio was 473:1 three years ago, and it hasn’t gotten better. That ratio represents the real constraints placed on counselors who might otherwise be able to give more time over to the college selection and application process. Less than a quarter of a public school counselor’s time, on average, is given over to college planning. That’s why parents sometimes look beyond the school guidance office for the comprehensive assistance their children need to succeed in the the competitive world of college admissions.

Colleges Spending Their Money for You

When you get all that “fan mail” from schools, think of it as the tip of a money iceberg in an environment that’s competitive from both directions. On average, in 2011 colleges spent about $451 just to get a student to apply for fall admission, $677 on each student who receives an acceptance letter, and $2,432 to get the accepted student to enroll! That includes overhead in the admissions office, like salaries. Time is money.

The information is clear, is it not? Working hard now in high school has a direct impact on the range colleges to which you may apply with some degree of positive expectation. Want to be sure you’re positioned for success? Call us for guidance!

Topics: College Admission College Application College Counseling


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