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Essay College Admission Too Competitive

  • Early admissions decisions for the Ivy League class of 2022 were announced in December.
  • The acceptance rate declined another year in a row.
  • It's harder than ever to get into elite colleges, according to experts.

It was the hardest year on record for students to gain an acceptance into the Ivy League.

Both the early admissions acceptance rates for the class of 2022— released in December — and the regular decision rates for the class of 2021— released in March — saw declining rates.

But it's not as shocking a fact as one might think. The acceptance rate drops nearly every admissions cycle at elite schools. Take Harvard and Stanford, for example. For the class of 2001 (meaning students were accepted in 1997) the admission rate at Stanford was 15.5%, and the rate at Harvard was 12.3%. For the class of 2021, Stanford posted a 4.7% acceptance rate and Harvard a 5.2% acceptance rate.

Former Ivy League admissions directors say it's harder than ever to get in.

"Admissions have gotten more and more competitive in the past decade," Angela Dunnham, a college admissions counselor at InGenius Prep and former assistant director of admissions at Dartmouth College, told Business Insider via email. "In addition to the sheer number of applicants applying, the expectations for candidates have increased."

The steady uptick of college applicants, especially at elite schools, is stark, driven in part by the emergence of Common App, which allows students to apply to many schools at once.

Take, for example, an article in the Harvard Crimson about the acceptance rate for the class of 2000. "The class was chosen among a pool of 18,190 applicants, making Harvard's admission rate a paltry 10.9 percent — the lowest in College history," The Crimson wrote.

Twenty years later, the authors of that story are likely to be aghast that the acceptance rate has spiraled ever lower. With more than double the applicants, about 95% of students who applied to Harvard were rejected.

In addition to the sheer number of applicants which make the field appear more competitive, the academic credentials of students are also becoming more impressive, in part due to the increase in international students who have begun to flood US colleges and universities.

"I met a Korean freshman who scored a 2400/2400 on the SAT, after taking it once," Dunnham said. "She also was conducting impressive research and loved debate."

However, there may be reason to view this lowering acceptance rate with some skepticism, Cat McManus, a counselor InGenius Prep and a former assistant dean and regional director at The University of Pennsylvania, told Business Insider via email.

Selective colleges may have ballpark figures they hope to achieve (and not surpass) when it comes to the percentage of an incoming class that can be comprised of international students, McManus explained. The increase in international applicants, therefore, while it may drive down the overall acceptance rate, likely has less impact on US applicants than is sometimes believed.

"The rise in the number of international applicants to the most selective institutions in the US has inflated the number of overall applicants, as well as, in some cases, the GPA and testing profiles, which makes schools appear more selective from a purely statistical standpoint," McManus, who was also an admissions officer at Princeton, said.

And while in many cases it looks like GPA and standardized test score averages are increasing, some of this should be attributed to the test prep era, which is ubiquitous in the college admissions process.

"Whether applicants are actually 'stronger' is tough to say," McManus said. "There is also a lot of essay 'help' that goes on, both domestically and internationally."

Still, while the increase in students utilizing test prep to boost scores doesn't necessarily mean these applicants are inherently stronger students than they were a decade ago, it does mean that average test scores are inching up, potentially harming students who don't have the means to pay for extra help.

As the benefits of a college education become more prevalent, more students have been applying to university. This has created an increasingly competitive college admissions environment, with almost 80% of ranked schools accepting 50% or less of their applicants according to a U.S. News article. With colleges increasing their selectivity, families sometimes look to public colleges as an inexpensive fail-safe option for attending college.


Public colleges and universities, including state colleges, operate under the supervision of state governments and are funded largely by taxes and subsidies from the government. A private college, on the other hand, is privately funded and sets its own policies and goals. For a more detailed explanation of the different types of colleges, see our blog post on public vs. private universities.


With the recent increase in competitiveness across all colleges, students may need to reevaluate how they view their chances of being admitted to in-state colleges. In this post, we will recognize and dispel some of the common assumptions about state colleges, explain why they have gotten more competitive, and offer some tips to keep up with the changing landscape of the state college admissions process.


Why Things Are Changing in State College Admissions

In general, college admissions are becoming increasingly competitive. This is in large part because college graduates in recent years have seen substantially higher average incomes and better job prospects than their counterparts who did not attend college. In fact, according to a recent TIME article, the average starting salary for a college graduate in 2017 was around $50,000, a 3% increase from the previous year.


As the benefits of a college education increase, more students are seeking a college education, and the applicant pools at each college are getting larger. Meanwhile, most colleges have not increased the number of students they accept to account for the increase in applicants. In short, there are more and more students competing for the same number of spots at each college.


State colleges are no exception to this increasing competitiveness. In addition, many state governments have decreased their budget subsidies to state colleges and universities by an average of 17%, creating budget issues for affected institutions.


In order to compensate for the lack of funds, state colleges have chosen to both increase tuition and accept more out-of-state students to their college, as they pay higher tuition than in-state students. This decreases the number of spots available for in-state students, putting in-state applicants at a potential disadvantage in the college admissions process at their state colleges. See this 2016 New York Times article for more information about the changing trends in state college admissions.


Common Assumptions About State Colleges (And Why They May Not be Accurate Today)

College applicants sometimes assume that getting accepted to a state college in their home state is easy and cheap. Indeed, many states have college admissions policies that can seem appealing. For example, most state schools in Texas follow an automatic admissions system, where Texas students with the top class ranks in their high school can gain automatic admission into any state school in Texas that they apply to. Other states have different policies regarding in-state admissions into state schools, but they generally include impressive benefits to high-achieving, in-state students.


Students tend to take these policies to mean that their admission to in-state colleges is guaranteed, when that is not always the case. Given the aforementioned budget cuts and competitiveness, in-state students sometimes face harsher competition for fewer and fewer enrollment spots in colleges in their home state. This means that even if you’re an in-state student with good grades and a decent extracurricular profile, you may not get admitted to the state school in your home state.


This wasn’t always the case, however. You may hear from older community members, parents, and even guidance counselors that it is easier to gain admittance to a state college because that was the case when they were applying to college. However, in recent years, state colleges have gotten considerably harder to get into than parents, community members, or even guidance counselors may expect.