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By Galin College Counselors

The last two weeks of March are typically when a majority of admission decisions are released by selective colleges. It can be a time of excitement and also of disappointment – and many applicants will experience both. Even when we know the odds, it can still sting to be denied admission to selective colleges! This week, we are providing some context around 2023 admissions that may help lessen that sting for this year’s applicants, and help shape the approach to the process for students applying for 2024 admission and beyond.

Admissions data compiled by College Kickstart show decreasing acceptance rates vs. just two years ago at many highly selective colleges:

  • Colby’s rate dropped from 8% to 6%; 
  • Boston College’s slid from 18% to 11%; 
  • University of Virginia’s fell from 21% to 16%. 
  • NYU saw a whopping 120,000 applicants this year, up from 95,308 two years ago, and a resulting drop in acceptance from 13% to 8%.

Some Ivy League universities, not surprisingly, maintained single-digit acceptance rates, with Harvard at 3%, Yale at 4% and Dartmouth at 6%.

State flagship universities, meanwhile, have also become much more competitive. As the cost of college rises, these universities continue to offer great value for in-state students, who are applying in greater numbers. Many state flagships also have strong national reputations and are attracting more out-of-state applicants.

With more students applying, colleges – including those previously seen as well within reach for most strong students – are admitting from an ever-increasing pool of highly qualified candidates, mostly without meaningful increases to the number of spots in their freshman classes. This simple math can make admissions largely unpredictable at institutions where students with strong grades and accomplishments could in the past feel reasonably confident of their chances.

Another thing to keep in mind is that institutional priorities are strong drivers of admissions decisions. In shaping each incoming class, colleges seek to enroll students with varied talents, backgrounds and markers of excellence. Shifting institutional priorities from year to year can often explain what seem like “random” outcomes – such as when a less academically qualified applicant is accepted where you were denied, or when you gain admission to a school with a lower admission rate but are denied at one with a higher admissions rate.

Unfortunately, the desire to maintain or improve rankings still plays a role in selective admissions as well. Higher selectivity can lead to a higher yield rate (the number of admitted students who enroll), and yield rate is a data point in the rankings. This creates a cycle of competition, where colleges market to encourage application, only to receive far more than they could possibly admit.


Guidance For Students Entering Upcoming Admissions Cycles

We continue to emphasize the need to add more admissions-accessible schools to the college list. Comparing a student’s metrics to those of a college’s enrolled freshman class is only the first step; we also want to look at schools’ acceptance rates and make sure that there are schools on students’ lists that still accept a higher percentage of applicants but still have most of the features and benefits the student is seeking in a school. (Excellent academic programs, innovative experiential learning, inspiring professors and exciting research opportunities exist everywhere, not only at the most selective schools!) Exploring options beyond the most recognizable colleges and universities can often lead to finding great-fit schools with more favorable admissions results.

In addition, keep in mind the importance of “demonstrated Interest.” Not all schools track this, but even those that do not will want to see that you are serious about wanting to attend the school, which can come through in polished, passionate essay responses as well as by applying early, especially early decision (ED). ED tells the school that if accepted, you are attending!

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