It’s About to get Harder to get Into College

BREAKING NEWS. It’s hard to get into competitive schools. Every April and May, scores of **profound** think pieces come out that cite the year’s acceptance rates. They proclaim it’s “impossible” and “harder than ever” to get in as acceptance rates plummet. Parents and students across the world get panic attacks thinking about the odds. “How is my kid going to get into Yale when the acceptance rate is 6.9%!?” While the raw numbers support these fears, we’ve postulated that these acceptance rates are incredibly inflated.

Fear not, we can help your student get in to college. It’s not impossible. But we’re not here today to tell you how to get in, we’re here to tell you that as competitive as it is right now, it’s actually going to get worse.

While it’s not new news that colleges want their acceptance rates to be as low as possible, it’s interesting that colleges are now taking steps to lower the rate even further. It used to be that word-of-mouth, reputation, and some marketing pamphlets would encourage more students to apply, but now the colleges are taking it on themselves to incentivize more applicants. This is for a few reasons.

The most obvious is that exclusivity and a Studio 54 effect is never bad for marketing. But colleges want to decrease their acceptance rate to a) make them seem more exclusive, desirable, and prestigious and b) increase their ranking in US News and World.

Colleges are doing this is a few ways.

  1. Getting rid of testing requirements

  2. Getting rid of supplements

  3. Getting rid of application fees

From the viewpoint of the applicant, this all seems like great news: they can apply to more colleges with less effort. Think again. Getting rid of testing requirements because they believe that standardized tests don’t speak to a student’s future potential might be a valid move, but it just means that more weight is placed on other sections of the application. Many students worry that their test grades are too low to be considered for top schools, so they don’t bother applying. We’re seeing this trend of test-optional schools start with the small liberal arts schools, but larger universities are catching on. When schools get rid of a requirement as large as SATs and ACTs, their number of applicants increase.

Likewise, getting rid of the supplement is a tactic used to decrease acceptance rates, too. The supplement is often the portion of the application that students groan or complain the most about, so getting rid of it lowers the barrier to entry. By the time students apply to college, they’re usually overwhelmed with stress. They have to think and reflect on why they want to go to almost every college they apply to, so they look to pad their list with a few schools that have no supplements. They believe that the more schools they apply to, the likelier they are to get into any one school. While statistical probabilities do hold true in some form, it’s not necessarily true that applying to more schools increases your chances of getting into any individual school. So, when you see a school with no supplement, think twice. It might make you feel good to add one more school, but we’ve learned it doesn’t provide actual security you’re looking for. Instead, it gives students a false sense of hope. They feel like they’ve accomplished something by clicking the “submit” button. If you truly love the University of Miami, you should apply. But don’t apply because they got rid of their supplement.

It’s important to remember that colleges don’t get rid of their supplement to make the applicant’s life easier, they get rid of them to lower their acceptance rate. A lower barrier to entry results in a flood of applications and an applicant pool filled with people who don’t mind paying the $40-75 for an additional application. We saw the results of this action play out this most recent application season  

Middlebury, a top-tier liberal arts school, got rid of their supplement and saw a 14.7 percent increase in applications. Middlebury didn’t build more dorms or offer alternative programs, so they didn’t have more space in their freshman year class, but students who otherwise wouldn’t have applied to Middlebury chose to apply because there wasn’t a supplement. It was easy. “Why not?” Middlebury’s acceptance rate went down. We predict it will keep plummeting and other colleges will jump on this train.

This is a vicious cycle, and recently it’s gotten worse. Colleges are trying to get even more people to apply. They want their numbers to get lower. It looks “bad” if their stats go up in one year, so they’re trying something new. If the lack of a supplement and optional test scores weren’t enough to entice you, now many top schools are getting rid of domestic and international application fees. Wellesley, Colby, Oberlin, and Kenyon, for example, are now free for both domestic and international applicants. This is the most deceptive tactic they’ve tried because at face value it appears incredibly altruistic. It’s not. Don’t forget that this is a billion-dollar, for-profit industry.

When the students get to the point where they’re anxiously adding more schools to feel a false sense of security, they’ll find that many top ranked schools not only have no supplement but are also free. It’s a no-brainer for students to add a school like that to their “To Apply” list. And while you might be thinking “Relax, you know what? This is going to help so many low-income students,” you may very well be right. But there are blind spots to that argument. Of course low-income students will take advantage of this, and that is great. But what happens if and when a low-income student gets in but don’t receive financial aid because these schools aren’t need-blind? How will they pay tuition and travel to these schools and back home?

We predict that more schools will make their applications free in the next few years with the reasoning that they are lowering the barriers to entry and evening the playing field. But don’t be fooled. It’s entirely for them and their numbers. They will do anything they can to lower their acceptance rate.

Colleges love this trend. They need their acceptance rates to decrease slightly every year because it positions them as more and more competitive. Now more than ever, everyone wants to go to the “best” (most competitive) school they can get into. When we hear a school has an 11% acceptance rate, we automatically think it’s prestigious even if we don’t know much about the school or the programs it has.  

Additionally, as college increases in price and the job market gets more competitive, it seems that the name recognition of a school is becoming more important to people as well. Small liberal arts schools that don’t have the global recognition of larger schools are taking matters into their own hands. The best way to do this on a universal scale is to climb the US News & World Ranking, and one of the easiest numbers the college can directly affect in the methodology is their acceptance rate.

This isn’t meant to scare you, but rather to make the process more transparent. There’s a lot to unpack at every step of the application process. Although acceptance rates are decreasing, it’s still very possible to get into these schools. We would just advise you to be intentional with your choices. Don’t add schools to make yourself feel more secure. There isn’t necessarily safety in numbers. It doesn’t work that way. Do you research and be purposeful in your application strategies. And always remember that the colleges need you as much, if not more, than you need them. Let us know if you want our help figuring out where you should apply. Unlike all of these colleges, our acceptance rates go up every year.