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Increasing the Odds of College Admission

Updated: Jul 10, 2023

It isn't lost on parents that the college admissions process is significantly more competitive than when they went to school. Among the reasons for this shift from years past are the creation and implementation of the Common Application, a proliferation of application fee waivers, a growing number of test-optional institutions, new data-driven technology for targeting and attracting applicants, more generous scholarship packages, and an overall uptick in foreign applicants. Coupled with the funneling effect to specific schools--due in part to college ranking surveys--this intensification has come to most acutely affect highly selective institutions.

The figures here can be shocking. A Common Ap report from March 2022 highlights a 21.36% increase in applications between 2019-20 and 2021-22. As the most highly selective schools continue to narrow their applicant pool, the sudden changes at a few institutions are striking: Boston College's 2019 acceptance rate of 27% has shot down to 16.5%, and Colgate University boasts a current rate of 12%--a far cry from 2019's 22%. While less of a recent event, schools like Tulane University have seen more gradual declines in acceptance rates (from ~50% in the early '00s to today's ~10%) punctuated by rapid drops in the past few years. Statistics like these indicate that most schools are not only far more competitive than they were a generation ago; in reality, the odds of acceptance at a top school have dropped dramatically in the past few years alone.

The current application process is daunting. Yet, while the demands placed on high-school students seem insurmountable to many families, there are many little-known opportunities to ease the pressure. One point to consider is that colleges are institutions with institutional plans and initiatives. When considering current acceptance rates, it is important to step back and consider how the management of a college (their president, their board, etc.) might respond when they fail to match the dramatically increased selectivity of comparable institutions. It is easy to conclude that the pressure of missed targets runs directly to their admissions departments , potentially increasing the demand for both early decision candidates and regular decision candidates who have effectively demonstrated their interest to their regional admissions representatives. More broadly, it is safe to assume that colleges that have not seen their selectivity increase in recent years have discussed this point internally and would like to see a change. It follows that such schools would be more interested in actively engaging with potential applicants. In an admissions landscape where qualitative factors like applicant personality and extracurricular interest carry greater weight, the pressure to receive more applicants can provide students with more opportunities to tell 'their story' in emails and interviews. When conducted thoughtfully, this kind of communication can provide an edge in the application process.

Furthermore, it's beneficial to keep in mind that while selectivity does not necessarily mean a college is 'good,' it can be the central metric that consumers evaluate colleges with --for better or for worse. It is also important to remember that colleges, like all institutions, go through up's and down's, with less successful initiatives driving periods of relative underperformance that do not reflect a decline in the quality of education at the institution. We advise keeping an eye on colleges whose recent admissions results have been less successful in terms of attracting additional applicants and increasing selectivity, as it might present greater opportunities for applicants to interact with the school and their admissions representative. We believe that deliberate interaction with schools is an increasingly important avenue for highlighting a student's candidacy, and that schools that have lagged in selectivity are more likely to be more receptive to this kind of outreach.

Among the schools we like that have seen limited increases in selectivity over the past few years while remaining top quality institutions are American University, Connecticut College, Fordham University, George Washington University, Occidental College and Santa Clara University. As indicated above, we feel that such a gap may make the representatives at these schools extra responsive to applicant engagement. There are MANY other schools that fall into this category, and the data on multiyear admissions rates is easily accessible on the internet--if you know where to look. The bottom line is that in an admissions environment that may seem more daunting than ever before there can still be opportunities for savvy students.


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