Tougher admissions… maybe not


When asked if becoming accepted to college is harder these days, the answer will undoubtedly be a resounding yes.  Especially in selective universities, the number of applicants rises each year, and the admissions rates decrease accordingly.  However, a closer look at the numbers may reveal a discrepancy with the statistics.

There is no denying that going to a top-tier college has become harder than from a few decades ago.  Research conducted by Harvard University and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor showed that acceptance rates fell 25 percent between 1986 and 2003.  The study also showed that being accepted to a traditional four-year college fell by about nine percent during this time period.

In nearly all local North Carolina colleges, applications have hit all time records.  The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has received over 23,000 applications while Duke University has reported nearly 30,000 applicants.  UNC has had six consecutive years of marking records for number of applications.  Duke’s total number of applicants has increased by 54 percent over the past three years.

Although these statistics make becoming accepted to college sound very daunting, when looking beyond each highly selective university, getting into college has actually become easier.  While colleges are receiving more and more applications every year, students today are also applying to many more schools than they used to.

The type of student in an application can be classified into one of two categories:  qualified or unqualified.  When considering all the applications for a school, the number of students from both these categories will increase without question.  From here, the number of unqualified student applications can be taken out of the equation since admissions should only be a concern for those who have a legitimate cause to be accepted; an increase in unqualified applicants will not affect the rates for the qualified applicants.

The number of qualified student applications will increase with every selective college, but this also means that each qualified student increases his or her number of applications to different schools.  The number of slots allotted for acceptance in each of these colleges remains about the same every year.  The increase in the number of applications even from just qualified students will lower acceptance rates.  However, assuming there is a relatively equal probability of becoming accepted in each selective college the qualified student applies to, the odds of this student getting into a selective school increases with each application he or she sends.  The only downfall is that it will be harder for the student to become accepted to a single exact selective school of choice.

With new electronic applications and fee waivers, students have more incentives to apply to more than one college.  Universal applications such as the Commonapp have helped students save time when applying.  All these factor into admissions rates as such resources are conducive for sending in multiple applications.

Colleges process an increasing amount of applications each year, some over 30,000.  Assuming this trend continues, the question of tougher admissions will continue to loom as colleges may soon have to deal with hundreds of thousands of applications.  Even so, college may not necessarily be harder to get into; it may just mean each student is applying to multiple colleges.  Just like the lottery, the more applications sent, the higher the odds of being accepted to college.


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