College Admissions 2010: A look at the numbers

By Ryan Hickey + updated on April 6th, 2010

Ah, springtime: flowers are blooming, birds are singing, and college applicants are… well, they could be doing just about anything right now. Some learned their fates last year thanks to early applications, while some made a decision more recently. Others have received all of their accept/reject letters but still don’t know where they’ll matriculate; many will attend a slew of “Visit our campus, come here!” events in the coming weeks. And then there are those who remain in limbo, stuck on a waiting list with their fates dependent on the decisions of their peers.

In short, anyone who thinks that the college application season is now over is out of touch with today’s increasingly complex and drawn-out process. Still, application and admission numbers from the vast majority of colleges are now in, so today we’ll take a look at some of those figures.

The Choice Blog at the New York Times has put together a handy and informative chart of admissions numbers from some of the most popular schools in the U.S. Check it out when you have a minute. When I reviewed that chart, several things popped out at me immediately:

  • Of the 25 schools listed, 18 reported an increase in applications over 2009.
  • Some schools saw impressive increases in applicant numbers: 7 of the private schools listed saw applicant numbers grow by 10% or more.
  • Admit rates for the listed public schools averaged out to 44.89%, while admit rates at private schools averaged out to 13.7%.
  • The real jaw dropper: the average admit rate at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford was a meager 7.45%.

So what can we learn from these numbers? Well…

  • Overall, more people are applying.
  • Admit rates as a whole are low.

Combine those two facts and you can draw one clear conclusion from this data: college admissions is a remarkably competitive process nowadays and most signs point to it becoming even more competitive in the future. The simple truth is that if more and more students are going to apply to schools that can only admit a finite number, admit rates will continue to decline.

It’s no secret that it’s hard to get into schools like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford. What some may find surprising is the increasing competitiveness at less well known schools, even public universities not traditionally known for being selective.

With college admissions becoming more and more competitive, admission is becoming more a “stand out from the crowd” process than ever before. No longer can a student with a strong academic record and list of extracurricular activities assume that their resume will be enough to earn admission, even to a safety school. Rather, each applicant must make a clear case to the admissions committee as to why he or she deserves a coveted spot in the class of 20XX. Your essays are an ideal chance for you to do just that.

Remember, 4.0 and 2400 are just numbers, numbers that thousands of students share. Your well written, unique, and personal essay is something that nobody else will have.  What will you say to convince the admissions committee that you belong in that top 7, 13, or 44%?

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Ryan Hickey

Ryan Hickey is Managing Editor of Peterson's & EssayEdge and an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants. He enjoys sharing his knowledge to aid others in achieving their educational goals and, when he gets a break, loves hiking and fly fishing with his wife and two border-collie mixes.

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