2018 College Admission Rates

Is getting into college becoming harder?
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The results from the 2017-18 admissions cycle are still rolling in, but the data available thus far sends one very clear message: Acceptance rates at highly-selective colleges are dwindling. Let’s examine this.

Ivy League Results

The numbers at Ivy League schools were already so miniscule that this year’s decreases can only be expressed with decimals. Princeton University fell from 6.1 percent to 5.5 percent; the University of Pennsylvania admitted just 8.4 percent in 2018 versus 9.1 percent in 2017, and Harvard University said yes to only 4.6 percent of applicants after welcoming 5.2 percent in 2017. After a slight bump in 2017 due to increasing the number of students on campus, Yale University’s arrow turned downward once again with a 6.3 percent acceptance rate. Brown and Columbia universities’ rates shrunk as well — from 8.3 percent to 7.2 percent, and 5.8 percent to 5.5 percent, respectively.

Dartmouth University shed a double-digit acceptance rate in 2017, falling to 8.7 percent. Cornell University stayed in double digits, but only by a hair. The university welcomed 10.3 percent of applicants in 2018, compared to 12.5 percent in 2017.

Other Elite Institutions

More dramatic drops took place at other prestigious, non-Ivy League schools. For example, New York University’s acceptance rate plummeted from 28 percent to 19 percent in a single year. Villanova University’s admission rate went down by 7 percent, Boston College’s dropped by 5 percent, the University of Southern California's fell 3 points to just 13 percent and Stanford University maintained its “lowest acceptance rate” status at 4.3 percent. MIT went down a touch to 6.7 percent. Overall, these numbers send a clear indication that the cutthroat competition to get into the nation’s top colleges and universities continues to trend upward.

State Universities

The aforementioned Ivy League and other elite colleges have all experienced steadily climbing application numbers in recent years. It’s important to understand, however, that this trend can also be seen at state universities across the country.

The University of California system was inundated with applicants in 2018, resulting in many being rejected from what they (and their counselors) firmly believed were safety schools. The University of California at Berkeley and the University of California at Los Angeles have long been recognized as highly-selective schools, but this year three other University of California campuses — San Diego, Irvine and Santa Barbara — were deluged with six figures’ worth of applications. Applications to the University of California at Riverside spiked more than 12 percent. In response, students interested in attending the University of California system will have to recalibrate their expectations, acknowledging that the entire network of schools is now on a whole new plane of selectivity.

Back in 2006, the University of Washington received roughly 16,000 applications; in 2018 it received 46,000. The number of applications to the University of Florida, the University of Connecticut, the University of Maryland and the University of North Carolina campuses all soared as well. In fact, the UNC system, with its many branch campuses, experienced a similar phenomenon to what occurred in California’s state system. An influx of applications caused many students to be rejected from branch campuses that they considered, based on the 2017 cycle, to be safety schools.

Is Getting Into College Actually Getting Harder?

Just because a particular school’s application numbers go up and admission rate goes down doesn’t necessarily mean that it is becoming more difficult to get into that institution. After all, some of the shrinking admission percentages are attributable to the ongoing upward trend of teens applying to more schools. It’s essential to look in-depth at the academic profile of admitted students at a given university to see if a diminishing rate of admission is truly indicative of swelling competition.

For example, applications at Bates College rose a staggering 45 percent between 2017 and 2018. Yet, the profile of admitted students (based on SAT/ACT scores, GPA and other stats) did not change significantly. On the other hand, NYU received a record 75,000 applications in 2018 and also became more selective. The average SAT for a member of the class of 2022 was 1440; the average SAT for the class of 2018 was 1340.

For more school-specific data of this nature — plus a wealth of other information — visit collegetransitions.com.

Dave Bergman, Ed.D., is a co-founder of College Transitions, a team of college planning experts committed to guiding families through the college admissions process. He is also co-author of “The Enlightened College Applicant: A New Approach to the Search and Admissions Process.” Learn more at collegetransitions.com.