- The college admissions scandal underscored how extreme the business of college acceptance has become. Yet, it could actually be getting easier to get in, despite perceptions.
- For starters, the vast majority of schools admit most of the students who apply, according to recent research from the Pew Research Center based on Education Department data.
Earlier this month, scores of high school seniors submitted their applications to college. Now comes the worst part: waiting.
In the wake of a college admissions scandal and as the super-low admission rate at many top colleges receives widespread attention, the business of getting in to college is more intense than ever.
However, it may actually be getting easier to be admitted, despite perceptions.
More from Personal Finance:
Here's what it takes to get into a top college
Applying to college early isn't always the best move
Why so few teenagers have jobs anymore
For starters, the vast majority of schools where most Americans get their post-secondary education admit most of the students who apply, according to recent research from the Pew Research Center based on U.S. Education Department data.
While schools such as Harvard and Stanford accept less than 5% of all applicants (both universities hit a record low last spring), the average admit rate across all institutions is more than 50%, according to Pew.
Of the more than 1,300 four-year colleges and universities Pew analyzed, only 17 admitted fewer than 10% of applicants in 2017, according to the latest data available.
On the flipside, more than half of the schools admitted two-thirds or more of their applicants, Pew found.
A separate Pew report showed that admission rates have, indeed, fallen in recent years. But that is largely because prospective students are applying to more schools than they used to, while the number of spots available has increased at a slower rate, according to Pew.
Altogether, colleges are admitting more students, but not enough to keep pace with the steep rise in applications.
Christopher Rim, president and CEO of Command Education, advises the students he works with to apply to as many as 18 different colleges, including safety schools with acceptance rates at or above 50%, to alleviate stress around getting in.
That way, "they know they are going somewhere," he said. "That really helps."
"You can be a star student but, at the end of the day, you can't control this process," Rim said.
You can be a star student but, at the end of the day, you can't control this process.Christopher Rimpresident and CEO of Command Education
A decline in international enrollment is also lessening some of the competition applicants face for spots.
This fall, digital media company Inside Higher Ed found that some colleges are reporting flat enrollment of new international students, while others are seeing substantial drops — in some cases, up to 50%.
This decline in international applicants will open up seats for domestic students, according to Hafeez Lakhani, president of New York-based Lakhani Coaching.
In previous years, a major influx of international students heightened the competition for acceptance into America's top colleges, as a growing number of applicants angled for a limited number of spots. But changing attitudes abroad about studying in the U.S. and more restrictive student visa policies have reversed the trend, Lakhani said.
"This is not a windfall," he added. However, "if you were a candidate who would be waitlisted, you have a real shot now."
If you were a candidate who would be waitlisted, you have a real shot now.Hafeez Lakhanipresident of Lakhani Coaching
Further, more high school seniors are choosing their own in-state public school, where acceptance rates are even higher.
The average public school admit rate is 70%, compared to 64% at private schools, according to The Princeton Review.
But beyond increasing their odds of acceptance, state schools have an additional advantage for college-bound seniors: price.
"Ultimately students often choose a school based on sticker cost," said Robert Franek, The Princeton Review's editor-in-chief and author of "The Best 385 Colleges."
The significant increase in the cost of college has outpaced both inflation and — even more starkly — family income over recent decades (see the chart below).
As college costs soar, the top concern parents and students share is affordability and dealing with the debt burden that often goes hand-in-hand with a degree, according to The Princeton Review's 2019 College Hopes & Worries survey.
As a result, roughly 70% to 80% of all students now study in their home state, according to the College Board.
However, choosing a college based on sticker price alone can be a mistake, Franek added. When it comes to financial aid, private schools typically have more money to distribute and can often ended up being less expensive than public college — after accounting for scholarships and grants.