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For senior Saher Khan, going to college means more than just getting an education. When she applied, Khan says she focused on a select number of schools because of their names and reputations, and was shocked when she found out that just two out of the nine colleges that she applied to sent her acceptance letters. She spent days soaking in the news, she says, before finally coming to terms with her situation.
“When I got my [results], my hopes just collapsed. It was so sudden,” Khan said. “I felt awful because I got rejected or waitlisted to all of my schools except for my safeties. I was happy for all of my friends, since they got into their top few choices, but I couldn’t get over the fact that I didn’t.”
According to guidance department chair Misty Whelan, Khan’s experience is not unique. Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University and Princeton University—some colleges that Khan said she was rejected from—were three of the several private colleges that announced record low acceptance rates for this year’s graduating class.
Private college acceptance rates have “been trending this way for many years,” Whelan said. “Those of us who’ve been working in the field have seen this trending over time—we’ve seen these acceptance rates getting smaller and smaller.”
Raising the bar
Six of the eight Ivy League schools, with the exception of Brown University and Columbia University, had record low acceptance rates this year, averaging 9.7 percent. Johns Hopkins, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northwestern University and Stanford University also announced record low rates. Graphics: Suproteem Sarkar/The SPOKE
Whelan said that one of the most significant factors contributing to lower acceptance rates this year is the higher number of applications per student. She said that upon receiving more applicants, colleges grow more selective in order to maintain a steady class size.
With higher applicant pools, colleges “are looking at things like ‘Has this student visited?’ or ‘Has this student shown genuine interest, or are they just using us as a backup school?’ and when students [fit these criteria, colleges] can see it,” Whelan said. “They’re on to the tactic of ‘I’ll just tack on two or three other schools as a backup,’ and those students have had difficulty getting into those schools these days.”
Senior Andrew Sharo said he has experienced the impact of the rise in the applicant pool firsthand. After applying early to Princeton, he was deferred, but was later accepted in the spring. He said that he would have applied to Princeton regardless, but would not have applied to 12 other schools without the convenience of the Common Application.
“With the Common Application, it makes it a whole lot easier for people to apply to schools. You just click a button,” Sharo said. “Especially because it’s all online, that just makes it really easy.”
Assistant principal Kevin Fagan said that part of the reason that colleges are facing more applicants this year is the recent financial crisis.
“Students and families, when they are applying to colleges, are casting broader nets and they are applying to more schools because they want to get the best financial package that they can,” Fagan said. “The result of that is colleges feel that because they’re getting far more applicants than they were just a few years ago, they can be a little bit pickier about who they admit.”
William Fitzsimmons, Harvard’s Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, said that another reason his school had a record low acceptance rate this year was the reinstatement of early action at Harvard, Princeton and the University of Virginia. He said the early action program left the college uncertain of how many students would ultimately accept admission, resulting in an even lower acceptance rate of 3.8 percent among regular decision applicants.
“We have always been conservative about the number of acceptances sent out at this time of year in order to avoid the possibility of overcrowding,” Fitzsimmons said in a statement. “As always, we expect to use the waiting list, and in some recent years as many as 200 students have been admitted in May and June.”
Senior Kevin Liu said he believes an increasing interest in colleges is beneficial, but he also felt increased pressure when he was applying.
“It’s good in one regard that there [are] more students that are seeing the value of good education,” Liu said. “At the same time, though, it’s unfortunate having to compete with so many people.”
State of local schools
Despite increasing selectivity among a few schools, most colleges do not have single-digit acceptance rates and most local schools are not becoming significantly more selective. Graphics: Suproteem Sarkar/The SPOKE
Whelan said that despite increasing selectivity among a few schools, most colleges do not have single-digit acceptance rates and most local schools are not becoming significantly more selective.
West Chester University Senior Associate Director of Admissions Sarah Freed said in an interview that the public university, even though it is more selective than most colleges, has not witnessed lower acceptance rates this year. She said that despite the school’s 11 percent applicant pool increase, its acceptance rate has held relatively constant at 47 percent over the last few years, while the class size has increased by two percent.
Whelan said that Pennsylvania State University, another public university, has also not seen much change in acceptance rates among Conestoga students.
Guidance counselor Jennifer Kratsa said that if acceptance rates continue to fall, underclassmen will face increasingly selective applications processes over the next few years.
To help combat this trend at Conestoga, Kratsa said the guidance department will talk to college admissions officers over the summer to find out why colleges are growing more selective and see how the department can help students’ chances of being accepted.
Senior David Xiang said that having to attend the University of Pittsburgh rather than MIT or the University of Pennsylvania, his schools of choice, was tough for him to adjust to at first. He said he had to reconsider his career choices, ultimately deciding to pursue pharmaceutical science instead of physics or chemistry.
“After I got [my results], I was happy that I got conditional acceptance into the University of Pittsburgh pharmacy school, but I am rather disappointed that I did not get into any of my top choice schools,” Xiang said. “If I were to get into MIT, I would probably go into physics. If I had gone to Penn, I would have stuck with chemistry, not pharmacy. But now that I [chose] Pitt, I’m pretty much set on pharmacy.”
Khan said that she has also adjusted to her results and is looking forward to attending Villanova University next year. She said that even though she did not get accepted into her top choices, she can still pursue a premedical program at Villanova and continue on her career path.
“Even though it doesn’t get much credit, Villanova is a good school,” Khan said. “And honestly, I think I’ll be happy there. I’m actually feeling kind of optimistic about it because I think I can do well there.”
Senior Ben Levin said he had a similar experience. After being deferred by Johns Hopkins, he said he ended up choosing Brandeis University after receiving an acceptance notification more than two weeks before the school sent out acceptances to most applicants. He said that even though the college was not his dream school, he is content to go there and thinks he will feel at home.
A college’s name “isn’t as important as it used to be,” Levin said. “If this was 20 or 30 years ago, it would make more of a difference, but [colleges also had] higher acceptance rates. But honestly, now I think it’s more how well you do in college than anything else.”
Senior James Brock said that although he has faced both acceptances and rejections this year, he believes the most important aspect of college is the education.
“More than anything, it’s about your attitude at college,” Brock said. “It doesn’t matter if you get a lot of rejections or if you get a lot of acceptances. The top-tier schools are great, but there are people that are incredibly smart in almost every college in the country. What matters most is what you make of it.”