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What the College Admissions Numbers Really Mean

Nov 21, 2014 04:38PM ● By Dia

By David Stoll, Premier Platinum tutor and college admissions counselor at The Princeton Review

Another year brings the perennial concern that it is harder than ever to gain admission to a selective college. Stanford, for example, admitted just 5.07% of its 42,167 applicants this year, the lowest in the University’s history.  However, as in prior years, this trend should be viewed in a larger perspective—one that suggests that applying early remains an important part of the admission process. Moreover, students in the high school Class of 2017 should plan ahead when it comes to standardized testing.

The Stanford story is instructive. Under its Early Action (EA) program, 748 students—nearly 11% of early applicants and more than one-third of all acceptances—were offered early admission. Thus, the acceptance rate for Regular Decision barely topped 3%.  Similarly, Yale admitted 15.57% of its EA applicants, compared with 6.26% of all applicants; Princeton 18.53% EA, compared with 7.28% overall; and Harvard 21.14% EA, compared with 5.9% overall. Outside of the Ivy League, The University of Chicago admitted 12.12% of its EA applicants, compared with 8.4% of all applicants.

The Early Decision (ED) story is even more interesting. Applying Early Decision involves a binding promise to attend the school if accepted. The University of Pennsylvania offered admission to 25.5% of its ED applicants, who fill more than half the class, as opposed to 9.9% overall. Duke, too, accepted over 25% of its ED applicants, nearly half the entering class, as opposed to 10.7% of all applicants. Northwestern accepted a whopping 32.31% of ED applicants, while its overall accept rate dropped to a low of 12.9%.

What do these numbers mean? Applying Early Decision is wise for a competitive student who has a clear first choice and for whom financial aid is not an issue. For such a student, the odds of acceptance are higher, because the student is showing an interest, the school will accept a higher percentage of applicants, and there will be fewer slots available for those applying regular decision. On the other hand, someone uncertain about attending a school should not apply Early Decision as a means of gaming the system; attending a best-fit school is well worth the wait.

Applying Early Action is also wise, and financial aid need not be a consideration yet. While chances of admission are not quite as high at an Early Action school as at an equivalently selective Early Decision school, the odds for a competitive student are still better than they would be in the spring. Do note that some Early Action schools, including Harvard, Princeton, and Yale, will not permit early applicants to apply early to other private schools. Thus, it may be better to apply to other schools early to allow for more possible options.

What does this mean with respect to the Redesigned SAT? The new test is expected to launch in spring 2016. For those who find the ACT to be a better fit, the SAT changes are not particularly relevant as every school will accept either ACT or SAT. The best way to find out whether a student is more suited to ACT or SAT is to take a full-length practice of each. For those in the Class of 2017 who may rely on SAT scores, it may make sense to take the current SAT in 2015 and the new SAT in 2016 and rely on the better performance. Thus, 2015-16 juniors should begin their (current) SAT prep early and take the test in fall 2015. They can then update their prep in the spring and try the new SAT.

About The Princeton Review

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