Apr 11


College By the Numbers–and what to do about it

Dear Juniors:

By now you probably have heard from your senior friends, or at least in the news, how competitive college admissions is increasingly becoming. I can tell you, even with my many years of experience I still experience a moment of shock as I hear the numbers. Twelve years ago when Harvard and Princeton dipped to below 10% admit rates,**  the college counselors blanched. This year eleven colleges reported the 10% or below threshold, others are just hovering above 10% and Stanford once again holds the dubious distinction of being the most selective, denying admission to over 96% of their applicants.

***To hear this information “straight from the horse’s mouth” you might want to register to attend one or both of the upcoming evening presentations, below:

There are several factors that account for this trend—more students and in particular more national and international students are applying to American colleges and universities. Students anticipating the increase have become more competitive—taking more rigorous courses, having tutoring for ACT and SAT tests, and participating in more meaningful extra-curricular activities. College acceptance unpredictability has led to students applying to greater numbers of colleges, aided and abetted by the expanding use of the Common Application making applying easier and more streamlined. As a result, excellent students are being denied admission to colleges that just a few years ago would have welcomed them: in fact, would welcome them today but for the overwhelming numbers of applicants.

Some of the most selective colleges are becoming even more selective:  Colleges that last year were under a 25% admit rate are now below 15%.  Others have moved below the 10% admit rate threshold for their graduating class of 2022.  Here are some statistics that explain how competitive things have gotten:  *= Colleges that have moved into a new, more selective level:

**=/< 15%    Amherst, *Barnard, Claremont McKenna, College of the Ozarks, *Colorado College, Franklin Olin College of Engineering, Georgetown, *Harvey Mudd, Pitzer, *Tufts, *USC, *Wash U STL, *Williams

**=< 10%    *Bowdoin,   Brown, Cal Tech, Columbia U, *Cornell U, *Dartmouth, Duke, Harvard, *Johns Hopkins, Julliard, MIT, *Northwestern, *Pomona, Princeton, Stanford, * Swarthmore, U of Chicago, *U Penn, *Vanderbilt, Yale. 

The University of Michigan reported a new low admit rate of 22%–others, once seen as target schools that dropped to  between 22-15% were Boston University, Davidson, Emory, Georgia Tech, Hamilton, Haverford,  Middlebury, Northeastern, Notre Dame, Tulane, Wellesley and Wesleyan.

Another reality is that with so many students applying to multiple institutions, the colleges have increasingly employed devices to gauge the likelihood that students will actually attend if admitted.  “Demonstrated interest” becomes a greater factor in admissions decisions (did you visit, did you read the emails they sent you?) with the ultimate in “demonstrated interest” being applying “Early Decision” or “Single Choice Early Action” also known as “Restricted Early Action.”   In fact, for nearly every one of the colleges listed above, approximately 50% of the students who will be attending in the fall had applied ED or SCEA/REA.  Now, this doesn’t mean that those colleges are admitting ½ of their students ED or SCEA/REA, but this acceptance rate is significantly higher than for regular decision (more like 20-35%) bearing in mind that most ED and SCEA/REA applicants are stronger and more likely to have done their homework to ascertain “fit.”

The standard advice from college counselors is to make sure students have done their research and have a wide array of colleges on their list—with a range of academic and financial “reach, possible and likely” or “high, medium and low risk” –bearing in mind that this year’s likely could very well be next year’s reach. Besides that, students who are in the top tier of applicants to a certain college might be offered a substantial financial incentive to attend, which can level the field come decision-making time.  The key here is that every college in the range must be a college the student would be delighted to attend.

There are fundamental steps that every student will benefit from, and will guarantee that he or she will be accepted by wonderful colleges that are right for them. We’ve discussed them, but here is a recap:

Take excellent classes and do well in them (There is never a downside to being well educated and taking advantage of the academic opportunities available).

Do your best on the standardized testing that will verify that you are capable of reading and comprehending well enough to succeed in college work. We’ve recommended students take both the SAT and ACT because one test might be a better test. After you have taken each test once, retake the one you feel most comfortable with. Some students benefit from tutoring on particular areas of the test, and you can determine that after the first time you take it.

ACT and SAT now offer free online tutoring. 

ACT Academy

SAT Khan Academy


Do something outside of school that helps you learn and grow in non-academic ways. Develop a passion or a talent, do something that benefits others, take on a leadership role and explore the possibilities that life has to offer. Not only will you be desired by many excellent colleges, you will have a rich and fulfilling high school experience!

On the other hand, it is definitely helpful to hear what the colleges are thinking, and while there’s really no substitute for visiting a college campus, the next best thing is to attend a local presentation. When they take the time to visit our area, take advantage of the opportunity to get good information and also to make an initial contact with the college admissions folks.***  In these visits, you not only learn valuable information about the college and their admissions process, but also are able to “put your name with a face” in the mind of that rep. Over 60 colleges per year put Roeper on their “must visit” list. They only visit a few select schools in each state, and schools get dropped from their list every year, especially if they feel there is no interest in their college. Attending college visits when Admission Counselors come to visit Roeper is beneficial to you. Please take advantage of this service.

Finally, if you know definitely what college you want to attend, you could consider applying ED or SCEA/REA, but only if you are well within the (top of the) range for admission, the finances are workable and you are certain that you are ready to make a major life decision early in your senior year.  This is something we’ll have many conversations about.

I hear regularly from college counselors who are wondering about advising students how to best “package” themselves to be most marketable to selective colleges. Should they take more AP classes or do an internship in an area they are passionate about? Do community service or attend a college summer program? Travel to Ghana to tutor underprivileged students or take a summer job because the family really needs the money? The questions and the students become more frantic as they try to figure out what the colleges want.

Ricky Nelson had an answer:

“You can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself.”

My advice to these college counselors is always, “Have the student do what he or she loves most, something that will enrich his or her life, and something that the family can support.” When 90-96% of the students who are playing this game get rejected anyway, it is impossible to psyche out the system. Given those odds, no student should have to sacrifice his or her passion for a pathway with no guarantee.  If you follow your passion, take advantage of the learning opportunities you have at Roeper and really get to know yourself, you will end up in the place that is just right for you.

***Reminder from the March 29 Roeper Record/Counseling Website Article, “Juniors Take a Break”: Upcoming evening programs:  These fill up, so register early!!:

Coast to Coast College Tour:  An evening information programs with the admission representatives of Dartmouth College, Northwestern University, Princeton University, University of California Berkeley, Vanderbilt University. Monday, May 21, 2018 at 7:00 pm. At 60 Cadillac Square, Detroit. Register at

The annual Exploring Educational Excellence tour comes to the Doubletree Detroit/Dearborn (5801 Southfield Freeway, Detroit, 48228) on Thursday, June 7 at 7:00 pm.  Learn about admissions to Brown University, University of Chicago, Columbia University, Cornell University and Rice University.  Registration is open this event can fill up!

Patricia Bostwick, MA, LPC

Director of College Counseling


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