College Admissions: Ivy League Acceptance Rates Decline

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DANIEL BARRY / Bloomberg / Getty Images

Students walk across the campus of Columbia University in New York City

Gaining entry into an Ivy League school is getting tougher every year. The prestigious group of eight colleges and universities recently made their admissions decisions, and all but one decreased their already low acceptance rates.

Harvard University was the most selective of the bunch, accepting a record-low 5.8% of its 33,531 applicants. It was followed by Yale University, which admitted 6.72% of its record-high 29,610 applicants, and Columbia University, which dropped its acceptance rate from 7.4% last year to 6.89% this year.

(MORE: The Upside of College Rejection: Your Safety School Might Be the Smarter Choice)

A larger applicant pool helped fuel increased selectivity. Cornell University received a record 40,006 applications and accepted 15.2% of them — down from 16.2% last year. The University of Pennsylvania saw applications inch up from 31,218 to 31,280 this year, and admitted 12.1%. Brown University saw applications dip very slightly, but still accepted just 9.2% of applicants. Princeton University, which has seen a 93.5% increase in applications in the past nine years, accepted just 7.29% of this year’s 26,498 applicants. Princeton says its acceptance rate was down from 7.86% last year because it overenrolled the current freshman class by about 50 students and is compensating by accepting 18 fewer students each year for the next three years. Dartmouth College was the only member to increase its rate of admission, which rose slightly from 9.8% last year to 10.05%. Taken together, the Ivy League received 247,283 applications and admitted 23,010 prospective students, making for a collective acceptance rate of 9.3%.

Even more selective than the Ivy schools was Stanford University, which has developed a reputation for minting technology entrepreneurs. The Palo Alto, Calif., university accepted a record-low 5.69% of its 38,828 applicants this year, down from a 6.6% admit rate last year. “We’re not doing that and then gloating,” says Richard Shaw, Stanford’s dean of undergraduate admissions and financial aid. “I’m disappointed by it. My message is, I’m really sorry to all those kids who are really amazing and we can’t accommodate.” Shaw says the primary reason for Stanford’s lowered acceptance rate was a record-high number of applicants, especially among first-generation and international students.

Admission to other coveted universities was just as hard to come by. The University of Chicago accepted 8.8% of the record 30,369 applications it received. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, just 8.2% of a record-high 18,989 applicants were accepted — a new low for the school. “We’re becoming more popular — that’s good, I suppose,” says Stu Schmill, MIT’s dean of admissions. He says the school had to be particularly rigorous this year because last year so many of their admits chose to enroll that they were unable to accept any wait-listed students.

(MORE: College Admissions: The Myth of Higher Selectivity)

For many of these schools the ever lower acceptance rates are the result of bulging application pools. According to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, the number of high school graduates in the U.S. steadily increased for 15 years before peaking at 3.4 million graduates in 2010–11. But there are still some 3.2 million students graduating each year, and they’re applying to colleges alongside high school seniors from around the world. And all those students are applying to more colleges than ever, thanks in large part to the Common App, a single application and essay that is accepted at 488 schools, including the vast majority of selective schools. According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, 79% of students in 2011 applied to three or more colleges, up from 67% in 2000. “More people are applying for the same small number of elite colleges than there ever have been — there are a gazillion applications for every spot,” says Rachel Toor, an author, college-admissions counselor and former Duke University admissions officer. “Even when you tell them only 6% get in, they still think, maybe I’ll be the one. Mostly, they’re not.”

(MORE: An Ivy League Education: Money Wasted or Money Well Spent?)

Though prestigious schools get thousands more applications than they could ever accept, they don’t exactly discourage the interest. “Everyone wants to keep their admit rate low because that makes you more selective, which gives you a higher place on the college rankings,” Toor says. “People in admissions say they don’t pay attention to rankings, but of course they do.”

While highly selective schools issue a lot of noes, there are some 2,000 other universities in the U.S. with much higher admission rates — many of which accept more than 50% of applicants. “In the end, they’re all going to go to a college, and the vast majority of our applicants will go to college and be very happy,” says Stanford’s Shaw. “It’s just a matter of accepting that there are great alternatives.”

MORE: Harvard’s a Bargain — If You’re From the U.K.

37 comments
comerobi
comerobi

One question come to mind:

What if, for example, one year all 8 Ivies accept almost the same approx. 2000 students and those students should choose between one of them. Now the result would be that enrollment percentage would drastically decrease. (with approx. 250 students per school).

Is it a coincidence that almost all students accept their spots in the school admitting him or do you think ivies "communicate" during admission process so that they do not overlap admissions (therefore enrollment), which would be devasting for top Ivy leage schools non having all spots covered before the academic year starting???

Answer to this =)

p.s. sorry for english I am from Italy!

imaginegoats
imaginegoats

As a high school senior who recently went through the application process, I feel like it IS getting more difficult to get into top colleges every year. A 2400 SAT and 4.0 GPA isn't going to get you into Harvard, even if you volunteer 400 hours, start a club building wells for children in africa, and you're on the varsity swim team. I feel sorry for the applicants down the road, because when I hear of what the freshmen or middle school kids are doing these days... it's only going to get tougher each year. And because it IS getting tougher, students are forced to apply to 20 schools since everything is a hit or miss, driving the acceptance rates even lower. 

Fawles_Rowke
Fawles_Rowke

Somehow nobody seems to know that if your mom, dad, or preferably both are alumni and have been sending checks to the school every year, you can get in with a score of 64%, while outsiders need to be geniuses with 98 or 99%. Of course, paying full tuition can also help.

upain21
upain21

It doesn't really matter that the acceptance rates are getting lower, the competition isn't really increasing because the same number of kids are just applying to more schools so it appears that the competition is stiffer. Additionally, these schools are encouraging kids who have absolutely no shot to apply so they can reject them and make the school appear more selective. I blame USNWR for this as they have made a low acceptance rate important and high school kids believe that selectivity equates to excellence and prestige. For example, the University of Michigan had an acceptance rate at about 50% for years and so many high schoolers viewed it as a back up school and a second rate school even though it consistently rates as one of the top 20 schools in the world. Michigan saw that as a problem and switched to the common app to get more applicants just to lower the acceptance rate. The competition really isn't much stiffer for good students but with the acceptance rate lowering to about 30%, less and less high schoolers are questioning its prestige and it is now viewed more favorably even though nothing actually happened. 

jellopeople
jellopeople

Hard to imagine it getting harder.  I got into one Ivy League school back in the 80s (1 out of 7 applied for) with decent test scores, a 4.0 GPA, and an extracurricular resume that went a mile long.  

srwadia
srwadia

Duke had an 11% acceptance rate. It should be mentioned as well.

vestafaire
vestafaire

This is pathetic. I would expect the good people at TIME magazine to understand basic math, but clearly I gave you more credit then you deserve. They are accepting the same number of people (or more), not fewer, but the total number of applicants applying has risen so they are accepting a lower percentage. It's a percentage thing, not a raw number thing. 

"Princeton offered admission to 1,838 applicants to the class of 2011, representing a record-low rate of 9.7 percent. A year earlier, admission was offered to 1,790 students, or 10.2 percent of those who applied to the class of 2010." 

Do you see how the number of admitted students actually rose? 

Sad. sad. sad, Time.

cvannost
cvannost

My son is salutatorian of his high school class and was denied acceptance to Princeton, Harvard, and MIT.  He worked very hard all through high school and has many extra curriculars, community service hours, and is an Eagle Scout.  I don't know what more these kids are supposed to do.  He was admitted to state school, but they won't pay for room and board.  I don't understand.

zaglossus
zaglossus

The Ivy League and similar schools like Stanford are also admitting fewer kids whose parents aren't wealthy, hardening the class lines in America even more.

LargoLagg
LargoLagg

Who screwed up, the author or the editor?  Who writes these sensational headlines?  I read the article, and I have no idea whether the headline is true or not.  Clearly, they will admit lower percentages if applications rise.  This doesn't qualify as news, except to the mathematically illiterate.  But they may have indeed admitted fewer students. I guess we'll never know.

 Here are some gems that help you appreciate the DUH factor of this article:

"Shaw says the primary reason for Stanford’s lowered acceptance rate was a record-high number of applicants"

"For many of these schools the ever-lower acceptance rates are the result of bulging application pools."

“Even when you tell them only six percent get in, they still think, maybe I’ll be the one. Mostly, they’re not.”




BeverlyWantanabe
BeverlyWantanabe

Kayla ... do you know the difference between numbers and percentages?

"Fewer" means less; "lower" doesn't mean "less".


Get in your Volvo and go find a tree to hug.

seizeabe
seizeabe

Another article from 'TIME' that has no real substance.

Selection to an Ivy League college has nothing to do with merit.

And, if some of the graduates are considered, it can be better understood.

If a student is willing to pay in full.... There's a good chance!

IsThatSo?
IsThatSo?

Where did you go to school, Kayla?

Adad
Adad

The declining acceptance rates reflect the value of a low acceptance rate as a marketing tool.  These schools are sending marketing materials and thus getting applications from students that they would never admit.  It is a cruel and cynical ploy.  If they chose to be more selective in their marketing, their acceptance rates would rise.

falleng
falleng

Harvard 33531 applicant with an application fee of $75= $2514825.00

Yale 29,610 applicants with a $75.00 fee= $2220750.00

UPENN 31280 applicant $70.00 fee=$2189600.00

Stanford 38828 applicants $90.00 fee=$3494520.00

I know this doesn't take into account those that have waivers but the numbers are staggering especially considering how automated the processes.

21stcentury
21stcentury

Top American schools are admitting international students whose parents will pay full tuition and, these schools hope, will give generous donations. After rich kids come athletes and legacy children. There are fewer spots for hard working American kids with greater creative and intellectual futures. 

bill1
bill1

Sounds to me like the acceptance rate is lower, not the number of admissions.

The headline writer should go back to school.

alfonso.carrino
alfonso.carrino

We talk about being competitive with other countries and how we are falling behind in this country, yet bright students are refused admission into these schools. Why aren't the schools themselves doing more to have these students participate from home via the internet? Why aren't these schools encouraging on-line attendance. And God forbid the schools charge less for this type of attendance when those same students would not be using their plant or equipment! Let's just keep taking baby steps backwards! After all, it's about school ratings; no, no, sorry, it's about education! Right.

stacyerogers
stacyerogers

@cvannost I hear you CVANNOST.. ditto for my son. Rejected at all 3 Ivies with 2200 SAT, 4.0 GPA and ton of extra curriculars. I get the  feeling that once they accept Alumni's children, and the international students who can afford to pay full boat and Athletes they "need",  there isnt enough spaces left for Salutatorians who need financial aid 

upain21
upain21

@cvannost The fact is it is very common for a very strong student not to be accepted to HYPSM. I can think of about 30 people from my highly rated high school that had a similar profile to your son and only 5 of them were accepted to HYPSM. All of them took exclusively honors/AP classes, had many leadership positions and extracurriculars, did sports, had 3.9+ GPAs and did lots of community service. There are just so many strong applicants applying to these schools that there are no guarantees that working hard will be enough, sometimes you just have to be lucky. 

vestafaire
vestafaire

Did you read his essays to these colleges? It could have been where the problem lied. Just guessing on the awesomeness as you describe your son and his denial rate. Kids can think the craziest things will impress admissions.  Apparently, a number of students have written about losing their virginity as the #1 big moment of their life and why it makes them skilled to enter into college, pooping (believe it or not) tops the charts as the top 10 things most written about that admissions officer don't want to read (which means that more than a dozen, more than 12 kids actually did this! How could this be, you ask. I have no answers), and illegal activities. Yes, kids write the craziest things in their essays.   I have two friends who are collage admins, and their perspective on the issue is hilarious.  So the issue seems to be, not did your students look good on paper, but did he paint himself as the right kind of student for that college in his essay.   

If you have any more kids I recommend, "How to write a winning college Admission essay."  It's not a "follow this rule" book, but more "how to explain yourself well", and avoid doing x, y, or z. It gives concrete examples or phrasing to express ideas and what it sounded like when others phrases were used. The author really seems to like the students she's helping and expresses how great they are, even as their essays fails to portray, or wrongly portrays, an attribute they want to express. It was enlightening to me! I *made* my dd read it.

bryanfred1
bryanfred1

Tomorrow's headline:  "Study Finds 6% Less than 94%"

Source:  Today's article.

Sidenote:  If you think this is bad, read the economic/business commentary.  The authors appear to have no background whatsoever in the subject (except the new guy, Christopher something).

vestafaire
vestafaire

@BeverlyWantanabe  

If you know what someone means, does forward the conversation to correct someone?

  Or are you attempting to prove worthlessness of oxygen because you you have mastered the semantics of two words?

bryanfred1
bryanfred1

If all applying requires is clicking an extra box, why not apply to as many as you want to spend money on?  Of course acceptance rates are going to plummet.

notLostInSpace
notLostInSpace

@falleng The fee keeps people from applying that know they have slim chances of being admitted.  A smaller fee or no fee will encourage more people to apply.  It is very obvious that none of these schools need MORE applicants. 

Rik
Rik

@falleng It doesn't begin to cover the cost of staff, computers, mailings, visits,  office space, time,  to review all these applicants.

cogitoergognome
cogitoergognome

@21stcenturyYou realize that most of these top schools have need-blind admissions, right? E.g. the schools aren't even aware of applicants' financial situations until after they've been accepted. As one of those "hard-working American kids" at a top Ivy whom you're defending, I wish you would inform yourself before making factually incorrect statements.

bryanfred1
bryanfred1

I have a hard time reconciling articles like this one with others that point out how much worse the average student has become.  Maybe more are applying but the average quality is down, resulting in essentially the same type of student being admitted?  But that kind of anaylsis would take work so I won't hold my breath.

Also, schools live on their rankings and SAT and GPA are huge contributors so many are competitively better off admitting foreign students who took the SAT in their native language and passed an English as Second Language test.

cogitoergognome
cogitoergognome

@alfonso.carrinoOnline attendance is nothing like actually attending a university; a Harvard or Yale education isn't just about the classes - it's about what you do outside of them and the brilliant students and professors who surround you. You write that "bright students are refused admission into these schools" -- but why is it necessary that every bright American student be given the chance to go to an Ivy? The US has plenty of other great schools that will serve them well. 

JohnnyDole
JohnnyDole

@alfonso.carrino I have to disagree with you. The point of attending an Ivy League school is the experience in itself that simply cannot be replicated with an online learning model. An education can go beyond just learning in a classroom so video distance learning does not provide that experience. If I was accepted to Harvard or Yale, I would like to actually go to Harvard and Yale since that is mostly the point.

cvannost
cvannost

Yes, both my husband and I read his essays. I am a college grad and my husband has a PhD so I think we are fairly intelligent people. I think they were well written essays that highlighted his assets and talents on a variety of topics, from his musical and drama achievements, to Scouts, to appearing on a local quiz show. I think he really put his best foot forward and I am just dismayed by the sheer volume of qualified applicants that are vying for so few spaces.  He has 11 AP classes and several college tie in courses. as well.  I know many other great kids who are in the same boat.  I am not trying to take anything away from those students who were accepted, I am just disappointed for my son.  @upain21  Thank you for your comments, I am beginning to see that it must be a lot of luck and possibly not being a white kid from New England.  I know my son will do well at state school, it's just a little bit of a let down after all this waiting and hoping.

falleng
falleng

@Rik @falleng Based on that analysis, if it didn't cover the cost, why would Ivy Leagues go to such trouble? Surely, name recognition alone would excuse the need to recruit.  The automated process has reduced many of the old processing responsibilities from staffing which speeds up the process and reduces office space.  No doubt, if they didn't have a fee, they would be bombarded with even more applications but then again, they would quickly develop a more efficient process that would reduce the strain on their institution.  The money just makes it easier and allows them to create an image that they are selective.  The article points to it.

Starvingartist
Starvingartist

@cogitoergognome 

Need-blind is a lovely step forward but don't be so naive that you think it means utterly blind. Admissions do still value the importance of legacy (which equals money) and certain names (that equal money) and certain backgrounds (that equal money). They know damn well, even without checking bank balances, that a high percentage of kids applying from the Middle East have money, for instance, and that a very high percentage of kids applying out of private high schools have money. And they are acutely aware of whose parents have made donations to the college. They take a lot of those kids. Those kids made up a lot of my classes.

melonheadx13
melonheadx13

@JohnnyDole it's about meeting the "right" people  who have the right connections so that the right grads can go to work right away at top companies.

melovixen
melovixen

@Starvingartist @cogitoergognome There were only 6 legacy admits last year at CC.  Hardly tipping the scale...  I noticed international students as a much larger factor in selectivity.  The campus was pretty darned diverse (not just in race but nationalities).

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