For anyone watching, the trend is very clear; college acceptance rates at America’s competitive institutions are dropping precipitously.  I think we can reasonably attribute this drop to three main factors.  One, is the shift to score optional college admission policies.  Two, is the trend for each student to apply to more colleges.  Three, is the hype factor around the “highly rejective” college acceptance rates.

The shift to score optional admissions policies was thrown into overdrive in 2020 due to the pandemic.  Every college was essentially forced to go score optional because not all students were able to sit for the SAT or ACT due to closed testing sites throughout the country (for health purposes).  The dramatic effect of this shift to score optional policies meant a quick jump in the number of applicants to the most competitive colleges.  In effect, students were emboldened to apply to colleges they may not have previously considered.  Compounding this situation was a bit of grade inflation prompted by the pandemic as well.  To paraphrase a typical sentiment, “Since I have straight A’s and they are not going to make me show them my mediocre test scores, I might as well apply to Ivy X and see what happens.”  Consequently, some of the Ivies (and similar) saw an increase in applications of 40%!  The number of acceptances remains steady so the result is a plummeting acceptance rate.

In the face of these dropping acceptance rates, students are responding by applying to more colleges each because their fate is so uncertain.  While I don’t generally subscribe to this line of thinking, many students do.  Students in the 80s and 90s would typically apply to three or four colleges each.  Then we saw the number creep up to the 10 to 12 range in the early 2000’s.  Now we hear stories of students applying to 15-20 colleges (I will re-iterate that I do not support this as it is too stressful and can have negative impacts on a teenager’s mental health as more applications means more rejection.)

Lastly is the “hype factor”.  Students’ emotions are super-charged as they approach this already daunting process.  I hear parents and students say things like, “how am I going to get in to college X since I haven’t come up with a cure for cancer or published a book yet!?”  Families are panicking starting in 8th and 9th grade about the prospects of getting into a competitive college.  The truth of the matter is, there are still more college seats/beds than there are students to occupy them.  What we need to do is make this fact known and to help families understand that there are many colleges that will be a great fit for their student, beyond the top 40 brand names.  If students have a varied apply-to list of colleges that extend beyond the reaches, they will have a much more relaxed and satisfying college search journey.