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Is It Really Harder to Get into College? A Look Inside the World of College Admissions

Odds are that at one point in your life you had some serious stress about getting into college. Whether you’ve already been through the exhausting process (if you don’t want to remember it, you can stop reading; I’ll understand) or you’re in your junior year of high school and the reality just hit you square in the face, you’re going to have felt some heat from the whole college thing at some point or another. What I’m going to be doing to the best of my ability is trying to help those of you stressing over getting into school move past these fears with some facts. While I won’t have the answers to everything, my goal is to at least ease some of your major concerns with information and some educated inferences about getting into schools. Ultimately, I want to answer the question: is it really harder to get into schools “these days”?

Now I know if you’re a junior like myself, and have at least a quarter of the concern about college that I have, you’re most likely asking yourself a slew of questions: Do I have the grades? Do I do enough extra curricular activities? Do they like kids like me? How do my SATs and ACTs stand for this school? What’s the acceptance rate? Will my parents be happy? These questions and many others will most likely taunt you until you ultimately make your decision about where you want to go on to higher education. When these questions begin to worry you just remember: where you go to school doesn’t determine the rest of your life. It won’t ruin your chance of being successful if you don’t get into Harvard. Just remember that you want to be really happy where you end up going to school, because you can’t be functional if you want to go home every chance you get.

Speaking of what makes you happy, I just want to explain a few things to you about what we’re going to be going over about the college process. One: why are the college acceptance rates getting lower? Two: easy ways you can see where you stand (grade-wise and test-wise) for the school you would like to attend, and other things you would like to know about your school. Finally, we will conclude with a consideration of the factors that make it harder to get into college now than in the past.

So let’s start with some basic numbers. A lot of times students, including myself, judge their own ability to get into college after they google search the acceptance rates at their desired school. And I will be the first to admit that when I realized I wouldn’t be able to get into Stanford with a B+/A- average, I almost cried. But I digress; don’t let these acceptance rates discourage you at all. It is important to know some basic statistics before you freak out and think your life is over, only because you didn’t get into the school that you and your parents have dreamed about.

Something that I do a lot is google college statistics. The statistic I pay the most attention to, though, is the acceptance rate. Based off of these magical numbers, I feel as though I have a good sense of whether I would be able to get in or not. 40% and higher is a safety, 30% to 40% is a good contemporary school, and anything lower than 20% is more than a stone’s throw across the grand canyon with no arms away. But as my googling and “college research” gets more frequent, something scary is beginning to happen. These acceptance rates are getting smaller and smaller. So questions that have been running through my head and will undoubtedly bother some of you are: Why are they getting smaller? What effect will this have on me? Is it now that much harder to get into this school? The answer based of my research is… (Drumroll) NO! It is actually not impairing your chances of acceptance into a school. Instead, it is a numbers thing. Back in the day (1600-1960) not many people were going to college, nor were there many colleges in the United States to attend besides the Ivys (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, UPenn, Dartmouth, Brown and Cornell) and a couple other public universities. If you were even going to be able to pay or attend college you would be going to those schools. Imagine that: if only you were born 200 years ago, you would be able to pick which Ivy League you would attend. While that isn’t the case now, there’s a lot of good about it. There are thousands of great schools in the United States today, which students from all parts of the country and world to attend. Since there are more schools, one would think that the number of students applying would spread itself out nicely over these schools. That’s wrong. In addition to more people applying to schools, people are applying to way more than one school. For the most part people apply to around 6 or 7 schools on average. Meaning that if 100,000 students apply to 6 schools each, there are 600,000 applications circulating throughout various universities. This is the reason for the lowering acceptance rates, but in reality it’s a kind of illusion. Schools generally admit a preset number of people, meaning that out of the number of applications they receive, they will accept a certain number of kids. For reference here is a graph of the increasing number of students applying to schools.

 

While the numbers are substantially smaller than the actual numbers of students who have applied, this is meant to be a representation of the current application numbers on a smaller and more fathomable scale. With a small drop in applicants over the past two years, it is easy to spot that the numbers are once again increasing, meaning that the acceptance rates will drop. If one is to look at this process as a game of numbers, the whole “dropping acceptance rate” is really just an illusion.  Nothing has changed except the number of students who have applied. Another factor that leads to the overall number of students admitted is the resources the school has to offer, such as food, dorm space, living space, class size, and many others. With an increasing number of applicants, schools like Hofstra University recently built new dorm complexes to accommodate the larger number of students that applied. Yet a school such as LeMoyne University will be lowering its admittance numbers due to the fact it was difficult to provide enough resources for the record number of applicants this year.

Looking at this whole college thing, it is fair to say that the world is changing. People’s lust to learn has led many more ambitious young minds to push themselves and achieve higher learning. As the world becomes more advanced, we as a society need to adapt in order to stay with it and not fall behind. It’s a good thing for society, but at some point you will sit and say to yourself, “Hey, why is it that schools’ admissions rates are dropping?” Hopefully what you just read has put some of your college fears to rest and put much of the process in perspective. Researching for this article has definitely eased some stress on my part, so hopefully that rubs off on you. So back to my initial question: is it really harder to get into college? In my opinion, and based off my findings, I must conclude no. As I previously mentioned, the number of students applying has increased while the number admitted stays the same. Don’t let that get to your head though; you should get into at least one school you apply to, but you could also be rejected as easily. Even so, it’s possible that the school just wasn’t for you, meaning you just dodged a major bullet. I mean, who wants to spend four years at a place they didn’t even like or only their parents liked. That brings be to my final point: without looking at the numbers, or the endowment, or the success of alumni, or even how great the name looks on a resume, you ultimately want to go to a school that makes you feel happy. So when it comes down to it, pick a school that feels right to you, and don’t panic: the odds are actually in your favor.

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