Students ‘baffled’ and ‘dumbfounded’ by 2013 college admissions decisions

by Grace

The number of college applications continues to increase and admission rates continue to decrease, with 2013 decisions leaving some students ‘a bit “baffled” and “dumbfounded”’.

The New York Times recently reported 2013 acceptance rates for about 75 colleges.

Applicant pools are growing larger; the University of Southern California received more than 47,000 applications this year. That’s 10,000 more students than just two years ago, when this year’s applicants were sophomores.

Colleges are also becoming more selective. The Ivy League reported an admit rate that dipped to 5.79 percent at Harvard this year. Stanford accepted 5.69 percent of its more than 38,800 applicants. The University of Chicago accepted only 8.8 percent of its more than 30,300 applicants.

Why are so many good students denied admission?

There are various reasons for this: Colleges concerned about their rankings are appearing more selective (and appealing) than ever. Admission officers often select students who are likely to enroll. And, of course, the huge volume of applications dictates that there just isn’t enough room for every good student who applies.

Unexpected outcomes have reinforced the sometimes unpredictable nature of the “holistic”college application process.

There are other reasons for the outcomes, all of which make holistic college admissions a complex, unpredictable process. So if you are a student or a parent who is scratching your head as you review the chart, just know that you’re not alone. Our student bloggers are a bit “baffled” and “dumbfounded” about the admission decisions, too.

One particularly frustrated parent:

I’ll scream if I hear the word “holistic” at a college info session again….

Dan Edmonds argues that higher selectivity is a myth.

What many parents and students don’t realize is that increasing numbers of applications isn’t necessarily a sign that it’s harder to get into a selective school; rather, it’s a sign of changes in behavior among high school seniors. More and more people who aren’t necessarily qualified are applying to top schools, inflating the application numbers while not seriously impacting admissions. In fact, it has arguably become easier to get into a selective school, though it may be harder to get into a particular selective school.

This helps explain why students feel pressured to apply to so many schools, with the average student applying to more than nine colleges this past fall.

Our high school guidance counselor keeps saying there is no need to panic.

… there are more than 2,000 four-year colleges and universities in this country, and many of them offer an excellent education and admit the majority of students who apply. But as interest increases at selective institutions, it may help disappointed applicants to know that thousands of smart, talented, qualified students had to be turned away.

7 Responses to “Students ‘baffled’ and ‘dumbfounded’ by 2013 college admissions decisions”

  1. The application numbers are going up in part because of expensive, aggressive marketing by the colleges to recruit more applicants. Any high school junior who does well on the SAT will be flooded with hundreds of fancy brochures and letters, many of which are clearly mass-produced by marketing companies (with almost identical text and layout between colleges that are in no way affiliated).

    Perhaps it is just a ploy to divert more of the tuition money into administrative staff—clearly the admissions office needs more staff and a higher paid administrator if they have to handle so many applicants!


  2. “Perhaps it is just a ploy to divert more of the tuition money into administrative staff”

    Well, I’m sure the admissions office continually pushes for MORE marketing. How convenient that it also enables them to build staff.


  3. I keep hearing about how it’s gotten worse, and considering the growth of administrative staff and technology expansion, it certainly rings true. You had two large boxes back then, and I would estimate a few years ago my son had at least ten shopping bags full, in addition to all the emails. Most of this stuff is directed to students with high test scores.


  4. Reblogged this on the amateur academic and commented:
    Even as a former admissions officer, I am somewhat baffled by the landscape of selective admissions. The growth in the size of applicant pools at the nation’s most selective colleges is out of control. USC saw an increase of 10,000 apps in just TWO years, admit rates are plummeting, and yet these schools are still somehow failing to attract sufficiently diverse classes? Perhaps instead of aggressively marketing to anyone who might be able to be convinced to submit an app (and a $75 fee), schools should focus on targeted marketing campaigns. Smaller, more qualified applicant pools could be a good thing for all parties involved, if everyone could just agree to stop playing the game the way it’s being played now.


  5. “yet these schools are still somehow failing to attract sufficiently diverse classes?”

    What type of diversity do you mean? I suspect they get exactly who they want, using all possible means to get enough of the right kinds of students into their schools. I don’t see how they have an incentive to implement more targeted marketing.

    But I agree that if all parties agreed to stop playing the game, everyone would benefit. But higher education is a prisoner’s dilemma.


  6. I’m referring to the fact that although the pool of applicants has grown, socioeconomic and racial diversity is still an issue on many of these campuses, and gains in applicants from those underrepresented groups are not commensurate with gains in applications overall. Despite huge booms in application volume, the percentage of high-achieving, low-income students who apply to the most selective schools remains disproportionately low. Perhaps it is true that the schools get who they want, and the real issue is that these schools merely pay lip service to the idea of being truly diverse while quietly maintaining the status quo of elitism on campus.

    When I mentioned more targeted marketing, I was thinking of Caroline Hoxby and Chris Avery’s study about how more targeted information can lead high-achieving, low-income students to apply to selective schools.

    Totally agree, though, that selective admissions is a classic case of the prisoner’s dilemma.



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