Research (surprisingly) shows that the majority of colleges accept the majority of applicants

“In absolute numbers schools are making more admission offers than before, but not enough to keep pace with the soaring number of applications.”

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If you’re not shooting for the Ivies or a handful of selective schools, college students needn’t worry too much – the fact is, says Pew Research Center, the majority of U.S. colleges accept “most” (about two-thirds or more) of students who apply.

The hyper-selective schools are few: Out of 1,364 four-year colleges and universities, Pew examined for the year 2017, the most recent year for which data was available, 17 of those admitted fewer than 10% of applicants. Those included familiar names like Stanford (4.7%), Harvard (5.2%), and Yale (6.9%).


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An additional 29 schools admitted between 10% and 20% of applicants, bastions like Georgetown (15.7%), the University of Southern California (16%), and the University of California, Berkeley (17.1%).

Those competitive schools accepting 20% or less, however, amount to only 3.4% of all the colleges and universities in Pew’s analysis.

More than half (53.3%) of the schools in Pew’s 1,364-school sample admitted two-thirds or more of those who applied in 2017, including St. John’s University (67.7%), Virginia Tech (70.1%), and George Mason University (81.3%).

Explaining admissions rates

Pew noted that admissions rates have fallen in recent years. At 45% of the schools they examined, admission rates were at least 10% lower in 2017 than in 2002. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that colleges are being more stringent about who they let in. Rates have fallen because prospective students are applying to more schools than they used to, and colleges have yet to find a spot for all of them.

“In absolute numbers,” according to Pew, “schools are making more admission offers than before, but not enough to keep pace with the soaring number of applications.”

To put it a different way, in 2017 there were about 6.8 applications per student who eventually ended up enrolled somewhere.

So chill out, moms and dads. There are plenty out good schools out there accepting students, so there’s so need to bribe your way in.


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Sheila McClear|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at smcclear@theladders.com.