Last year was the most competitive college admissions cycle we have ever seen. Harvard had their all-time low 5.79% admissions rate on an all-time high 35,023 applications received. Not to be outdone, Stanford had an all-time low 5.69% admissions rate on an all-time high 38,828 applications received. Those hoping for better odds this year are likely to be out of luck, admissions to highly selective colleges and universities have been getting more competitive year over year for decades. However, digging into some recently leaked information from the College Board (the non-profit entity that administers the SAT test) and the Common Application indicates that while gaining acceptance into the elite colleges seems like an insurmountable task, the overwhelming majority of people applying to college are under-prepared and under-qualified, meaning there are plenty of opportunities for well-prepared students to find a spot at these hyper-selective schools.
First, it is worth noting that not everyone who applies to college in the United States takes the SAT. Some take the ACT, and some don’t take any test at all, as many colleges are discarding the requirement for applicants to submit a standardized test score with their application. That being said, the numbers from the College Board will give us a good proxy for this year’s applicant pool.
1.66 million unique students took the SAT this past year, of which only 43% were deemed academically prepared for college. Academically prepared, as determined by the College Board, means scoring 1,550 out of 2,400 on the SAT, which is supposed to indicate that an applicant is more likely to enroll, earn at least a B minus average in their freshman year, and ultimately graduate college. This is the 5th year in a row that less than 50% of test takers were deemed academically prepared for college – a sobering reality for those in the everyone should go to college movement. Even more troublesome, for those who think that public education (where the overwhelming majority of minority students go to school) is the great equalizer, is is that less than 16% of African American test takers and less than 24% of Hispanic test takers met or exceeded the 1,550 benchmark. Although these numbers indicate that African American and Hispanic students are being left behind in the one-size-fails-all education system, it also screams opportunity for those parents who can harness the resources necessary to help their children navigate the failed government schooling system, to place them into an alternative school environment where they can thrive, or homeschool them so that they are no longer dependent on the welfare of education professionals who are apathetic to the unmet potential of minority students.
Looking at those who applied to college using the Common Application last year, we can identify other opportunities for certain applicants. First, like the College Board, the Common Application numbers do not represent the full applicant pool. A select number of schools do not accept the Common Application, such as Georgetown University and West Point, and some applicants opt to apply to schools using their unique application form, when possible.
Last year there were about 724,000 unique users of the Common Application, worldwide. Of that number, 56% were female, meaning that it is now considerably easier to gain admission to college as a man than as a woman. 58% of applicants self-identified as White, 29% as students of color, and 13% did not respond to the race question, the majority of which are most likely Asian and White, many of who believe that they suffer from reverse discrimination in the application process (true for Asians, not so much for Whites).
From a schooling perspective, 74% of applicants are from public high schools, 14% are from independent schools, 12% are from religious schools, and less than 1% are homeschooled. Unfortunately for those who go to public schools, colleges don’t accept 74% of their class from that pool, primarily because those kids with hooks typically don’t go to public schools, and because most public schools do a terrible job of preparing kids for college, save the rare magnet schools and very rich suburban schools. The opportunity here is in the very small number of homeschooled applicants. Those students who homeschool can place themselves in very advantageous positions when it comes to college admissions, if they exploit the opportunities that come with the flexibility and freedom of a non-school environment. See my previous posts on how to do so.
Geographically, the top five states in terms of applications are New York, California, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Illinois. Curiously not on the list is the second most populous state of Texas, which comes in at number eleven. This indicates a real opportunity for applicants from Texas (and other southern states), as the elite schools want to have geographic diversity in their class, but do not necessarily have good representation from these states in terms of well-qualified applicants.
Finally, 9% of the applicants come from overseas, with China making up 36% of the international pool, and the only country that breaks the 5% mark of the international pool. Numbers two through five in terms of international applications are India, S. Korea, Canada and Pakistan. While middle-class American applicants may bemoan the difficulty of gaining admission to the elite universities, they have it easy compared to the middle-class applicants from overseas.
Fortunately, a college degree is not a necessary credential to lead a sustainable or prosperous life. However, some jobs are reserved for college graduates, and some of the highest paying jobs are reserved for graduates from a tiny sliver of the most selective colleges. Additionally, graduate degrees are necessary to break into certain career fields such as medicine or academia, and going to the more prestigious colleges helps make success along that path more probable. For those who wish to go down the path of gaining admission into selective colleges, the time to prepare is sooner rather than later; and for those who prepare well enough in advance, gaining admission into those selective colleges will not be nearly as daunting as the numbers suggest.