Understanding Acceptance Rates (Hint, They are Almost Meaningless)

An important wisdom from a  high school senior who applied to college this year from a recent NY Times article.  Acceptance percentages are meaningless and are not interchangeable with college selectiveness.  Acceptance rates give an applicant no indication of their chances for acceptance. Further, colleges with higher rates of acceptance may not be easier to get into than those with lower rates.  Why is this so?

First, acceptance rates are not scientifically or independently verified, so we have no idea if they are even accurate.  Second, your likelihood of acceptance can only be judged in terms of where you fit in the school’s applicant pool.  As every college separates their pools by type: athletes, performing arts superstars, international students, diversity applicants, etc.; your chances must be judged versus applicants from your specific pool. Complicating such a judgment is the fact that you might be in a different pool for each college you apply to.  For example, at a less selective school, one might be an academic superstar because he/she carries a 4.0 GPA and an SAT score of 2060.  At a more selective school, he/she might be in the good citizens pool as fellow applicants have higher GPAs and SAT scores, but have not completed a comparative amount of community service work.

As with the student in the article, one should not build an application strategy based on prospective college’s acceptance rates. Instead, one should do significant research as to how he or she fits into the school’s pool of applicants and cultural sensibilities.


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