Experts agree there is a great deal wrong with the college admission system, and much of it relates directly to the interpretation and use of “numbers.”
In an era where “big data” is king, expensive enrollment management software is routinely purchased by colleges to tease out meaning from numbers, in part by analyzing what they refer to as the “funnel” or the flow of admissions activity from marketing to matriculation.
One particularly troublesome number sitting at the small end of the funnel equates institutional excellence with rejection and is defined as a college’s “selectivity.”
It’s a number schools find relatively easy to manipulate by aggressively marketing to large groups of students and simultaneously tightening admissions screws through policies like binding Early Decision, which virtually guarantee an admitted student’s matriculation.
And for these schools, more applications and tight control translate into more rejections. More rejections mean increased selectivity. And with selectivity comes prestige.
These are the colleges Jon Boeckenstedt, DePaul University’s vice president for enrollment management, once described in an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, as “waist-deep in the arms race to reach the ‘as close to zero as possible’ admit rate….”
And so in the backwards world of college admissions, schools proudly point to how few students they were able to accept in any given year as a badge of honor.
But reality is slightly more complicated. Some of the most “exclusive” colleges in terms of selectivity are there because they offer a specific kind of experience or have a corner on the education market. Others have low admission rates because tuition is free or extremely low.
So those who think the nation’s lowest admission rates are only found within the Ivy League might be surprised to find that the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia (4.8%) and Alice Lloyd College in Kentucky (7.1%) are close to the top of the list for the lowest admit rates in the nation.
In the Washington metropolitan area, the Naval Academy (7.9%) once again topped the list for low acceptance rates, with Georgetown University (17.4%), Washington & Lee (19.6%), and Johns Hopkins (15%) all coming in under 20 percent. Liberty University (20.2%), the University of Virginia (29%), Hampton University (29.1%), the University of Richmond (31.8%), and the College of William and Mary (33%) also made it onto the US News top 100 list.
And for the record, here 25 colleges boasting of some of the nation’s lowest acceptance rates,* based on the fall 2014 entering class (the rest of the list may be found on the US News website):
- Stanford University: 5.1% (previous year: 5.7%)
- Harvard University: 5.8% (6%)
- Yale University 6.3% (6.9%)
- Columbia University: 7% (6.9%)
- Alice Lloyd College: 7.1% (9.4%)
- Princeton University: 7.4% (7.4%)
- MIT: 7.9% (8.2%)
- US Naval Academy: 7.9% (7.4%)
- College of the Ozarks 8.3% (12.2%)
- Brown University: 8.7% (9.2%)
- California Institute of Technology: 8.8%
- University of Chicago: 8.8% (9.8%)
- U.S. Military Academy: 9.5% (9%)
- University of Pennsylvania: 10.4% (12.2%)
- Claremont McKenna College: 10.8% (11.7%)
- Duke University: 11.4% (12.4%)
- Dartmouth College: 11.5% (10.4%)
- Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering: 12%
- Pomona College: 12.2% (13.9%)
- Pitzer College: 13%
- Northwestern University: 13.1% (14%)
- Vanderbilt University: 13.1% (12.7%)
- Amherst College: 13.8%
- Cornell University: 14.2%
- Harvey Mudd College: 14.3%
* Specialty art and music colleges not included