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Why are college acceptance rates so low?

Acceptance rates to “elite” colleges and universities are extremely low and continue to drop each year. So I am wondering if these colleges and universities are very hard to get into because they admission standards have changed and continue to change of if there are just more applicants each year but they admit same amount (or close to it) of students each year. Will the acceptance rates eventually get so low that these “elite” colleges have to increase the amount of students they admit each year?
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Ann Marie’s Answer


I think that it's become easier for students to apply to more colleges than ever before. With the advancement of the Common Application and online transfer of documents, students are only limited by the cost of the college applications. Many colleges offer to waive this fee, making it even easier for students to apply to multiple colleges. You're correct that schools often take the same amount of students year after year. Many colleges either don't want to become too big or they simply don't have the physical space to accommodate a huge increase in students. I haven't looked, but I'd be interested to know how many students from a college's wait list are offered a spot once students who were accepted start committing to one college.

I do think that as we move away from what we think of as the traditional college experience (a four year experience, living on campus and going to class) and towards an online education (in whole or in part) we may see an increase in the number of students accepted to some colleges. Until then, I think the trend you're seeing may continue for a little bit longer. It's frustrating when you're the one waiting to hear from your first choice school.

Good luck to you.


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Jennifer’s Answer

Hi, Calista!

You ask very good questions and hold incredible insight into what an answer might be. In my opinion, you've hit the nail on the head with the idea that more and more students are submitting applications for the same number of spots each year. It's difficult for universities to add additional seats (think in terms of housing, teaching loads, etc.) so with the exception of a little wiggle room, large increases aren't likely.

There are many theories on the phenomenon of applying to many schools and the ways to deal with it. It's an interesting discussion circulation in the enrollment management areas of higher education. Perhaps with your interest and insight you would consider a career in higher education?! ;-)

It's been very good to me, and I never had to leave college!

Best wishes to you in your collegiate search -


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Rachel’s Answer

Every year a larger percentage of high school graduates plan to attend college. It has become much easier to apply to a vast number of schools online. Also, it has become much easier for international students to apply to US institutions as well. All of these factors make the number of applicants higher than the number of positions offered. Thus the competition for the position is steeper.
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Paul’s Answer

Hi Calista,

Your question is a difficult question to answer especially since the answer to your question isn't so clear-cut. In my opinion, the reason why college acceptance rates are so low is simply a relationship between open positions and # of applicants. As more students apply to college each and every year, the number of open spots pretty much stay stagnant. So the percentage of admissions essentially goes down every year. This is simply my opinion but hopefully it helped!