Will I get in? If you just listen to the media starting at the beginning of April, you would think that the answer to this question for most college applicants is no. All you hear about is the ever decreasing admittance rates at some of the most highly competitive colleges and universities in the country. What possible chance does your kid have in getting in?
The role of acceptance rates in college selection is a proxy for other items valued in a college. Let’s consider our fictional student’s acceptance rate requirement for her college choice. She’s looking for medium selectivity because she knows she’s not going to get into Harvard. Basically, she doesn’t have the academic qualifications to be admitted, so the acceptance rate is an indicator of academic accomplishment.
But she also doesn’t want to go to a college that just takes anybody. This may still have some element of academic qualification involved but we’re also starting to incorporate exclusivity, or perhaps something more along the line of brand name recognition. Some call it the sweatshirt factor, people will recognize the school when the student wears her sweatshirt.
The acceptance rate, however, isn’t the entire story. You have to consider the qualifications of the students who are applying as well. This is something that the CollegeData website does with its “Entrance Difficulty” categories. These categories aren’t simply based on acceptance rates but includes test scores as well as class rank. For example, the “Very Difficult” category is:
More than 50% of freshmen were in the top 10% of their high school class and scored over 1230 on the SAT or over 26 on the ACT; about 60% or fewer of all applicants accepted.
This is why students should be looking at the 25th and 75th percentile test score ranges for the entering freshman class. This tells you the ranges of qualifications (albeit a one-dimensional view) of the students accepted.
Let’s take the case of our fictional student. Applying acceptance rates of 40% to 70% to schools in her preferred geographical area will generate over 300 schools (no size or other requirements are applied.) These schools have 75th percentile SAT Critical Reading tests scores ranging from 430 to 710 which represents the 27th and 96th percentiles for SAT takers. For Math, the 75th percentile scores ranged from 430 to 760, representing the 23rd to the 97th percentiles among SAT test takers.
Of course much of this diversity can be attributed to the range of acceptance rates. But probably not as much as you might think. According the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), there are eleven schools with 500 or more full-time undergraduates that had a 75th percentile score for critical reading of 700. Their acceptance rates varied from a low 0f 16% to a high of 67%.
|University of Richmond||30|
|University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill||33|
|University of Rochester||35|
|University of Michigan-Ann Arbor||37|
|University of Miami||40|
|Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute||44|
|St Olaf College||60|
The relationship between acceptance rates and academic qualifications isn’t a clear, straight line. You’re better off thinking about acceptance rates as in indicator of supply and demand where the demand is based on something more than just the quality of the students accepted.
Of the eleven websites I reviewed, only three didn’t have an option to search by selectivity. As already mentioned, CollegeData actually uses a combined definition for selectivity. Only Cappex allows users to enter any value range they want to search on although CollegeNavigator does provide 11 options for both the minimum and maximum values.
Three of the websites, College Reality Check, Peterson’s, and Unigo don’t provide any definition for their categories. Unigo only allows users to select one category while the other websites lets users select multiple categories.
The following table shows the number of categories available to search on for selectivity for each website. It also shows the number of schools found, if they provide the number, using only the selectivity requirements (without search) and applying the search requirements we have discussed so far (with search). Remember, Cappex, CollegeProwler, College Reallity Check, and Unigo either do not allow you to search by state or only lets you select one state to search on. So their search results don’t have the state requirements applied to them.
|College Reality Check||3||216||918|
|My College Options||0||~||~|
|DIY College Rankings||any||34||1227|