SPECIAL REPORT - 2019 State of College Admission

College Applications

Growth in Application Volume Continues: Between the Fall 2017 and Fall 2018 admission cycles, the number of applications from first-time freshmen increased 6 percent and international student applications increased by 7 percent.

Transfer Acceptance Rate Slightly Lower than Freshmen Rate; Yield Much Higher: Among institutions that enroll transfer students, average selectivity for Fall 2018 was 61 percent, compared to 66 percent for first-time freshmen. However, more than half (52 percent) of transfer applicants who were admitted ultimately enrolled, compared to only 27 percent of freshman admits.

International Student Acceptance Rate is Low; Yield Slightly Higher than First-Time Freshmen: At institutions that enroll first-time international students, the Fall 2018 yield rate for 2018 for international students was 29 percent.

Recruitment and Yield Strategies

Top Recruitment Strategies: Colleges employ a broad range of strategies when recruiting high school students. Sending email, maintaining institutional websites, and hosting campus visits were the primary means by which colleges recruited first-time freshmen for the Fall 2018 admission cycle. Four other factors—high school visits, direct mail, and outreach to both parents and high school counselors—were each rated as considerably important by at least 50 percent of colleges.

Early Decision and Early Action Activity Increases: Between Fall 2017 and Fall 2018, colleges reported an average increase of 11 percent in the number of Early Decision applicants and 10 percent in ED admits. The number of Early Action applications increased by 10 percent and the number of students accepted through EA increased by 9 percent.

Wait List Activity Increases; Likelihood of Waitlist Acceptance Remains Low: For the Fall 2018 admission cycle, 43 percent of institutions reported using a wait list. From Fall 2017 to Fall 2018, the number of students offered a place on an admission waitlist increased by 18 percent, on average. Institutions accepted an average of 20 percent of all students who chose to remain on wait lists.

Factors in Admission Decisions

The factors that admission officers use to evaluate applications from first-time freshmen have remained largely consistent over the past 20 years. Students’ academic achievements—which include grades, strength of curriculum, and admission test scores—constitute the most important factors in the admission decision.

Admission Offices Identify Grades, High School Curriculum, and Test Scores as Top Factors for First-Time Freshmen: The top factors in the admission decision were overall high school GPA, grades in college preparatory courses, strength of curriculum, and admission test scores. Among the next most important factors were the essay, a student’s demonstrated interest, counselor and teacher recommendations, class rank, and extracurricular activities.

Student Background Information: Nearly one-third of colleges rated first-generation status as at least moderately important in first-time freshmen admission decisions. About one-quarter of colleges considered high school attended, race/ethnicity, and state or county of residence as either moderately or considerably important.

College Counseling in Secondary Schools

Access to college information and counseling in school is a significant benefit to students in the college application process. For many students, particularly those in public schools, college counseling is limited at best. Counselors are few in number, often have large student caseloads, and have additional constraints on the amount of time they can dedicate to college counseling

Student-to-Counselor Ratio: According to US Department of Education data, in 2016–17 each public school counselor (including elementary and secondary) was responsible for 455 students, on average.

College Counseling Staff in Secondary Schools: For the 2018–19 academic year, 29 percent of public schools reported employing at least one counselor (full- or part-time) whose exclusive responsibility was to provide college counseling, compared to 48 percent of private schools.

Time Available for College Counseling in Secondary Schools: Some differences exist between the duties and activities of counselors employed at public schools versus those who work at private schools. On average, public school counselors spent 19 percent of their time on postsecondary counseling in 2018–19, while their private school counterparts spent 31 percent of their time on college counseling.

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