Acceptance Rates Plummet As Elite Colleges Tighten Up Following Admissions Scandal

Stressed student
Jan Vašek / Pixabay

In the wake of a major college admissions scandal including improprieties ranging from bribery to cheating on standardized tests, some of the nation’s most selective schools have been loudly touting that despite record high application rates, they are also achieving record-low acceptance rates, The New York Times reports.

While from a public perception standpoint those figures might suggest that schools have tightened up their admissions processes and started to curtail the admission of individuals who may be under-qualified and enjoying special treatment. But academic experts at the same time point to how the cutthroat exclusivity at the most elite schools is exactly the barrier to entry that created the environment where the admissions scandal could occur in the first place.

“There’s a vicious cycle that fuels admission angst and spawns desperation,” said Sally Rubenstone, who is a senior contributor to College Confidential, a popular online admissions forum.

“Each year as elite-college acceptance rates get smaller, students apply to longer and longer lists of colleges to maximize their chances of good news.”

Some schools have taken a different approach compared to those that touted their record high application rates as compared to their record low acceptance rates. Long before the cheating scandal broke, some schools ceased sharing those numbers altogether.

Stanford University, for example, indicated that they would no longer release admissions data to the public, instead providing the data only to the federal government. They made this change last year and were included in court documents related to the cheating scandal. For the last year in which Standford’s data was publicly available, their acceptance rate was at an extremely low 4.3 percent, making the school from that point of view more difficult to get into than even Harvard and Yale, two schools that are generally considered to be the epitome of academic exclusivity.

But, admissions experts warn, that doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story.

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That’s because while it is true that schools are indeed becoming more selective, that selectivity isn’t necessarily the only factor at play when it comes to admissions rates across the country. A number of parents have indicated that their children are applying to a larger number of colleges, which would heavily skew the numbers in favor of lower admissions rates, even if roughly the same number of students are being accepted overall.

“My son did apply to 20 schools, not for bragging rights, but because it’s so unpredictable, no one knows what will happen,” said Pamela McCready-Huemer, a parent of a student exploring college options.