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So you took the ACT! Now what?

Early applicants to colleges and universities can receive one of three different decisions: accepted, denied, or deferred to the regular pool. Everyone knows it's good to be accepted and disappointing to be denied. But what does a deferral mean? And how should you handle it?

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College Admissions Are Getting More Competitive

For yet another year applications are up at colleges and universities nationwide, creating a level of uncertainty for both admissions officers and applicants. With more children of baby boomers graduating high school, choosing to go on to two or four-year college, and online services making it easier for students to apply to more schools, it is becoming more and more difficult to break into the nation’s top tier institutions.

Applicant pools are simply growing larger. Recent data shows that this past year the University of Southern California received more than 47,000 applications, 10,000 more students than just two prior. NYU saw a smaller, but no less significant jump of 6,000 in the same two-year period. The University of California at Berkeley meanwhile saw an astonishing jump of 53,000 applicants in 2011 to 68,000 in 2013.

Colleges are also becoming more selective. With Darthmouth serving as the lone exception, seven of the country’s eight Ivy League schools saw their admission rates drop this past year. Recent statistics show that Harvard accepted just 5.79 of its 35,000 applicants, Yale accepted 6.72 percent of its over 29,000 applicants, and Columbia accepted 6.89 of its more than 33,000 applicants. Despite the level of rejection, these schools are seeing an increase in applications, with Cornell recently receiving a record-high 40,000 applications.

There is an argument that the current college admissions environment is actually not as keenly competitive as the statistics make it seem. Such a high volume accounts for record-breaking applications, but the true statistics are always in the acceptance and actual attendance rates for a given class. That said, however, there’s no denying that admissions to top colleges and universities are highly competitive, and likely to remain so for years to come.

Why College Has Gotten Harder to Get Into

There are several reasons behind the intense competition for college admission. One is demographics. There are simply an awful lot of college aged Americans, with more on the way. The baby boom “echo” peaked at 4.1 million births in 1990, and families immigrating to the US also include children. Consequently, the number of 17- and 18-year-olds continues to grow.

At the same time, the country’s most selective schools are not increasing the size of their entering classes. They can admit the same number of students for fall 2013 that they did a decade or even a generation ago. That means a growing population of high school seniors is competing for a static number of seats at top tier schools.

Not only are there more college-aged Americans, but a prosperous economy means more incentive to attend college (given more sophisticated job requirements) and more money to do it with. Every year since 1970, an increasing proportion of high school graduates has pursued post-secondary education.

Yet another factor is that more students are submitting applications to multiple schools. Students are now routinely applying to roughly 20 schools now, as opposed to 5 or 6 just over a decade ago.

To recap, the four factors listed below have acted together to create an increasingly competitive college admissions environment:

  1. The population of graduating high school seniors has increased.
  2. The percentage of high school graduates choosing to attend college or university has increased.
  3. The average number of colleges each senior applies to has increased.
  1. The number of freshman seats open each fall at most of the selective colleges and universities has remained relatively stable.

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Visit the rest of our website for guidance on how to craft effective admissions essays and personal statements, how to select the schools that are right for you, and how to decide whether or not to use early admission options.

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