The percentage game

Getting into a good college isn’t Admission Impossible?, writes Kevin Carey on American Prospect. Top colleges are admitting a lower percentage of applicants because more students are applying to many more colleges.

The stock characters include the tearful student — dreams crushed under an avalanche of rejection letters — the angry parent, the frenzied guidance counselor, and the college admissions official or other expert who notes with grateful wonder, “If I had to apply to my alma mater today, I couldn’t get in.”

There’s just one problem: it’s not true. The declining odds of getting into an elite college are mostly a statistical mirage, caused by confusion between college applicants and college applications.

More students are graduating from high school and applying to college, but “the number of spaces in elite colleges is increasing too, at a nearly identical rate.” What’s soaring is the number of applications to elite schools.

Imagine 20 students, each of whom applies to five schools and gets into two. Now imagine if the same students each applied to ten schools and got into two. The outcome for the students is the same: two acceptance letters. But the schools report lower admission rates, and the odds of admission seem worse.

I was graduated from high school in 1970. I applied to five colleges and got into two, which was one more than I needed. My daughter, class of ’99, applied to 10 schools and got into four.

Via Eduwonk.

About Joanne