There’s lots that’s wrong with the college admission system, and much of it relates directly to the interpretation and use of “numbers.”
In an era where “big data” is king, enrollment management experts are hired by colleges to tease out meaning from numbers, in part by analyzing what they refer to as the “funnel” or the flow of admissions activity from marketing to matriculation.
One particularly troublesome number sitting at the small end of the funnel equates excellence with rejection and is defined as a college’s “selectivity.”
It’s a number schools have found relatively easy to manipulate by aggressively marketing to large groups of students and simultaneously tightening admissions screws through policies like binding Early Decision, which virtually guarantee an admitted student’s matriculation.
And for these schools, more applications and tight control translate into more rejections. More rejections mean increased selectivity. And with selectivity comes prestige.
These are schools Jon Boeckenstedt, DePaul University’s vice president for enrollment management, referred to as “uber-selectives” in a recent interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, some of which “are clearly waist-deep in the arms race to reach the ‘as close to zero as possible’ admit rate….”
And so in the backwards world of college admissions, schools proudly point to how few students they were able to accept in any given year as a badge of honor.
It’s this line of thinking that led colleges like Washington and Lee University, the US Naval Academy or the University of Iowa to include incomplete applications in applicant counts reported to the federal government and others.
By reporting more applicants, these schools generate lower admit rates and appear more selective in the highly competitive market for applicants. While the “rules” are a little unclear, these counts are deceptive at best.
It’s worth noting that US News and World Report uses the admit rate as one metric in determining “best colleges,” which greatly enhances the number’s value to enrollment management.
But reality is a little more complicated. Some of the most “exclusive” colleges in terms of selectivity are there because they offer a specific kind of experience or have a corner on the education market. Others have low admission rates because tuition is free or extremely low.
So those who think the nation’s lowest admission rates are only found within the Ivy League will be surprised to find that the Curtis Institute of Music (5%)* and the Julliard School (7%)* are right at the top along with Harvard, Stanford, and Yale for the lowest admit rates in the country.
Locally, the Naval Academy (7.4%) once again topped the list, with Georgetown University (17.1%), Washington & Lee (18.4%), and Johns Hopkins (17.1%) all coming in under 20 percent. Liberty University (21.2%), the Corcoran College of Art and Design (27%),* the University of Virginia (30.1%), the University of Richmond (31.2%), and the College of William and Mary (33.2%) also made it onto the US News top 100* list.
And for the record, here 20 colleges boasting of some of the nation’s most outrageously low acceptance rates* (the rest of the list may be found on the US News website):
- Stanford University: 5.7%
- Harvard University: 5.8%
- Columbia University: 6.9%
- Yale University: 6.9%
- Princeton University: 7.4%
- US Naval Academy: 7.4%
- Cooper Union: 7.7%
- MIT: 8.2%
- University of Chicago: 9.8%
- US Military Academy: 9%
- Brown University: 9.2%
- Alice Lloyd College: 9.4%
- Dartmouth College: 10.4%
- Claremont McKenna College: 11.7%
- College of the Ozarks: 12.2%
- University of Pennsylvania: 12.2%
- Duke University: 12.4%
- Vanderbilt University: 12.7%
- Pomona College: 13.9%
- Northwestern University: 14%
* All specialty art and music colleges were dropped this year from the US News top 100 list