Why Is It Getting Harder to Get into Already Selective Colleges?

With acceptance rates at many Ivy League schools well under 10%, many college-bound individuals are aware that it’s tough to get into some of the nation’s best universities. These days, however, it’s getting even tougher — and not just at Harvard and Yale, but at other selective colleges too. So why isn’t it enough to have a stellar GPA, outstanding standardized test scores, and to have taken a challenging selection of AP and honors classes in high school?

Part of the reason is that beyond excelling academically, many ambitious students don’t have an exceptional quality, or "hook," that sets them apart from the many others vying for the same limited spots at selective schools, a recent article in Forbes points out. The hook that colleges are looking for might be an applicant who is a star athlete or violin prodigy. A different type of hook might even be that the applicant is the first person in their family to attend college, making them more of an underdog than other applicants.

White, female applicants in particular run the risk of being passed over because they are "unhooked white girls," the Forbes article notes. There are just too many other academically-gifted applicants who fit this same description, and admissions staff have begun looking for that little something extra when sifting through so many qualified candidates. Even being well-rounded in athletics and volunteer work might not be enough. Increasingly, selective colleges are looking for only the most exceptional candidates.

Compounding the problem is the fact that many selective universities are receiving a significantly higher volume of applications than they have in years past. Northwestern, for example, received a whopping 32,000 applicants, which is double what they received in 2005, forcing their acceptance rate down to 15.3%, the Forbes article pointed out.

Admissions staff at selective colleges are also wanting to see in the application materials that the student put careful thought into their decision and picked that particular college as his or her first choice. If the application essay and other materials give no indication that the school is not one of many possible choices for the applicant, they may not be as keen to accept that student.

Last but not least, colleges are seeking a new kind of diversity. Traditionally, college-bound students have thought the admissions process filtered only in terms of race, but admissions staff are now thinking in terms of national and international diversity, the article explains. In other words, selective colleges are not only accepting more international students, but many are also accepting more students from a variety of different states. Universities are also seeking first-generation college students and applicants from a wide range of income levels when assembling a diverse student body.

These are some important considerations for academically-gifted students who are thinking only in terms of the most prestigious colleges when sending in applications. While students should not be dissuaded from pursuing their dream college, it could be smart do more extensive research to see if other, lesser-known colleges would be an equally good fit.

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