Wake Forest University

Is it Harder to Get into College? Not Necessarily

Rethinking Admissions

Continuing the Conversation

Is it Harder to Get into College? Not Necessarily

While news headlines and anxious parent may tell you otherwise, the fact is it is no more difficult for most students to get into college today than 10 years ago. That’s the message in a new report from the Center for Public Education, an initiative of the National School Boards Association.

The report, titled “Chasing the College Acceptance Letter,”  concludes that if students are well prepared in high school and earn the right credentials, they will most likely get into a competitive university. What qualifies as the right credentials? Not necessarily straight A’s. The report suggests “decent grades,” college prep courses, and good scores on college entrance exams will get most students into a competitive university even if it is not the school of their dreams.

But the report also points out that minority and low-income students are less likely to get the credentials necessary for admission into a competitive university. And even those low-income students who are well prepared are less likely to get accepted to a competitive school than their high-income counterparts (67 percent vs. 80 percent).

As for all the news headlines about colleges being flooded with applications and having to turn away more students, it’s important to keep the facts in perspective. Just because the number of applications are up, it doesn’t mean there are fewer spots for qualified students. As the report says: “Does a C student sending an application to Harvard decrease the school’s acceptance rate? Yes. But does it decrease the chances of a straight-A student getting admitted? Doubtful.”

Now for the fine print. The authors of the report stress that their conclusions are based on the “average” applicants’ chances of getting into a competitive or somewhat selective college. That means universities that admit between 75 and 85 percent of their applicants. So what does an average high school student look like? The criteria used in the report was a GPA of 3.1, a score of 21 on the ACT and a passing grade in math and science courses up through chemistry and trigonometry (or the equivalents, Algebra III and Analytic Geometry.)

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