Admission officers at four-year colleges reported the top four factors in freshmen college admission decisions for Fall 2018 were: (1) grades in all high school courses; (2) grades in college prep courses; (3) strength of a student’s high school curriculum; and (4) admission test scores (ACT/SAT). Academic performance in high school has been consistently rated as the most important factor in admission decisions for the past three decades. Other factors familiar to most students—essays, extracurricular activities, and recommendations from counselors and teachers—were more commonly rated as moderately important.
Demonstrating interest in a college, a less familiar factor for many students, can also affect chances for admission. An applicant’s demonstrated interest in attending an institution was rated as considerably important by 16 percent of colleges and moderately important by another 24 percent. Students who are not aware of this factor face the possibility that their applications will not be considered as favorably at institutions that take demonstrated interest into account when making admission decisions.
As part of NACAC’s annual Admission Trends Survey, college admission officers also were asked to indicate the degree to which certain student characteristics influenced how the main factors in admission are evaluated. Many of these student characteristics were rated as having at least limited influence because they can provide important context to the application materials. For example, the high school attended could influence how admission officers consider the strength of an applicant’s curriculum. Among the least important student characteristics were ability to pay, gender, and connection to alumni, rated as moderately or considerably important by only 5 percent, 13 percent, and 14 percent, respectively.
The total number of applications colleges receive continues to grow. Between the Fall 2017 and Fall 2018 admission cycles, the number of applications increased for each of the following groups.
And despite public perception that admission to most postsecondary institutions is highly competitive, very selective colleges represent a small proportion of all four-year institutions. On average, four-year colleges and universities in the US accepted 66.7 percent of all applicants during the Fall 2017 admission cycle, up from a low of 63.9 percent in Fall 2012. Admission rates from wait lists were much lower. Colleges that used wait lists accepted an average of only 20 percent of all students who opted to remain on a wait list for Fall 2018.
Melissa Clinedinst is NACAC’s director of research.
Colleges that used wait lists accepted an average of only 20 percent of all students who opted to remain on a wait list for Fall 2018.