College Corner: Trends in college admission

Published on Monday, 12 May 2014 20:32 - Written by

If your child will be applying to college in the next year or two, wouldn’t you love to get an inside look at how admissions officers think? Wouldn’t you love to understand what they’re looking for — and to get an idea of how tough the competition will be at top schools?

Well, a college admissions counselors’ organization recently issued a report that gives that kind of inside look at the trends in college applications and admission. And it offers some very useful tidbits for anyone about to embark on the application process.

The 11th annual “State of College Admission” report, released by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, is based on surveys of nearly 1,000 high schools and about 450 post-secondary institutions, as well as data from the College Board, U.S. Department of Education, and the Census Bureau. It gives a very good overview of colleges nationally; of course, individual schools may differ.

Some highlights from the report include:

Academics matter: A student’s academic record in high school is still the single most important factor in application decisions at most schools. In fact, the two top factors are students’ grades in college prep classes and the overall rigor of their high school curriculum. Standardized test scores come in third, followed by the overall high school grade point average.

Applications are up: About two-thirds of colleges reported an overall increase in applications. Many students still hedge their bets by applying at multiple campuses; 28 percent of freshman beginning classes in fall 2012 had applied to at least seven schools.

Competition is tough, but not impossible: Yes, individual top-tier schools are highly competitive. (Harvard accepts about 6 percent of its applicants. Stanford, thought to have the lowest acceptance rate this year, took only 5 percent.) Nationally, the picture is brighter. Overall, colleges accept an average of 64 percent of applicants.

It is worth noting, however, that in 2001, the average acceptance rate was 71 percent.

Most high schools offer limited guidance help: High school guidance counselors have an important job, but most are stretched very thin. In the average high school, a counselor has a caseload of 278 students. The average counselor is able to devote less than a quarter of his or her time to college counseling.

Just applying can be expensive: If you are on a budget, think twice before applying to every school that seems interesting. The average application fee is $42, up from the previous year, and 86 percent of colleges impose one. However, particularly private colleges can often waive fees.


Donna Spann is CEO of Capstone College and Career Advising in Tyler. A college adviser for 11 years, Donna leads a team of professionals who take a personal approach to advising that helps students navigate through career and college exploration, admissions, financial aid, and find the college that’s right for them. Have a question for Donna? Send it to You just may see your question answered in a future column.