2011 State of College Admission Report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling

The National Association for College Admission Counseling recently published its 2011 State of College Admission Report. These trends are based on surveys, completed voluntarily by colleges. Some information is corroborated by Common Date Sets filed with the Department of Education. A quick summary:


College Enrollment

College enrollments increased nearly 50%, from 15.3 million in 2000 to  more than 21 million today. Although high school graduations peaked in 2008, an increasing percentage of students are attending college. Public colleges and universities educate 70% of American college students. 


College Acceptance Rate

College acceptance rates decreased from 70% in 2002 to 64% ten years later. The 64% acceptance rate is across public and private schools.  Because more students are applying to more schools, the percentage of students accepting admission offers is down. Ten years ago students accepted half of all admission offers. Because students who made more applications received more acceptances, only 38% of all admission offers are accepted. Highly selective colleges which admit fewer than 20% of applicants, are experiencing more rapid decreases in acceptance rates.


Application Outcomes

Early Decision, which requires the student to attend the admitting college, is an option at 22% of private colleges and 11% of public colleges; this number is basically flat. Early Decision clearly benefits applicants: in 2011 students applying to colleges in the Early Decision round had an additional 6% higher acceptance rate. While the acceptance rate is higher, students and families should bear in mind that colleges also rely on Early Decision to enroll students from targeted populations: legacies, faculty sons and daughters, developmental prospects, athletes, students with exceptional talents, engineering concentrators, and students who bring diversity of all kinds to the university. 

Early Action, which issues admission decisions in mid-December but do not require the student to enroll, has doubled at colleges in the past ten years. Early Action is now available at 37% of colleges. More students are using the Early Action option. Early Action applications are now 40% of the applicant pool. The Early Action round has a 2% higher acceptance rate.

College counselors in selective colleges’ feeder schools rely heavily on Early Decision and Early Action.

Wait lists are becoming a tool for colleges to manage their enrollment, and 45% of all colleges maintain wait lists.  Students with less financial need are generally (although not exclusively) more likely to be admitted from the wait list.


Most Important Factors in Application Evaluations

Over 50% of all colleges reported these four factors as most important when reviewing students’ applications:

  • 84%  Grades in college prep courses
  • 68%  Strength of curriculum
  • 59%  Admission test scores (SAT,  ACT)
  • 52%  Grades in all courses


These are factors students should begin enhancing all through high school. During their senior year, students can address the next two most important factors:

  • 25%  Essays
  • 21%  Student’s demonstrated interest

An upcoming post will address ways to communicate a student’s demonstrated interest.