The Surprising Way in Which Colleges Are Becoming More Selective

The college acceptance rates for the Class of 2023 have been published and the typical reactions have been recorded. College admissions experts reflexively use these shrinking rates to remind incented high school juniors and sophomores to improve their grades, accelerate their test preparation, register for as many AP classes as possible, and to ramp up their extracurriculars and community service. After all, with college selectivity at all-time lows it is now harder than ever to stand out.

Is raising already inflated academic credentials and pushing our teens to the brink really the key to college admissions success?

When walking the vendor hall at the NACAC annual conference, one can easily see the disconnect between college admissions and college advisors. Identified by different colored lanyards, high school and independent college counselors spend their time visiting representatives from the College Board, ACT, the Common Application, and national test prep vendors while their counterparts from college admissions are seen spending their time with CRM enrollment management vendors like Slate, Ruffalo Noel Levitz, Ellucian, and EAB. This disconnect ought to provide a significant clue to college-bound students and their families.

Students should recognize that their grades and test scores will not be the ultimate metrics upon which their college acceptance decision will be based. Great schools will receive more than enough applications from students with great grades and test scores. Very good schools will receive more than enough applications from students with very good grades and test scores. And so on. You get the point.

So what are colleges looking for? Colleges want to know that you’ll accept them before they accept you!

Think about binding early decision/action. Colleges love this process because it keeps their yields high and acceptance rates low. What if colleges took the binding elements of early action and applied them to regular decision? To do so, colleges will need to assess your probability of enrolling/attending if accepted. The higher the probability of enrollment then the greater the chance of receiving the acceptance letter. College admissions personnel spend time with enrollment management vendors at NACAC because these are the tools they are using to make these important determinations.

The college selectivity equation has shifted. So should your approach to college admissions prep.